You may have heard about deer having velvet, but it’s not the velvet we might find in clothes or on furniture. Rather, it refers to the growth phase of a stag’s antler when the antler has an abundant blood, nerve, and hair supply and a covering of soft fine hair.
A male deer's antlers grow annually from the pedicle (a bit like a stalk) of his frontal bone.
Antlers are not horns and develop and mature in a manner different to horns with two stages of antler development: velvet antler and hard antler.
Velvet antlers grow extremely fast, up to 2cm a day. As they grow, the cartilage is gradually replaced by bone and when growth is complete, the antler calcifies completely, the blood vessels at the junction between the pedicle and the antler close, and the skin, nerves and connective tissue dry, shrivel and flake off - they shed their velvet.
Hard antlers are then ready for the rutting season in autumn when stags become more aggressive and combative as they compete for hinds. After the rutting season, the pedicle-antler junction weakens and the antlers are naturally cast.
Tom says: “From mid-August, the stag start to naturally shed their velvet. So all that velvet which is supporting the growth goes into what we call ‘tatters’, which are like a set of dreadlocks or a mop hanging from the top of their head. As they start coming into rutting season, they'll thrash against trees and undergrowth, and muddy themselves in wallows, to start making themselves look a bit bigger. And they also urinate on themselves - apparently, it's a very attractive smell for the hinds! "
Photo: Lucy Roberts