Do Cows Have Horns? [Polled Cows vs. Horned Cows!]

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There is nothing like the magnificent sight of a herd of cattle grazing peacefully in a field of lush grass. It is way too easy to take these beautiful bovines for granted without taking a second glance. But look closely. Look at their horns! Do all cows have horns? Or is it just certain types or breeds of cattle that have horns?

In this cow and cattle guide, we’ll answer that question and dive much deeper into the world of horned cattle. And hornless cattle!

Sound good?

Do Cows Have Horns?

Yes. But not always! Both male and female cows can have horns, but not all dairy or beef cows have horns. Some cows have their horns removed when they are young to prevent them from injuring other cows. Other cows get naturally polled. In other words, they are a breed that does not have horns.

brown cow on farm with blue sky background
Do cows have horns? The answer is yes. Naturally, cows have horns. However, many farmers wish that cows were hornless due to the risk of injury from horned dairy cows and beef cattle. We even read an interesting article from the University of California ANR blog saying that some scientists want to delete the genetic trait of horns.

Do All Cows Grow Horns?

All cows can potentially grow horns unless specifically bred not to have them.

The size and shape of cow horns will vary widely, and on some breeds of cattle, they are so small that you barely notice them!

Other breeds of cattle, such as the magnificent Highland Cow, have such tremendously-sized horns that they protrude more than twice the width of the cow’s head.

Why Do Some Cows Have Horns and Some Don’t?

There are two reasons why some cows have horns and others don’t. While horns are a natural part of the animal, cows with large horns can be troublesome for the farmer. A prominent set of horns can injure other cows in the herd, or the cow may injure itself if it catches the horns on a fence or gate.

The potential for injury means that farmers tend to prefer cows without horns. Traditionally cattle horns were removed when they were young – a process called disbudding.

However, recent genetic advances mean that certain types of cows can get bred that are born without horns at all. Cattle getting born without horns is achieved by selecting hornless bulls and crossing them with female cows, resulting in a high chance that the offspring will also not have horns.

qt lowline cow cattle
This is our girl, QT! Our Lowline cattle are naturally polled – a huge advantage if you run your cows with other animals, like horses.

Do Female Cattle Have Horns or Just Bulls?

A commonly held misconception is that cattle with horns are always bulls, and female cows don’t have horns. However, whether a cow is male or female does not determine whether it will have horns.

So you could get a bull or a cow with or without horns, as gender is immaterial here!

What Are Cows Called With Horns?

When cows have horns, they get referred to as horned cattle. Cows that have had their horns removed are then known as dehorned cattle.

Cows that are born without any horns at all are called polled cattle. These hornless cows occur because of a selective breeding program that pairs naturally hornless bulls with breeding cows. The result? Polled calves.

Read More!

Do Cows Have Horns When They Are Born?

If a cow is a breed or type that naturally has horns, it will not be born with horns. Think about it – it would be shockingly painful for the momma cow if she had to give birth to a baby with horns!

The horns of a cow start to develop when the calf is around three months old and can take several years to reach its full size.

2 cows looking at camera during sunset
When researching whether all cows have horns, we had to look beyond cattle on farms. We dove into animal genetics. Who knew cattle farming was so tricky? Thankfully, the Smithsonian National Zoo website gave us a clear answer. Both beef cattle and dairy breeds can have horns. However, polled cows lack horns and are genetically hornless. On the flip side, cows existing in the wild almost always have horns.

How Do You Tell if a Calf Will Have Horns?

Genetically, it can be relatively easy to tell if a calf will likely have horns depending on its parents. This determination has led to an increase in polled cattle breeds, which many farmers prefer to the unpleasant task of dehorning.

The gene in cows with horns is recessive and can get overridden by the dominant gene that creates a polled cow. Breeders tend to use a bull that is homozygous for the polled condition. This breeding process produces two copies of the polled gene and results in polled calves even if the cows it gets bred with are horned.

Once a calf has been born, a close examination will tell you if it will have horns. Calves with horns will get born with two little bumps on their heads called horn buds. These fuse to the calf’s skull during the first three months of life and then grow into horns.

black and white holstein cow
Here’s a lovely sight familiar to all dairy farms everywhere. A Holstein cow! As you see, this Holstein has horns. But are cattle horns dangerous? Many farmers think so. And we can’t blame them! We read an interesting article from the PennState Extension blog that cites how over 22 humans get killed by cattle in the US yearly! We don’t think horns are to blame in all cases. But hornless cattle might make cow ranching safer.

Why Are Cow Horns Removed?

