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Elk Shedding Antlers

We share our farm with an abundance of wildlife and we feel blessed to do so.  This includes whitetail deer, elk, Eastern wild turkey, beavers, ground hogs, red tail hawks, the occasional eagle, coyotes, fox, raccoon, etc.   We consider these animals a wonderful natural resource and we are passionate about their conservation.  The balance of co-habitation simply works.  With ourselves as stewards we see our role as managers of all the resources; the cattle, ourselves, and the wildlife.

Viewing and photographing these wild species is truly my greatest hobby and an endeavor that I just can’t seem to find enough time to explore.  Yet, it always seems that my greatest encounters with wildlife occur when I do not have a camera in hand.  One such encounter was yesterday.

While walking along one of my typical trails I came upon a group of elk.  They were out on the edge of the woods at the interface where the pasture meets woods.  A large bull elk was acting strangely.  He was walking imbalanced and stumbling.  My first though was that a poacher had snuck into the area and shot him.  Standing very still I stood and watched, unsure of what I could possibly do to help him if he had been shot.  As I watched he began turning from side to side trying to lick his back.  He then began to turn in circles like a small dog chasing his tail.  All of a sudden he ran and came to a quick stop like a quarter horse going through a reigning routine.  When he put on the brakes to stop both antlers fell off onto the ground on each side of his body.  I had been lucky enough to actually see an elk shed his antlers!  It was a remarkable sight. 

A large bull elk’s antler (this one was a 6 by 7) weighs approximately 20 lbs a side.  What an incredible difference the shedding of these antlers must feel like to the animal. 

Remember antlers like that of elk and deer are shed each year and grown back.  Very shortly this same elk that I witnessed shed his majestic crown will begin a new rack in velvet.  Velvet is the vascular covering for the new horns as they grow.  This velvet is shed as the soft cartilage type tissue hardens.  Horns on the other hand are permanent structures that have bone underlying the horny tissue and maintain a blood supply. 

Cattle have horns.  Cattle that are selectively breed to not have horns are called polled.  Many producers who have cattle with horns choose to dehorn in order to facilitate easier and safer handling.  They dehorn the young calf by the use of caustic chemicals or by cauterizing the horn bud of the calf.  When dehorned at an older age the horns must be removed by cutting or sawing them off.  When removed in this way there can be considerable blood loss.  We do not dehorn our cattle unless for a medical / physical reason such as a horn with a tip that grows into the face.

Posted by Patti on March 20, 2008

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