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Grading Antlers for Antler Dog Chews


Rich Forrest, general manager of ELKUSA.


We are the Antler Dog Chew experts, supplying antler chews for dogs via wholesale and retail all over the USA.   Living right here at the heart of Rocky Mountain antler territory, we know antler for chews and have thousands of pounds in stock at all times.   Raising elk and deer for 20 years, and buying and selling antler for over 12 years, we really do KNOW antlers and the dog antler chew that meets your dogs needs. 


An antler chew is raw natural antler from wild or farmed deer.  As defined by the USDA, virtually no antler chews can be called ORGANIC since they come predominately from fully unsupervised WILD animals.  Additionally, only organically-certified farmed animals could produce "Organic" antler, hence antlers described as organic may be misleading.


Hard antlers can be used for a variety of purposes, dog chew antler only one of them.  Here in the States, generally antlers can be divided up into two groups, those for craft purposes and those for food purposes.  Food purposes includes the use as antler dog chews.


The highest and best use of any hard antler is as Craft Antler.  Only about 10% or 15% of all antlers are suitable for craft uses. These antlers are usually nicely-formed, well-matched sets of antlers, recently dropped or well-preserved that can be used for various craft purposes. Shades of brown and/or cream color are the usual colors, although local foliage may affect the color scheme and color density.   The value of these craft antlers greatly exceeds the value of antler dog chews.


Craft products range from fancy chandeliers down to simple knife handles, and cover the full gamut of home furnishings, from hand-crafted furniture to banister railings, down to door knobs and cupboard handles.  Particularly large sets may be used for the typical North American stuffed head mounts and/or European rack mounts. As such, craft antler is the first and most sought after form of antler and brings the highest price.  Antler Chews are generally not made directly from craft antler, but can be gleaned from craft antler leftovers, whereby smaller pieces or unusual chunks may still be used for dog chews.


Food antlers make up the bulk of all antler collected.  These are antlers that are broken, not matched sets, have funny shapes, are older, or are generally just not useful for craft purposes.  The vast majority of North American food antlers are shipped overseas to Asian nations as antler prized for its various medicinal properties, not only as soft velvet antler but as hard antler as well.  A great source of calcium and magnesium and phosphorous, Asian cultures use hard antler like American's use calcium supplements.  Soft antler, also known as Velvet Antler is highly prized for its medicinal properties for both humans and dogs.  ElkUSA offers velvet antler as FlexAppeal for humans and Caniflex for dogs.


Food antlers are also the source of Antler Dog Chews.  The same grading characteristics of Asian food antlers can be used for antler chews.  ElkUSA uses four major categories to grade hard antlers to determine suitability for food or antler dog chews.  Such categories are similar to Asian grading standards. 1) HARD BROWN, 2) HARD WHITE, 3) CRACKED WHITE, and 4) CHALKS.  Grading reflects Asian pricing which decreases from Brown down to Chalks.   The species of deer will have a significant bearing on the grade of the antler due to the size and thickness of the antler.  A smaller diameter from a smaller deer species means a quicker dry down and a potentially harder dog chew, though will vary considerably with the deer species.  Whitetail antler generally makes rather hard dog chews, while say, caribou is usually less dense, hence, a soft antler chew.


HARD BROWN, also know as A or #1 grade, are the recent antler drops usually of elk that have a noticeable and sometimes pronounced brown color.   Deer love to rub the velvet antler stage off their antlers by thrashing bushes and rubbing on tree branches and trunks. The scrapped-off vegetable matter stains the antler.  The brown color is due to oxidized chlorophyll which stains the antlers, initially a green color, but with time will oxidize the iron to a brown color (kind of like the rusting process or Fall leaves turning yellow then brown). Brown antler has the highest moisture content and the most pleasing color and are highly valued in Asian circles.  As for dog chews, they have the most aroma, attractive to your dog, but are a bit softer due to the moisture content.  For dogs, softer means a bit quicker chew time and the need to replace it sooner.


HARD WHITES,  also know as B or #2 grade, are the most common food antlers and the best represent antler derived from farmed animals (who generally have no trees or bushes to attack and get sun bleached faster), or from natural dropped wild antlers that have been partially bleached by exposure to the sun.  Sun-bleaching is simply the natural process whereby an antler is shed from the wild animal and lays out in the sun becoming lighter in color until found by a human or consumed by the forest critters.  (This equates to your hair turning blonde as you sun bathe at the beach)  Many times an antler shed (off the animal) can be brown on the down side and sun-bleached white on the upper side.  Usually these antlers are one or two years old and have some moisture loss correlating with the color loss, hence will be a bit harder and longer lasting as antler dog chews, but not quite as aromatic to your dog.  Soaking in water overnight, or a quick microwave in water can make these pieces just as aromatic as the Browns, but at the risk of making them softer and chewed faster by your dog.  Usually soaking is unnecessary as your dog will love his chew antler just like it is.


CRACKED WHITE, also know as C or #3 grade, are antlers that have had a long period (several seasons) of sun or dry wind exposure and have lost enough moisture to allowing cracking between the crystalline structure of the antler.  Again one side maybe brown on the bottom, but cracked and white on the upper side reflecting the sun's drying ability.  These antler chews are lighter in color and in weight, but still contain all the useful minerals and nutrition, just more dried out. (like jerky!)  Since a significant portion of the moisture has evaporated, you are buying more minerals and nutrients per pound and not paying for the water, however you are sacrificing doggy aroma, but get a longer lasting dog chew since the dog saliva must slowly re-hydrate the outer portion of the antler dog chew.  Long soaking or a microwave can somewhat rejuvenate a cracked antler as to softness and aroma, but would be difficult.  As antler ages, the likely hood of splintering when chewed becomes a problem.


Lastly, CHALKY antlers have been baked in the sun or in hot dry wind for many years.  These antlers will easily scratch off a white powder which is simply calcium carbonate powder with lesser manganese and phosphorus minerals.  While used in Asia for ground calcium supplements and here for decoration, Chalks have low value as dog chews due to a lack of aroma and a chalky, gritty feel and the relative inability to re-hydrate them.  A chalky dog antler chew will more easily crumble, splinter or be consumed by your pet.


Due to the volume of antler processed, ELKUSA uses the first three grades of antlers in its antler dog chews.  About +50% is Hard Brown due to its aroma, >45% is Hard White due to its long-lasting ability and >5% is cracked white for the longest lasting chew, although we minimize the use of cracked white to avoid dog chew splintering and to keep aroma and flavor available to your dog.    However, if your dog already likes antler chews, white and cracked whites can get you up to double the chews for the same dollars.  You're just not buying the water! Select you dog chew by the chew status of your dog and your own need to economize.  Since all antler chews are different, one can only generalize about any one chew your dog might consume.


Our fuzzy antlers are simply antlers in transition from the original, live, growing antlers covered with skin, to the hard dense calcified antlers found out in the woods.   These are not commonly available.   Deer farmers sometimes cut these antlers off early to as to minimize the stabbing risk to themselves and other animals.  Soft and tasty to your dog is a good description of these early stage unusual antlers.  However, they are still very rich in blood nutrients, and are easily consumed to excess.  As such, they can cause digestive problems if unsupervised.


For choosey dogs or dogs new to antler chews,  browns, sliced antler or the fuzzy antler all make good starter dog chews, but at a bit higher cost.  With time most dogs can graduate to the more economical whites or even the super economical cracked whites.  Please feel free to give us a call with your antler questions to ELKUSA at 719-657-0942.



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