Have you ever wondered if cows have horns? The cow horn (and whether or not it exists) is a widely discussed topic, but it’s not as clear-cut as it may seem – you can look out at a field of grazing cows and not see a single set of horns, yet in other settings, both males and females will be sporting a good size pair of horns. So what’s the deal with horns in cows?
Most cows have horns, though they are often removed to reduce the risk of injury to handlers, other cows, and equipment. A cow will have horns if it inherits the horned gene from both parents. Some cows are genetically polled, which means that they have been selectively bred so that they don’t have horns, and others are naturally polled, which means that they are naturally born without horns.
Are All Cows Born with Horns?
Not all cows are born with horns. Cows without horns in a breed that is typically horned are called polled cows. That said, some breeds are naturally polled and are born with no horns even without any specific breed.
Naturally Polled Cows
There are breeds of cows that are naturally born without horns. These cattle breeds (cows, bulls, heifers, and steers) do not have horns. Such breeds include:
- Red Angus
- Red Poll
- Speckle Park
- American White Park
- Speckle Park
- Belted Galloway
- British White
- Murray Grey
Genetically Polled Cows
Some breeds of cows are specifically bred to encourage genetic polling. In cattle, horns are inherited as an autosomal recessive gene, with polledness being dominant. In one breeding season, a farmer can take a herd of horned cows and breed them to a polled bull (homozygous for the polled condition) and result in an entire polled calf crop. Breeds such as Hereford are commonly genetically polled in the United States.
What Type of Cow Has Horns?
Any type of cow that inherits the horned gene from both parents will have horns. There are many different breeds of cows originating and developed with and for all parts of the world. Some cattle breeds known to have horns include:
- Texas Longhorn Cow
- Highland Cow
- Belgian Blue Cow
- Ankole-Watusi Cow
- Zebu Cow
- Dexter Cow
- American Brahman Cow
Why Do Cows Grow Horns?
Cow horns have a variety of uses, and are more important than you might assume just by looking at them.
- Thermal regulation
A cow’s horn is connected to it’s sinuses and is full of soft tissue. Cow horns are useful in providing thermal regulation. The way the heat exchange process in cows works is for blood to be pumped round the core of the horn – the part that actually has blood vessels in it – and as the blood passes close to the horn heat can be lost to the exterior and cooler blood circulates back to the body of the animal.
- They help to shape the social space
Cows are known to be highly emotional animals, and use their horns to establish a social pecking order within the herd. The amount of space needed by each cow is determined by whether it has horns or not. As social organs, horns allow cows to find and keep a cautious balance between being an individual animal and being a part of the herd.
While modern domesticated cows don’t have to deal with predators that their ancestors had to defend themselves against in the wild, their horns are still a vital self-defense tool. Research shows that foxes and wild dogs are potential dangers to cattle in some areas, and without horns, cows are an easy target.
Are Cows Horns Sensitive?
Cow horns are sensitive to pain. This is because the dermis of the horn is supplied by the cornual nerve, which is a branch of the maxillary nerve. To minimize pain, this nerve is often blocked to administer local anaesthesia in the disbudding or dehorning process.
Are Cows with Horns Dangerous?
Cows with horns are only dangerous to humans if they feel threatened or scared, or if they are handled improperly. Cows with horns pose a danger to humans especially if they have something to protect, like their offspring. That said, a cow with horns is no more dangerous than one without, but the extent of damage it causes if it does attack is greater.
Why are My Cows Horns Peeling?
Cows often experience flaky, peeling horns. This condition is not normally a result of a serious underlying medical condition, but it can be a cause for concern for cow owners. Some of the common reasons why your cows’ horns may peel include:
- New growth
- Mineral deficiencies
- Head butting
- Protein deficiency
What Color are Cows Horns?
Cow horns are usually cream in color at the base. The tip, which is the oldest part of the horn having been formed when the cow was still a calf, typically has a darker hue.
Can You Trim a Cow’s Horns?
You can trim a cow’s horns. This is a process known as horn tipping, and it involves the removal of the insensitive sharp end of the horn. Horn tipping in cattle is recommended for cows that have overgrown horns. It can help to reduce injury to both cows and their handlers. Tipping should be considered if:
- The horn grows to the point that it touches the cow’s skin
- The horn is growing in a direction that’s likely to penetrate the skin
- The horn is interfering with the cow’s ability to see clearly.
Can Cows Feel Their Horns?
Cows have nerves in their horns, which means that they can feel them.
Do Cows’ Horns Grow Back?
Cows’ horns do not grow back. Once they are broken off or removed, a cow will never grow horns again.
Do Cows’ Horns Have Nerves?
Cow horns have nerves, which is why the use of effective pain relief is highly recommended for welfare as well as ease of handling. Effective pain relief requires applying local anaesthetic in the right spot and allowing enough time for it to work. In younger calves, effective anaesthesia can be achieved by blocking the cornual branch of the lacrimal nerve. In older cows, the cornual branch of the cervical nerve to the rear of the horn bud may also need to be blocked.
Does It Hurt to Cut Cows Horns?
Although dehorning and disbudding are justified for handling reasons as well as for welfare grounds, they are nevertheless painful practices. There are three main procedures used to cut cows’ horns:
- Hot-iron disbudding
This causes pain-related behavioral changes such as increased scratching and kicking both during and after the procedure. These changes tend to last about four hours.
- Chemical disbudding
The response to chemical disbudding in cows is different. Although calves don’t show signs during the procedure, pain-related behavioral changes are usually observed after the procedure and can last up to 3-4 hours.
- Amputation dehorning
Amputation dehorning causes behavioral changes during the procedure which can last for 6-8 hours afterwards.
How Do Cows’ Horns Grow?
Cow horns arise from subcutaneous connective tissue (which occurs under the scalp) and later fuse to the underlying frontal bone. Horns grow in a curved or spiral shape, often featuring ridges or fluting.
At What Age Do Cows Grow Horns?
Although baby cows are not born with horns, they quickly start to grow within a few days of birth. After a couple of weeks, you’ll notice small bumps will be visible on the calf’s head where the horns will soon emerge.
How Long are Cows Horns?
Cow horns vary in length. Longhorn cows, for example, have horns measuring up to 40 inches in length at maturity, while a bull’s horns grow up to 46 inches.