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Posted on July 29, 2012
Before You Buy Other Antlers for Dogs, Please Read!!!
Hey all! As you know, I'm the owner of Mountain Dog Chews, a boutique distributor of Grade A+ elk antler chews. I've been active today on several blogs that have queried as to differences among the various antler chews and treats on the market. Although we are new on the scene, I've spent my life with dogs and antlers by virtue of my interests in the great outdoors – and I'd like to chime in to provide a bit of education (Antlers For Dogs 101???)!
By FAR, I prefer elk antler over any over species of cervids (whitetail deer, mule deer, etc.), as the antler material offers optimal density – which makes for a chew that is durable, but also more safe. Elk chews actually are LESS dense than other antler chews as the outer-structure / marrow ratio is much lower. By contrast, most deer antlers are incredibly hard throughout (think jawbreaker hard), while lacking much in the way of core marrow. I have found that such other antler offerings carry too high a risk of causing slab fractures (Ouch! I can't imagine the pain of a broken tooth...) for us to feel comfortable offering them to our dog, much less endorsing them to the market through Mountain Dog Chews. Too, although all antlers are less likely to splinter as compared to cooked meat bones, elk (and moose, also) chews can be virtually worry-free from splintering concerns (if processed correctly and sized appropriately), while deer antlers may readily snap or crack when at the mercy of a voracious chewer – to me, personally, it's an an apples to oranges comparison.
If you've indulged me this far, I'll point out one other thing (well, a couple of related things) to keep in mind when considering ANY antler chew from ANY brand/store... First, (until I saw shenanigans firsthand, I had assumed the following would be a GIVEN in conducting business (unfortunately it's not, and it's a huge issue)) make sure you know what you're buying! That is, there is rampant misinformation in this particular market – it's audacious, in fact. By analogy, if one was a seller of sacks of “dog food," generically stated, I could find myself purchasing anything from horse meat to top-shelf, small-batched organic kibble that rivals what I, myself, eat for dinner! Frankly, folks who are tossing chalk white low-grade antlers in a bag/box and simply stamping them "antlers for dogs" are doing a grave dis-service to the pet industry. ...Namely owing to:
(i) safety issues associated with passing off weathered white, often-cracked, Grade B/C/D shed antlers as suitable, when in fact such chews are prone to splintering, devoid of the same nutritional benefits found in fresh, brown Grade A+/A chews, and, in a worst case scenario, a hazard to our pups. More to this in pt (ii); however, the takeaway is: do not settle for junk. Awhile ago, I ran into a gent who told me that he sold "antlers" and as "antlers are antlers, what you get is what you get..." There was no care or differentiation as between deer v. elk, and certainly no concern regarding antler grade. We all should expect more, generally speaking.
(ii) a general lack of knowledge as to the commodity aspects of the shed antler market (from which antler chews are derived). In a nutshell, there is a market for every type of antler, and within each market, there exists a somewhat subjective (albeit time-proven) "grading" system. As a rule of thumb, chews made from deer sheds are significantly less costly (to the manufacturer, note) than elk antler chews. Moreover, with respect to grading, the lower the grade, the significantly less the cost (again, to the manufacturer, note). For sake of example, consider the following grading scale (used w/r/t elk sheds):
Grade A+: I would wager that less than 5% of ALL antlers could meet these criteria. This grade of antler historically was reserved for high-end craft and artisan use (chandeliers, premium furnishings, etc.), as these antlers are THE cream of the crop, hand-selected, fresh, recently-dropped brown antler (local foliage may affect the color and weight a bit, but these are the BEST). These are the only grade of antler we at Mountain Dog Chews use, and suffice it to say that the value of such antlers greatly exceeds the value of 99%+ of each year's shed stock allocated to antler dog chews. As for dog chews, our mandate for only Grade A+ results in a chew with the most aroma (insanely attractive to your dog, but not noticeable to humans), and the highest available moisture content (which makes such chews extremely palatable to all sizes and ages of dogs). As a supplier, this unfortunately means that when we hand-select, say, 20,000lbs for our brand, our actual per-pound yield is a pittance of our competitors'. For the consumer, however, our "Mammoth Chews" often top two pounds, whereas a "Jumbo," "Monster" or "XL" chew from others will be half-price, but will weigh in at only a few ounces and nary the size (honestly, for better or worse, we are selling "small" antler chews that are priced the same as, but rival, brand "Z's" "extra-large" chewz – wow, visit your local big-box retailer to see for yourself!). The Mountain Dog Chews brand admittedly isn't for everyone; however, we confidently contend that we offer the best that money can buy, and I'll stand behind that. As far as we can assess, we are the SOLE brand committing (and paying top dollar for) this Grade A+ caliber of product for dog chews. [UPDATE 7/4/12: We have met a family business in the Rockies that shares our principles! You know who you are!] Time will tell as to whether you and the markets will recognize our investment. ;) Let's look at industry profits across Grades, which provides a helpful demonstration of VALUE and bang-for-the buck! Hypothetical financials: Naked acquisition cost to the brand = ~$20+/pound. Average yield = ~2 pieces per pound. Average retail price per chew = ~$14. Average gross margin = ~$8/pound. Lowest margin AND highest quality.