Horned cows will often have their horns removed for safety reasons. The least painful way to do this is to remove the horn buds when the calf is young. Dehorning the cow at a later stage is more painful and carries higher risks.

Cows are large animals, and those with horns come with two potential weapons attached to their heads! They often do not mean to cause harm but can accidentally bruise or lacerate other cattle or their human caretakers with their horns.

Another problem with horns is that they can become damaged if the cow catches them on fencing. A broken or damaged horn can result in a severe hemorrhage. Or infection.

horned cow looking at camera during sunset
We read on the UC Davis Vet Genetics Laboratory blog that the polled nature in hornless cattle is a dominant trait. If a bull has two polled mutations, his offspring will be hornless. The polled (hornless) characteristic in cows is tremendously desirable for dairy breeds and food animals. One reason for that is the process of dehorning cows on dairy farms. Many critics of the dairy industry say that dehorning is cruel. Luckily – polled cattle lack horns naturally. So with polled cattle, no controversial or painful dehorning process is required.

5 Cows With No Horns

Removing the horn buds from a calf is a traditional practice that many modern-day farmers try to avoid. While sometimes it is not a problem to rear cows with horns, another popular option is to select a naturally-polled cow breed instead.

Here are some of our favorite polled cattle breeds!

1. Belted Galloway

young belted galloway calf in field

The Belted Galloway cow originates from Galloway in southwest Scotland. This polled cow is ideally adapted to living on upland pastures and windswept moorlands and gets prized for its high-quality beef. However, the feature it is most famous for is the distinctive white belt around its dark-colored body – leading to it getting called the Oreo Cow!

2. Murray Grey

murray grey cattle on rural farm

This Australian polled cattle breed originates from the Murray River valley bordering Victoria and New South Wales. It is renowned for its ability to produce large quantities of milk, even in harsher environments.

3. Red Poll

hornless red poll cattle on farm

The Red Poll is a dual-purpose cow that produces reasonable amounts of milk. Red Polls also offer good quality beef suckler calves. Red Polls were one of the first naturally-polled cattle breeds, originating in England over 150 years ago.

4. Angus

black angus cows grazing in field

Angus is one of the most popular beef cattle on the planet. They originate from Scotland and are also famously polled – so they don’t have horns. They’re known for their black coat, thick body, and excellent meat. They got introduced to America in 1873 and have since been a favored meat breed.

5. Lowline Cattle

hornless australian lowline cows on farm

Lowline cattle are a polled beef breed hailing from Australia. You’ll notice that they always lack horns. They’re usually black or red and sometimes have white spots around their undersides. They’re famous for their short (yet well-proportioned) statures and excellent temperaments.

Here’s our momma, Pancake, with her baby, Syrup. Lowline cattle were the best choice for us. Not only are they the perfect size for the smaller homestead, they are also hardy and self-sufficient. They remain fat without hard feed, are exceptional mommas, and their friendliness is second-to-none.

Another consideration for us is the excellent quality of the meat – probably due to their calmness and bone-to-meat ratio. They also experience little problems when giving birth – another major plus!

pancake syrup lowline cattle cow with calf 2
black and white cow on green pasture
Here you see another lovely horned dairy cow. This cow never got disbudded – meaning that the cattle rancher never removed their horns at a young age. We read from the most reliable sources (including the Cornell University blog) that cattle farm disbudding occurs before the cow reaches eight weeks old. Of course, disbudding cows causes tremendous pain for the creature – and the article goes into detail regarding various disbudding pain relief strategies. Some cattle farm animals also get their horns removed later in life. If an older cow gets its horns removed, it’s called dehorning. We don’t like this technique because horn removal is likely to cause more pain after the horns develop.

Conclusion – Do Cows Have Horns? Or Not?!

As you can see, determining if cows have horns is more complex than most people realize! Some cows have horns, others get theirs removed, and polled cows are born with no horns!

A cow with horns can be a beautiful and majestic sight, and many of us are fans of horned cattle. However, choosing to keep cows with horns is not a decision that should get taken lightly, and for many homesteaders, a polled cow would be a safer and more trouble-free option.

hairy scottish highland cows in winter landscape
Do cows have horns? We know the answer is confusing. So let’s wrap up with these two horned beauties! Here are two Scottish Highlander cows with natural horns in a lovely wintry setting. When you venture into the wild, expect to see horned cattle specimens like in the image above. Wild cows have horns! But most domestic cows on dairy and cattle farms won’t have horns. Usually, cattle cows and dairy cows get disbudded at a young age. Or they’re the result of polled breeding. In other words – some domestic cattle get their horns removed. And some dairy and cattle breeds got bred to be hornless.

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