The removal of velvet without veterinary supervision or anaesthesia is a contravention of the Animal Welfare Act 1999 and is accordingly a prosecutable criminal offence.
The following information highlights management factors important in preserving animal welfare and optimum velvet antler returns for producers.
Deer antler velvet is a live, vascular and innervated tissue. Deer velvet removal may only be performed by:
- a veterinarian
- a supervised veterinarian undergraduate, or
- an approved owner of stags/ an approved employee in accordance with the NVSB programme
The removal of antlers in velvet must take place under veterinary supervision for two main reasons:
- To ensure that the welfare of the animals is protected, by removal taking place in a manner that complies with the Animal Welfare Act 1999, which Act classifies deer velvet removal as a 'controlled surgical procedure';
- To ensure that the restricted drugs used are administered in accordance with the Agricultural Compounds and Veterinary Medicines Act 1997 ('ACVM Act').
Drugs used in the removal of deer velvet are classified as Veterinary Medicines under the ACVM Act. They are described in Appendix II to the NVSB's Code of Practice for the Use of Agricultural Compounds and Veterinary Medicines (pg68). When administering drugs during velvetting, departure from the Code or the Code of Practice for the Use of Agricultural Compounds and Veterinary Medicines may assist in securing a conviction for an offence under the ACVM Act.
Maintaining animal welfare standards has direct economic benefits through enabling continued market access to countries that do not practice velvet removal. Practices that may once have been deemed acceptable are also being continually reassessed and modified according to new knowledge and changing attitudes. In addition it is important to maintain a credible system to control the use of animal remedies in food-producing animals (velvet is usually classed as a food product) and failure to do so could result in the closing of access to markets through use of non-tariff trade barriers.
Velvet removal exposes stags to a range of potentially stressful practices, including mustering from pasture, yarding, drafting, restraint and removal of sensitive antler tissue.
It is important that velvetters adhere to the industry agreed withholding times for use of velvetting drugs and velvet removal before slaughter (7 days), and to transport requirements as described in the DeerQA Transport Programme and in the Code of Recommendations and Minimum Standards for the Welfare of Animals Transported within New Zealand (1994).
Ultimately, maintaining and improving standards of welfare benefits not only the animals but also farmers and exporters, through enhancing productivity and improving international market access.
Mustering and Yarding of Stags
Before velvet removal, animals should be mustered and the selected stags drafted out. This should be done carefully and quietly and not in extremes of temperature, to avoid undue stress to animals and to avoid damage to velvet. Apart from reducing the value of the product, damage to this sensitive tissue could cause unnecessary and unacceptable pain and distress.
Mob size should be balanced with facility size as most stress and potential for damage occurs through overcrowding in yards, particularly at first yarding.
The animals selected for antler removal should then be held in properly designed yards, where they will not be overcrowded, or alarmed by noise or unusual visual stimuli. A settling period should be provided to ensure stags return to normal behaviour prior to velvetting.
Drafting and Presenting Stags for Velvet Removal
Selected stags should be drafted into mob sizes appropriate to pen size and velvetting technique prior to velvet removal. Avoid grouping different age groups, breed types or known aggressive individuals together, as this will increase stress, as well as the chances of injury and velvet damage. More information is provided in the NVSB's Farmer Velvet Antler Removal Manual.
Velvet removal process
There are a range of techniques that may be employed for the removal of deer antler velvet and each supervising veterinarian has his or her preferences, which preferences may vary between farms depending on the-
- temperament and nature of the deer
- abilities of the farmer
- facilities available
Before velvet may be surgically removed, the stag must be restrained either through the admission of prescription only drugs ('chemical restraint') or a physical crush apparatus ('physical restraint'). Analgesia must also be brought about in the stag for welfare reasons prior to velvet removal, which may be done by a whole nerve block or a ring block.
Neither the restraint techniques, nor the analgesic techniques nor the surgical removal techniques for removing velvet are described in detail on this site as velvet removal is a controlled surgical procedure that a non-veterinarian may only be trained in by a Supervising Veterinarian under the NVSB programme. Nevertheless, an overview of the steps involved in the entire removal process are as follows:
- Stags mustered from paddock into laneway
- Stags yarded and drafted into manageable mobs
- Stags to be velvetted placed in pens; remainder returned to paddock
- Stag restrained using physical (e.g. cradle) or chemical (e.g. xylazine) means or combination of both
- Tourniquet applied
- Local anaesthetic administered
- Analgesia tested in both antlers
- If required, more local anaesthetic administered, and analgesia re-tested
- Velvet removed
- Tourniquet removed and degree of haemostasis assessed
- Removal instrument disinfected
- If required, physical restain mechanism or chemical sedation (as case may be) reversed
- Stag released
- Stag monitored in paddock
Note that the procedure for removal of spiker velvet is slightly different. It is covered in the NVSB's Farmer Velvet Antler Removal Manual.
Following velvet removal and haemostasis the stags should be returned to a nearby paddock from which they can be readily and frequently observed over 24 hours for behaviours which would be of concern to a person versed in principles of good stockmanship. This paddock must have both good water supply and shade. If any problems occur which cannot be corrected by the velvetter, veterinary advice must be sought.
Velvet antler is an edible human food product therefore is a condition of the NVSB programme that velvet must be hygienically handled during storage and freezing, up to the point where it leaves the farm. Velvet should be placed in clean plastic containers or bags.
Storage of velvet requires:
- freezing as soon as practicable after removal to minimise bacterial growth
- handling in a manner that distributes blood content evenly
- dedicated freezers; and
- clean and hygienic work surfaces and freezer interior
Velvet is a food product, therefore any velvet with food safety risks must not be sold for human consumption. In particular, Deer Pox and ringworm are contagious and can be transferred to humans.
Velvet must be identified using an NVSB approved identification system at the time of removal to ensure traceability and to provide assurance that the velvet was removed humanely. Details regarding identification requirements are provided to NVSB programme participants. NVSB identification tags are issued solely to the velvetter by the Supervising Veterinarian and must not be used for any other purpose nor given to any other person(s).