DEAR JOAN: I have lived just off Summit Road in the Santa Cruz Mountains for more than 30 years. Throughout the year I have deer wandering, grazing and sleeping in my orchard.

Just after the first of this year, I spotted through binoculars, three deer grazing together. One deer appeared normal and had no antlers. The second deer had an antler on one side only. This antler appeared normal with two branches. Where the other antler should have been, I could see where fur and skin were missing and the area appeared slightly pink. The third deer had no antler on one side, and where the other antler should have been was a strange growth that was about 6-8 inches long, relatively straight with no branches, but very flimsy in that it appeared to bounce around as the deer moved.

In late winter, deer start shedding their antlers.
In late winter, deer start shedding their antlers. (Ray Sasser/Dallas Morning News)

Never have I seen this before. Of course, I hope there was no animal cruelty involved. Can this happen as a result of mating issues, territorial issues or genetic issues?

Laurie

Los Gatos

DEAR LAURIE: Don't worry. Although you may not have seen it before, what you saw were deer that had shed or were in the process of shedding their antlers. They do it every winter before the start of mating season. It can take two or three weeks for the antler to fall off, sometimes leaving the deer in asymmetrical form.


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Antlers are pretty amazing. They grow from permanent buds, called pedicels, on the deer's skull. The antlers are made of bone tissue. When they start growing, they are covered in a fine layer of hair called velvet. The velvet is full of blood vessels to support the antler's growth. The deer exerts a lot of energy in growing the antlers and carrying them around, so it's important for the deer to be well-fed for most of the year.

During the spring and summer, antlers can grow as much as a half an inch a day, and they grow for two to four months. At a certain point the antlers reach their full growth and a band develops near the pedicels, cutting off the supply of blood to the velvet. The velvet eventually dries up and falls off, usually helped by the deer rubbing his antlers on trees and scraping it off.

With the blood supply gone, the antlers harden, making them good weapons. In the winter, when food is not as plentiful, a deer sheds his antlers to preserve energy and to get himself in good shape for mating season. The calcium in the antlers is drawn back into the deer's body, the antlers become brittle and because they grow separately, they fall off separately. It's not uncommon to spot one-antlered deer for a short while, which is what I suspect you were seeing.

Congratulations

The German Shepherd Rescue of Northern California, based in Cupertino, has reached a milestone, placing its 3,000th rescued German Shepherd dog with an adoptive family.

Princess Gracie became No. 3,000 when she was adopted by Carol, Caitlyn and Emilia at a meet-and-greet in a Woodland area Pet Extreme store. Gracie was originally found in Fremont. She weighed only 35 pounds and had lost more than half of her coat from skin infections. She was tended to at a shelter and later taken by a German Shelter Rescue foster family where she continued to heal inside and out.

The rescue group is run entirely by volunteers and averages 275 adoptions a year.

The group has adoption days every month around the Bay Area. These events are good ways for people to meet potential pets.

Good luck to Princess Gracie and her new family. Keep up the good work.

Contact Joan Morris at jmorris@bayareanewsgroup.com; or P.O. Box 8099, Walnut Creek, CA 94596.