WLM Fall and Holiday 2015 - Page 44

WLM | wildlife DEER AND ELK Antlers W yoming has many great attributes to offer travelers within the state. These include the magnificent scenery and the abundance and diversity of wildlife present throughout the state. As the astute traveler will attest, the head adornments (antlers) observed on deer and elk increase in size as the season progresses from spring to fall. Antlers play a major role in the life of the male deer and elk as they are part of the animal’s defense system against predator attack. They also play a major role in establishing the social hierarchy of the bulls and bucks which then helps these males attract and secure females during the mating season. Antler growth in deer and elk occurs from specialized tissue areas of the skull, called pedicles. Antler growth begins at birth and is stimulated throughout the male animal’s life by testosterone levels. Males of the species exhibit smaller antlers during adolescence; smaller antlers are also observed in older males who are past their prime. As antler growth occurs, the pedicle area of the skull is stimulated to form a cartilage skeleton made up of a protein matrix that is covered by specialized skin known as velvet. High levels of blood flow through the velvet carrying the necessary nutrients, including calcium and phosphorus, to the cartilage skeleton that forms the basis for the new antler. The new antler hardens as forage nutrient levels decline into the fall. Antler growth typically starts in June-July for yearling males, while mature bulls and bucks may start antler growth as early as January or February. Antler growth is typically completed by late July to August. The velvet is shed and the new antlers are polished in anticipation of the upcoming rut. Antler growth is based on availability of nutrients in the male’s diet; older males have larger digestive systems which allow them to consume more forage nutrients that can be used for antler growth than younger, smaller animals. Spring forage is high in protein, energy and minerals but nutrient levels in the plants decline as the plants mature into late summer and fall. This decrease in forage nutrients can have a negative impact on antler growth. Different plants contain different levels of nutrients and have different growth patterns. As a result bucks or bulls that live in areas with a very diverse plant community (grasses, shrubs, and forbs) tend to have larger antlers than males from areas with less plant diversity. In years with high levels of moisture where forage maturity is delayed into late summer or fall these magnificent males tend to exhibit larger antlers than in years when the growing season is short and plants mature earlier in the growing season. As you travel through Wyoming enjoy the beauty and splendor of all of our natural resources. James Waggoner of Laramie grew up in a small town south of Albuquerque, NM. Growing up, James was involved with his parents in a small family-owned livestock operation. Active in FFA, James held offices at all levels and received the American Farmer Degree from the National FFA Organization. He graduated from New Mexico State University with a BS & MS, and received his Ph.D. in 1975 from the University of Illinois in Beef Cattle Management and Nutrition with a minor in Agronomy (Forage Production). Following graduation James took a position at the University of WY in the Animal Science Department; in 1994 he transferred to the Department of Range Management. During his tenure at UW, he has been involved in teaching, research and extension in animal nutrition, management, production and behavior. James has been involved with his wife (Sue), two sons & their families (Bill and John), in a livestock operation (Wags Livestock) in the Laramie area for over 25 years. They specialize in producing high quality natural beef, lamb, pork and goat that they merchandise through Farmer’s Markets and a local food co-op. Their customer base continues to grow as more and more people are becoming concerned about where and how their meat is produced. 42 Wyoming Lifestyle Magazine | Autumn & Holiday 2015