Is that a giant fingernail on that Texas Longhorn?
Often confused with antlers, horns vary considerably in their anatomy. For one thing, horns are not comprised entirely of bone and they are not shed annually.
The main composition of horns is keratin, the same material that makes up hair and fingernails. The core of a horn is, however, made of bone.
Used for defense, horns are extremely advantageous in the wild. Horns will grow for an animal’s entire life, much like a turtle’s shell, which is also permanent and comprised of bone and keratin. But horns cannot grow back, which means a broken horn can make an animal extra vulnerable in the wild.
Cows, goats, and sheep are the most common farm animals to have horns, but not all breeds have them.
In cows and goats, both sexes in a breed will either have horns, like Texas Longhorns, or naturally be polled. However, this is not the case with sheep. In fact, if either of the sexes is going to have horns, it will be the female sheep, called ewes.
Additionally, some farms practice disbudding, the removal of horns at birth, to prevent animals getting caught in fences or injuring each other. This practice is most common on goat dairy farms.
The size of horns can vary considerably among individuals and sexes, as evidenced with bighorn sheep. Males, called rams, can have horns weighing 30 pounds. Bighorn ewe horns are significantly smaller in comparison.
What polled breeds do you know of? Share with us in the comments below.
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