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There are two categories of deer products: those that are taken from deer while alive, namely velvet musk and milk, and those removed from the deer after slaughter, namely venison, skins, tails, pizzles, sinews, glands, tusks, hearts, livers, tongues and kidneys. In the USSR reindeer are milked during the late summer and autumn. This milk is rich in protein, fat and vitamins.

8.1 Venison

Venison is a low-fat meat with a distinct but mild flavour, largely unaffected by diet.

There is a considerable and increasing demand for venison, particularly in West Germany and other parts of Europe. The advantage of deer venison over meat of cattle and sheep is its low carcass fat. Good quality carcasses of low fat content can be produced from young surplus red deer stags by slaughtering them at 15 – 16 months of age and from hinds at 18 months of age. Yearling stag carcasses in New Zealand weighing about 60 kg have a fat content of 5 to 8%, which compares very favourably with sheep and cattle, where figures of 25 to 40% are normal (Drew and McDonald, 1976).

Three-quarters of the high-priced venison cuts in the commercial trade come from the hind legs. The first-class meat obtained from a lean young red deer carcass is 33% of its empty body weight (Blaxter et al, 1974)

At Invermay, New Zealand, stags have been killed off grass and out of the feedlot at 12, 18 and 27 months and in all cases the dressing out percentage was 58 to 60%.

There is an enormous demand for reindeer venison. Male reindeer intended for fattening for venison production are generally castrated.

Stress has a detrimental effect on carcass quality and it should therefore be minimised as much as possible before slaughtering takes place.

8.1.1 Slaughtering

Slaughtering facilities should be well equipped and hygienic; meat hygiene should be supervised by public health authorities.

In establishing facilities for large scale production consideration should be given to the following:

  1. practical alternatives to traditional and large processing facilities;

  2. reducing labour costs to a minimum;

  3. keeping building costs as low as possible; and

  4. when export is important, producing a product which is acceptable to most of the world markets.

The plant should be located on an all weather road, suitable for truck access. Electricity supply is essential for plant operation. A good supply of potable water which can be heated should be available. Waste should be disposed of in a septic tank on the property. The design should allow for easy and economical extensions. Ground should be available for future expansion and there should also be plenty of manoeuvring space for vehicles around the loading area.

If possible, refrigeration equipment, grease traps, water, sewer lines and holding pens should be installed in such a way that in the event of expansion re-location will not be required.

The plant must have a facility for unloading live deer and holding them until slaughter. Adjustable shutes of different heights are preferable. Holding pens should be provided and their floors should have a soft surface. A race should be incorporated for ante-mortem inspection and a pen for rejected animals.

All carcasses must be skinned on a slaughtering floor. The floor should have a stun pen and a bleeding area, and inspection rack, an overhead dressing rail that extends to a carcass cooling off area and a chiller room: a wash basin, a knife sterilizer and a washing down hose; an inspection table, offal processing equipment and container for inedibles.

Construction of walls, floor and ceiling must comply with hygiene regulations and non-toxic rust resistant materials should be used. The cove at the junction of the floor and walls should have at least a 2 mm radius for easy cleaning. Low edges should be flush with the finished surface of adjacent walls or floors.

A cooling off area with forced draught ventilation is provided for removing the body heat from the freshly slaughtered carcasses and also a chiller to store them until transported and processed. A rack for offal storage should be provided in the cooler.

Refrigeration capacity should be based on the total load under peak conditions.

A changing room with toilet should be provided if not available in close proximity to the slaughtering facilities.

Deer to be slaughtered are first stunned, usually with a captive bolt pistol. As soon as the animal is insensible to pain it is hoisted to the hanging position, stuck and the blood collected. The carcass is then dressed1 in the hanging position and the head and the contents of the abdominal and thoracic cavities are presented to the supervising veterinarian or inspector. After this inspection, carcasses fit for human consumption are marked and placed in a chiller.

As it is impossible to make a quality carcass of an animal that is excited or slaughtered with a full gut, animals to be slaughtered should be left over-night in a covered yard and all antlers removed prior to this.

Good bleeding vastly improves the keeping quality of meat and the appearance of the carcass. In New Zealand deer carcasses are cut according to commercial export practice into shoulder, leg, rack and ribs plus neck.

