Hooves, Horns and Antlers

The 45 minute classroom presentation "Hoofs, Horns and Antlers" provides information on the formation and purpose of these features for the three animal families Antilocapridae, Bovidae, and Cervidae. The presentation includes a variety of hoofs, skulls and antlers.
Please have 3 large tables available for the presentation.

Animal Families

Antilocapridae - Pronghorn

Bovidae - Bison, Cattle

Cervidae - Caribou, Elk, Moose, Mule Deer, White-tailed Deer

Hoofs are made of a type of solidified hair known as keratin. The hard outer portion of the hoof is concave to provide better traction on the ground for winter. The hoofs are cloven, or split, and will spread slightly apart for greater support for the animal. The hardened structures on the back of the leg above the hoofs are called ‘dew claws'.


Bison and cattle grow horns which are never shed. These are permanent extensions of the skull and are a living part of the animal nourished with blood that flows through the porous core. A keratin sheath protects the porous core from damage or injury. The pronghorn antelope is the only horned animal that annually sheds a part of its horns. That part is the outside layer known as the casque, and it is pushed off each fall by the new casque growing underneath.


Antlers are a feature of the male members of the Cervidae family, with the exception of caribou where both males and females produce antlers. Under normal conditions, antlers are shed every year. Antler growth is a response to the increase in the hours of daylight. The size and shape of antlers will depend on food, age, and heredity. The rapid growth of antlers, as much as 12.5 mm. per day, puts a tremendous drain on the calcium and nutrients in the body of the animal. Some biologists believe that it takes as much out of a buck's body to produce a large set of antlers as it does for a doe to produce a pair of fawns. Antler points, known also as tines, are not an indication of the age of the animal since the antler points will vary in number depending on a number of variables. The skin covering the antlers while they are growing is called velvet. During the growth period, antlers are soft and tender, and can be easily damaged or broken. By late summer, the velvet dries and the antlers harden. Once the velvet has peeled off, the antlers will lighten up from exposure to sun and rain. Following rutting and breeding season, the buck's antlers drop.
Curriculum Connections Outcomes Indicators
Grade 4 Science HC4.2 Analyze the structures and behaviours of plants and animals that enable them to exist in various habitats A,E,G,H,I
  Science HC4.3 Assess the effects of natural and human activities on habitats and communities, and propose actions to maintain or restore habitats C,D,J
Grade 6 Science DL6.2 Examine how humans organize understanding of the diversity of living things A,D
  Science DL6.3 Analyze the characteristics and behaviours of vertebrates (i.e., mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, and fish) and invertebrates B,C,E

DL6.4 Examine and describe structures and behaviours that help:

  • individual living organisms survive in their environments in the short term
  • species of living organisms adapt to their environments in the long term