Grade A: These chews are derived from fresh, brown antler sheds, and represent the top ~10 – 15% of antlers each year. Essentially, only quality, current-year sheds will make up these chews. Furthermore, they are, but for our Grade A+ classification noted above, among the best of the best – and such chews should represent the minimum benchmark for your expectations when purchasing antler chews. Currently, I HONESTLY know of only two other suppliers in America that will give you true Grade A antler chews. So, if you want antler chews that actually are derived from current-year sheds and that contain the beneficial minerals touted, then demand that your supplier or retailer give a representation as to grade quality (if not our A+, then at least A). Hypothetical financials: Naked acquisition cost to the brand = ~$15/pound. Average yield = ~2.5 pieces per pound. Average retail price per chew = ~$12. Average gross margin = ~$15/pound.
Grade B: Grade B currently constitutes the bulk of the so-called "high end" antler chew brands you'll find online, etc. And, friends, that is not saying much (notwithstanding that we have two lower tiers yet to discuss!). If you have attended any major U.S. pet industry trade show within the past twelve months, Grade B represents, with a single exception, the "best" antler chews exhibited. Grade B is commonly known as "hard white" within our shed hunting community. These antlers typically are one or two years old, and most likely will be significantly dried out, bleached white from weather exposure, and usually will have some degree of rodent chewing (ground squirrels, marmots, etc.) on portions thereof. They don't call these "hard whites" without reason...! The largest, entrenched distributors in the pet industry peddle thousands of pounds each day, unfortunately, thanks to mis-information and good marketing... Will your dog care? Probably. Should WE care? Undoubtedly. Hypothetical financials: Naked acquisition cost to the brand = ~$10/pound. Average yield = ~3.5 pieces per pound. Average retail price per chew = ~$10. Average gross margin = ~$25/pound.
Grades C and D: We'll lump these two categories together, as even under the best of circumstances, these are (quote me!)... J – U – N – K. Please, treat your dog with a pig ear or a bully stick rather than opting for these lowest-grade antler chews. For your dog's safety and health, if Grade A+ or A brown antler chews don't suit your budget, don't waste your money, when other alternatives are available. These sub-prime Grades of chews are easily recognizable, and unfortunately can be found under a couple of established brands TODAY on the shelves of one the largest big-box pet retailers, as well as, to my personal disappointment (as an authentic sportsman), on the shelves of one of America's largest retailers of fly-fishing tackle, outdoors clothing and otherwise quality gear... These sub-prime Grades of antler chews are comprised of antlers that have had (best case) several seasons of sun, wind and rodent exposure and/or (more typically) many years of sun-baking such that one may actually scratch off from surfaces white powder(!), and in any event have lost enough moisture such that you will notice cracking within the crystalline structure of the antler if you look closely (note: often you needn't inspect closely, as the chew will more resemble a small piece of weathered coral than a wholesome best-in-class dog treat). These sub-prime Grades will easily crumble and splinter, and I can't imagine that any self-respecting dog lover would knowingly provide this type of chew to his or her pup or support in any manner the folks perpetuating said brands' acceptance. Again, expect more (much more)! Hypothetical financials: Naked acquisition cost to the brand = ~$5/pound. Average yield = ~4.5 pieces per pound. Average retail price per chew = ~$8. Average gross margin = ~$31/pound. Yikes, eh?!?
So, there you have it – our $0.02! Given the above, it is CRITICAL that people (whether at the consumer-level or the big-box-retailer-level) demand to know what they are getting – AND to make sure they are getting what they have paid for in terms of value and quality / product integrity and safety (...and without regard solely to profits – as anything worth doing is worth doing only with excellence).
Questions? Bark at me: firstname.lastname@example.org