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Impeding Pedicle Development Impacts Velvet Production

Results prove that poor feed quality in winter delays pedicle development and knocks velvet production in weaner bulls for at least two years later.

On the project farm, the fawns are housed indoors for their first winter and fed pasture baleage and deer nuts. In late August /early September, they are put out on pasture by which time the bull calves have evident pedicle development. 

However, in September 2015 the lack of pedicle development was very noticeable in the 2014 born bull calves.  They looked good when they came out of the shed but the scales said otherwise. 

On 2 September, they averaged 114kg (compared to an eight-year average of 130kg) and had an average growth rate of 70gms/day (compared to an eight-year average of 155gms/day). The spotlight went on their winter diet to try to find the possible cause, which revealed no difference for nuts fed (0.5kg per head with crude protein (CP) level 15.5% and meatabolisable energy (ME) of 12.9.

The baleage looked fine but analysis showed the CP and ME levels were under par for pedicle initiation.

Table 1: Crude protein and ME requirements


Crude Protein as %DM


Required for growth

14 – 16

10.5 - 12

Required for pedicle initiation

20 – 22*


Baleage fed to 2014 born bull calves



*Applies where more than 50% of diet make up of silage/baleage. On a pasture diet, a crude protein (CP) level 2% lower is fine. The Chinese suggest the CP should be 24.5%.                                                              

The effect of delayed pedicle development and subsequent velvet weights is highlighted in Table 2.

The figures for the 2014 born spikers show that not only was the date of removal two to four weeks later than in previous and subsequent years, but the average weight was 18% to 42% less. Although not measured and recorded at the time, there was a perceived reduction in beam circumference and degree of branching.

Table 2: Velvet weight and harvest date


2013 born spikers

2014 born spikers

2015 born spikers

Av 1st cut spiker weight




Median spiker cut date

2nd Dec

17th Dec

14th Nov

But there’s more….

When the 2014 spikers were velvetted as two year olds in 2016/17 the average cut per head was down by 0.5kg (about 8.5%). This followed a steady year-on-year increase in two-year-old velvet weights.

These bulls will all be taken through and velvetted as three- year-olds to see if the weights are still back on the long-term average.

Although poor feed, quality at a crucial time is thought to be the main culprit for delayed pedicle development the lactation performance of the hinds could be a contributing factor. This is based on 2006 research in  Spain suggesting that the lactation performance of the hind, and hence the growth rate of the calf to weaning, influences pedicle development and antler growth. On the project farm, the pre-1st March growth rate of the 2014 Wapiti bull calves was 514gms/day. This compares to 732gms/day in three other recent seasons.


Take Home messages to avoid pedicle development

  • Weigh weaner bulls mid-winter and adjust feeding if necessary
  • Don’t rely on your “eye-ometer” – get baleage tested

With thanks to the Elk and Wapiti Society