“Velvet antler refers to the whole cartilaginous antler in a precalcified stage, rather than the velvety “skin” on growing antlers. It is an ingredient in traditional Chinese medicine.
Deer velvet antler can be divided into sections, each of which is used for different medical purposes in traditional Chinese medicine. The upper section, called a wax piece, is used as a growth tonic for children. The middle section, called a blood piece, is used to treat adults with arthritis and related disorders. The bottom section, called a bone piece, is used for calcium deficiency and geriatric therapies. The tip is the most expensive and sought-after part of the antler.
Moose, elk and deer produce new antlers yearly (primarily males, except in caribou/reindeer). The stags are not harmed or killed for the velvet antler. In some countries, such as Australia and New Zealand, deer are subject to local anesthesia and restrained during antler removal, and the procedure is supervised by licensed veterinarians. Typically, the antler is cut off near the base after it is about two-thirds of its potential full size, between 55 to 65 days of growth, before any significant calcification occurs. The procedure is generally done around June in the Northern Hemisphere and December in the Southern Hemisphere.
Exceptionally large elk antlers can weigh 50 lb (22.6 kg) for a pair. These grow rapidly from about March or April until July (again, Northern Hemisphere).
Most of the world’s supply of velvet antler comes from red deer and elk or wapiti, including a large deer farming industry in New Zealand. New Zealand is the world’s largest producer of deer velvet antler, making 450 tons of deer velvet antler per year. China produces 400 tons annually. Russia produces 80 tons annually. United States and Canada each produce 20 tons annually.
Due to the size and quality of Canadian and American elk antlers, they have been a preferred source of velvet for Canada and the United States (the other countries primarily produce deer velvet antler from deer).
Traditionally, in Asia, the antler is dried and sold as slices. These slices are then boiled in water, usually with other herbs and ingredients, and consumed as tea. In the West, antler is dried and powdered, and consumed in capsule form as a dietary supplement. The product has been at the center of multiple controversies with famous athletes allegedly using it for performance enhancement purposes. In September, 2013, the headquarters of SWATS, an infamous distributor of deer antler velvet spray and other controversial products, was raided and ordered to shut down by Alabama’s attorney general citing “numerous serious and willful violations of Alabama’s deceptive trade practices act”.“