When you think of cows, it’s natural to imagine a female standing around sweetly, chewing her grass and generally enjoying life, but on the other hand we imagine bulls or big steers stomping and stamping swinging their horns and getting their way.
Generally, most folks only think that male cows have horns, but is this true? And some other animal species females have horns just like the males. Do female cows ever have horns?
Yes, most female cows have horns at birth. These horns are typically stopped from growing by either dehorning or disbudding processes. The females of some cow breeds naturally don’t have horns.
It turns out that most female cows will, in fact, have horns if humans don’t intervene, assuming that they are born with them.
Their horns aren’t typically as large, strong, or impressive as those of bulls but there are still significant weapons that can cause serious complications if you don’t take care of them.
Keep reading, and I’ll tell you a lot more about female cows and the horns that they might, or might not have…
I Thought Only Male Cows Have Horns?
It is a common assumption, but it just isn’t true. Female cows can and do have horns, although it is easy to forgive people that believe otherwise since the vast majority of the time whenever we see a female cow she won’t have horns at all.
The bottom line is that, with the exception of certain special domestic breeds, all female cows are born with horns.
The horns are usually removed, or stop from growing, very shortly after birth, but they do have them.
If they are prevented from growing them, their horns will grow in, large and strong, though rarely as large or as long as the horns of a male.
Why Do Female Cows Have Horns at All?
Female cows have horns for all the same reasons as males do: the horn is a formidable weapon! In nature, cows use them for self-defense from predators that are looking to make a meal of them or their young.
Bulls use horns to clash with other males for supremacy, and all cows might use their horns to establish a “pecking order” among their peers.
Even if a female cow has relatively short horns, they can still be potent weapons on defense.
Combined with the sheer mass and strength of a cow, even a horn that seems a little blunt to us can easily pierce an attacker, or strike with the force of a battering ram on a charge.
Female cows use their horns to protect themselves and their young from attackers, and this might even include you or other people on the farm!
Getting smashed by an aggressive cow is bad enough, but it will be 10 times worse if it has intact horns.
Does Letting a Cow Keep Her Horns Cause Problems?
On a farm or homestead, yes, invariably. This is because of cows, even young calves, are highly likely to injure each other and potentially even themselves if their horns aren’t removed.
Considering that your cows really won’t be subjected to the risks of predation on your farm or homestead, horns are of no benefit.
It will only lead to them injuring other members of the herd when squabbling, or even injuring you.
These risks only get worse and worse as the cows grow larger and stronger, and with them their horns grow longer and thicker.
There is no operation or interaction that you’ll have with your cows that won’t be made more difficult and more dangerous if the horns are intact.
Do All Cow Breeds Have Horns?
Most do, though some don’t. In fact, many of the most popular domestic breeds, raised for meat and milk alike, naturally have their horns intact.
Popular breeds like Jerseys, Holsteins, Texas Longhorns (of course), Danish Reds, and Brown Swisses all have horns naturally, and the ones you see without them have had them removed at some point in their lives.
What Breeds Naturally Don’t Have Horns?
If the idea of dealing with the horns of a young cow is unsettling, annoying or makes you squeamish you can take heart because there are several popular domestic breeds that have been selected to avoid horn growth at all.
Breeds such as the Hereford, Red Angus, standard Angus, Charolais and Shorthorn don’t have horns at all.
How are Horns Removed from Female Cows?
Removing the horns from a female cow, or any cow for that matter, can be done one of two ways but it should be performed very shortly after birth for safety and to minimize pain, suffering and trauma.
Horns can be removed from a female cow by process known as disbudding, or by proper dehorning. Although the terms are often used synonymously, they actually are two distinct processes.
Disbudding is preferred, as it eliminates horn growth before the horns fully form and are full of blood vessels, nerve endings, and bone.
It’s typically done via cauterization of the stumps where the horns grow. Done properly, and with anesthetic, suffering of the animal is minimized.
Dehorning is it for the same purpose, but it’s significantly more traumatic, and is performed on adolescent or adult cows after the horns have already come in.
Mature horns will be full of blood vessels and far more difficult to remove. They’re usually cut off, ground down and sometimes cauterized.
Although these processes are routine, it cannot be overstated how traumatic it is for the animal undergoing the procedure.
Several countries in Europe outlaw the practice entirely, while others mandate anesthesia for the animal in others where it is still legal.
Only Attempt Dehorning or Disbudding if You Know What You’re Doing!
You should only ever attempt to disbud or dehorn one of your cows if you know exactly what you are doing. Any mistakes can leave a cow maimed or in agony.
For this reason, if you’re not experienced and don’t have the nerves for the operation, you should leave it to the professionals.
If you have any doubts or reservations whatsoever about having your cows disbudded or dehorned prior to starting your own herd, then you should definitely consider a breed that is naturally hornless and you won’t have to worry about this troubling issue at all.
Tom has lived and worked on farms and homesteads from the Carolinas to Kentucky and beyond. He is passionate about helping people prepare for tough times by embracing lifestyles of self-sufficiency.