Moose, elk and deer produce new antlers yearly (primarily males, except in caribou/reindeer). 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.
Within the deer antler velvet industry there are three sections used to identify the composition of velvet antler. The Tips are generally from the end to the first fork and are found as any additional tines. The next section is the Middles and goes from top fork to the next fork down the main shaft and is also found in the same range on advancer branches. Lastly is the Bottoms which includes a flattened center section known as the trunk.
The wax piece is known for promoting heart, nerve and endocrine health. Traditionally this tonic adaptogen is known for promoting bodily growth and its duo-directional immunomodulating attributes. The blood piece contains constituents that support joint health, such as tendon, ligaments and cartilage. It is high in proteins that are the as promote the repair and restructuring of skin muscle and vascular tissues. The bone piece contains constituents that support joints and the crystalline matrix of bones, as well as structural components and co-factors and that are important for cellular and enzyme functions
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.
- Davidson, Alison, Velvet Antler, New Century Publishers, Connecticut , 2000, p. 76
- Kamen, Paul and Betty, The Remarkable Healing Power of Velvet Antler, Nutrition Encounter, Novato, California, 2003, p. 12
- Galloway D (2013-09-05). "Sports Performance Company Ordered to Stop Selling ‘Deer Antler Spray,’ Other Products". WHNT.
- Otano J (2013-09-05). "Ray Lewis’ alleged deer antler supplier has office raided in Alabama". SI.com.