“I have been velveting elk bulls for 22 years and have used various techniques and pain control measures: from the original method of drugging the animals for sedation, to using Lidocaine for nerve blockage, to currently using the Velvet Antler Bander. I have found that the new Velvet Antler compression device works the best. It gives excellent nerve blockage, better than a tourniquet, and allows us to harvest our antler using the most humane, painless, residue-free method available. It is easy to use and our elk bulls are benefiting from this procedure big time! I recommend this tool as the best ever.” Robert Boos, Whispering Winds Ranch Ltd., Alberta, Canada

ANOTHER VIEWPOINT …

Dr. Terry Church has managed Canadian Rocky Mountain Ranch Ltd near Calgary, Alberta for the last nine years. Currently they run about 350 elk, 175 buffalo and a few reindeer. He has an Animal Science, Doctor of Veterinary Medicine and Masters Degree in Disease Prevention and has held several senior management positions with Alberta Agriculture.

In recent years Dr. Church has become more hands on in the operation of Canadian Rocky Mountain Ranch raising elk and buffalo for their associated lodges, restaurants and retail meat sales program. They also operate a velvet antler capsule distribution business under the brand name “Qeva”. Dr. Church was very interested in learning more about the use of the compression analgesia and its ability to relieve pain when removing velvet antlers compared to a local anesthetic such as Lidocaine. He has provided the following information on the use of compression analgesia for removal of velvet antlers.

While Lidocaine is available for use on elk as Extra-Label Drug Use, generally administered by a licensed veterinarian or under their supervision, there is no doubt that Lidocaine residues will remain in the antler following its use. Most North American purchasers of velvet antler products freely state that they do not wish to use products with Lidocaine or other chemical residues. The use of Lidocaine in other food producing animals usually requires a withdrawal period before the meat or milk can safely be consumed. The main velvet antler processing plant in Alberta and Canada maintains a very strict ban on accepting velvet antler removed with drugs such as Lidocaine. Properly administering Lidocaine as a ring block on elk stags under veterinary supervision is a challenge for most farmers. Compression analgesia seems to offer a more convenient approach that also avoids the residue problem in the velvet antler.

I have participated in four separate studies on our ranch to evaluate compression analgesia in collaboration with scientists from Alberta Agriculture, Food and Rural Development, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada and AgResearch Ltd., New Zealand. The compression instrument(s) was provided for these studies by No-Bull Enterprises. A summary of these four studies, plus two others for a total of six, was published in the Online Journal of Veterinary Research by Cook NJ, et al, volume 9:13 – 25, 2005, titled “Stress and pain assessment of velvet antler removal from Elk (Cervus elaphus canadensis) and Reindeer (Rangifer tarandus)”. The conclusion by the authors of this publication states “these studies indicate that removal of velvet antler without analgesia is painful and an effective analgesic technique should be applied. Electrical analgesia (E ) is ineffective and its application caused pain in some animals. The combined evidence suggests that high-tension compression is as effective as local anesthetic (Lidocaine ) for pain management during antler removal. These studies further indicate that the application of local anesthetic may be more variable, and stressful to some animals, than application of compression analgesia.”

The study “Comparison of Lidocaine and compression for velvet antler analgesia in wapiti” by Murray R. Woodbury, Caulkett NA and Wilson PR was conducted on a total of 32 elk stags which were placed under general anesthesia for the application of the analgesia and removal of the antlers. The authors concluded “that application of compression MAY be painful, and that compression was not AS EFFECTIVE as Lidocaine for velvet antler removal.” In view of the published statement above, I believe that many veterinarians, including Dr. D. Gockowski, have greatly over interpreted the conclusion reached by Woodbury, et al. In addition, Woodbury, et al stated that “Removal of velvet antlers in both treatment groups elicited behavioral responses. This suggests that the Lidocaine blocks were not fully effective on 6 of 16 animals.” Interestingly Cook, et al also found the application of local anesthetic may be more variable and stressful to some animals than application of compression analgesia. I would recommend that the Woodbury, et al study be closely reviewed and quoted in the proper context when discussing analgesia for velvet antler removal.

Finally, I have used compression analgesia on over 800 animals to date and have become fully convinced that it provides appropriate pain relief for the removal of velvet antlers. It is very important to use a properly designed and manufactured system such as the Callicrate Velvet Antler Bander in order to obtain the critical degree of tension required to achieve effective analgesia. We have found that this system is easy to use and when used according to the direction achieves good pain control. In my experience elk stags typically react more strongly to the ring block, as the needle must be inserted 4 to 6 times around each pedicle in order to inject the local anesthetic, than to the application of the compression band. If the recommended wait period of 4 minutes is followed, very few elk bulls will react or show any degree of pain response to the cutting of the antlers. In addition, the compression system provides a very effective tourniquet during the removal of the antlers.

We have concluded that compression analgesia offers a drug-free, humane and painless method for removing velvet antlers. It is a farmer-friendly approach that addresses both food safety and animal welfare issues. The Callicrate system takes very little training to use and provides consistent analgesia and a tourniquet all in one step.