A primary quality requirement is that deer products do not cause any hazards to public health.

The usual approach in meat inspection of domestic stock is an inspection before and another one after butchering. To require this for deer would in effect make deer farming impossible. The catching and transport of the deer to the abattoir for inspection would mean enormous stress, which is primarily inadmissible because of the animal's welfare and secondly because such ante-mortem stress affects the final quality of the meat.

Deer have a higher yield of lean meat than domestic stock. The dressing out percentage among fallow deer ranges from 48 – 60% and among red deer from 51 – 65%. The dressing out percentage is better among adults than many juvenile red deer.

Most slaughtering of reindeer in Alaska takes place during October, November and December, when they are in their best condition and subfreezing temperatures quickly freeze the carcasses. Slaughtering is done in the field and carcasses are taken to an abattoir for inspection. Recently 10 to 18% of reindeer herds were slaughtered in Alaska, but it should be possible to increase this to 20 – 25% (Stern et al, 1980).

8.2 Other Products

Undoubtedly the most valuable product is musk, a strong smelling perfume obtainable only from the musk deer. It is used chiefly in oriental medicaments and to some extent by the perfume industry. Although synthetic musk is now acceptable to the perfume industry, natural musk continues to be the ingredient used in traditional oriental medicines. The musk is extracted from live adult males. It can be extracted repeatedly each year over the life of a single individual. The musk gland is situated in the abdominal region of the male. Musk is a thick red-brown coloured oil. The moisture content of wet musk is 30–40%. It takes about one week for the musk to dry. After drying, a powdery, dispensable mass remains. Production of musk in the male starts at the age of 1 – 1½ years, but ages 3 – 14 are optimum for musk production. After that less musk is produced year by year, but 20 year old males still have the ability to secrete musk.

1 “To dress” means the removal of the skin, alimentary canal and other organs in the thoracic and abdominal cavities, and the feet.

In the East, pharmaceutical interest goes beyond the need for velvet and includes tails, testes, penises and deer blood. The testes and the tails of male deer are said to possess qualities similar to those of antlers in velvet. In the past an extensive market was found in the Far East for extracts of embryos, especially those of the male sex. Dried unborn baby deer, as well as certain organs of the foetal stage, are still sought after there (Whitehead, 1972).

Velvet antler is another important by-product, used for medicinal purposes either as a powder or in thin slices; it is a tonic elixir. It is graded by buyers into four grades which depend upon quality, freshness and degree of damage. Pantocrin, a preparation from the antlers of axis deer, is widely used in the practice of preventive health care. Rantarin, a medicinal preparation from the velvet antlers of reindeer, has anti-inflammatory and anti-stress properties, as well as hypotensive action.

Deer by-products are used in the orient as important ingredients in medicines designed to cure specific ailments. For example, “Three pizzle wine” is said to cure loss of memory, anaemia and shingles. Tails are sliced and sometimes mixed with other medicines. Sinews and testicles are sliced and used as stew-type dishes. Finely sliced antlers are used in soups in a mixture with other medicines. The canine teeth of red deer have a limited market in Germany and Austria, where they are made into jewellery, such as cuff-links, brooches and earrings.

The antlers of various species of deer are manufactured into buttons, pipes, knife handles, letter openers and walking stick handles.

Reindeer sinew thread is especially good for sewing canoes or repairing boots, because it swells, thus making water-tight seams. Hearts, livers, tongues and kidneys have a market mainly in Europe, but hearts and livers of rendeer are also eaten in North America. Details of current processing methods for deer products include the following: musk is extracted from the male musk deer. The animal is placed between a person's legs or strapped to a table with its back towards the operator. The extraction is made with a double-ended silver or bronze scoop, one end having a slightly greater capacity than the other (see Fig.1). The musk gland is then held at its base between the left fore-finger and middle finger. The left thumb is used to open the gland. The opening of the gland is then pressed lightly with the scoop in the right hand, after which the scoop can remove the musk, which is placed on a plate. After removal of the musk some antiphlogistic ointment is placed on the gland opening. The musk is kept in an airtight container to avoid it being affected by dampness and mildew.

Tails are trimmed of excess meat and fat, but the black coloured gland should not be cut. They are sold frozen or dried in two ounce gradings. Pizzles are also trimmed of excess meat and fat. They must have a portion of bone attached complete with testes and a tassel of hair. These are graded by length and then frozen. Sinews are removed from the lower legs with the dew claw attached, sliced and packed in polythene hessian bags.

8.3 Preparation of Hides and Skins

Deerskins are increasingly sought as raw material for the production of top quality suede leather for clothing, gloves, handbags and moccasins. Reindeer hides make excellent parkas, trousers and shoes, whilst their calf skins have been used in the European fancy leather trade (Whitehead, 1972).

Figure 1.

Figure 1

Musk extraction instrument with scoops at both ends

Deer skins often show considerable grain damage. Scratches, both open and healed, prevent their use for leathers where the finish is on the grain surface.

Skinning should only start when the blood has completely drained and bleeding has stopped. The hide is first opened with a suitable ripping knife in a straight line from the neck to the end of the tail. Then each leg is opened by making an encircling cut about halfway between the hoof and the knee joint, followed up with an incision on the inside of each leg.

Washing should start as soon as possible after skinning and before blood coagulation sets in. Fatty tissues remaining on the flesh of skins should be removed as they are a source of putrefaction and damage.

Wet untreated hides and skins, are subject to rapid putrefaction, because in this state they are liable to attack by bacteria and moulds. They must therefore be suitably prepared for transport and storage.

Three main methods of curing are available:

Six-month old weaned red deer hinds.

A New Zealand deer yard, corresponding to design 5 on page 47.

8.4 Collection and Preparation of Velvet

During their early growth antlers are covered with a furry skin, commonly known as velvet. Antlers in the velvet should be collected just prior to the last budding of the main tine. If the antler is allowed to grow any further before cutting, it will show signs of calcification and will accordingly be down-graded. The cutting has to be gauged to balance the maximum length of the branch to the minimum calcification of the lower section of the antler.

Velvet removal should be performed under some from of anaesthetic: either general, local or both combined. Before antlers in the velvet are removed, red deer should be darted with 1 – 2 ml of 10% Rompun. After a waiting period of 15 minutes, cutting can take place. A tourniquet should be placed around the coronet below the pedicle - antler junction beforehand to reduce the blood flow. This can be readily done by applying a bicycle tube in a figure 8. In some countries legislation provides that velvet can only be removed under veterinary supervision.

The velvet should be removed with a clean cutting instrument - a fine or medium toothed meat saw - in such a way that the entire antler is removed without tearing an edge. The antler should be sawn off about 1 cm above the pedicle. Care must be taken not to damage the pedicle. Cleanliness should be strictly observed to avoid disease and loss of deer. After cutting, the antler should be stored with the cut side up in order to reduce blood loss. It should be allowed to cool off and is then wrapped in plastic. The sooner the deer from which the velvet has been removed are back on their feet and in the paddock the better.

Improved race and yarding facilities have made it possible to reduce the amount of drug used before cutting takes place. When a holding pen is covered with shade cloth or hessian it is possible to successfully remove the velvet from fallow deer bucks with 2 ml of 5% Rompun. When the same bucks are velveted in the open, they will require 3 ml of 10% Rompun. Red deer stags should preferably be yarded in the early morning and allowed to stand for 2 – 3 hours to settle down.

A useful management aid is to separate males into early and late velvet mobs. This obviates the need to run all of them each time velvet is removed. Velvet is usually harvested once a year, but recently it has been found possible to take two cuts, provided the first is removed early, namely approximately 48 days after shedding. Two cuts usually produce more velvet then one. Larger and older stags generally shed and grow their antlers earlier.

Once a deer has had its antlers removed, it should not be returned to a herd with antlered animals as it may be injured while being relegated in the social heirarchy by the antlered males.

The cutting of reindeer antlers is done with a small-toothed sheet metal saw. The cut is made above the first, and sometimes above the second branch over the eyes. The blood vessels are “cleaned” with a knife by pressing on the tine for a short time and cutting its superficial layers.

In the USSR antlers are placed for 4 – 6 days in a drying chamber where the temperature is maintained at a constant 50° - 90°C. In Tibet, whole or pieces of antlers are air-dried for 2 – 3 weeks and in the tundra region wind drying is practised.

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