When considering larger species of livestock that can grow horns, it’s easy for things to get confusing. Some breeds seem to have horns while others do not, and likewise males and females may or may not grow horns.
Sometimes, horned animals have their horns removed by humans when they would otherwise grow naturally. Let’s look at sheep, for instance. Do sheep have horns?
Yes, sheep do have horns though not all breeds do. In domestic breeds, horns are less common than among wild sheep thanks to selective breeding. Depending on the breed, males and females might have horns.
It turns out that there are some sheep actually quite famous for their horns, like the impressive North American bighorn sheep that lives in the wild and the multi-horned Jacob ram among domestic species.
In any case, there was a lot more to learn about sheep and their horns, and I’ll be happy to tell you all about it below.
Other breeds that have horns include:
- Scottish Blackface
- Navajo Churro
Here’s a few breeds without horns:
- Polled Dorset
- Derbyshire Gritstone
Do Male Sheep Have Horns?
Yes, typically. If a breed of sheep has horns, the males are certain to have them. However, not all sheep breeds have horns, and in such a case, males might not have horns either.
Do Rams Have Horns?
Yes, according to the standards above for male sheep. Rams are male sheep, nothing more.
Do Female Sheep Have Horns?
Sometimes. Although this is largely breed-dependent, it is possible for female sheep to have horns of their own.
Do Ewes Have Horns?
Sometimes, as mentioned above. Ewe is a term for a female sheep.
Are the Horns of Males and Females the Same Size?
Rarely. As is common with the defensive and combative adaptations of male members of other species, the horns of male sheep tend to be much longer, thicker and sturdier than those of females.
This makes them much better weapons for dueling other males for supremacy, and also for warding off predators and intruders.
However, depending on the species, females might still have impressive horns that still work quite well as natural weapons.
Are Lambs Born with Horns?
Lambs are not born with proper horns – that would make for a grueling birth indeed for mom!- but they are born with what are known as buds, or hornbuds.
These small, button-shaped protuberances are typically covered by a thin layer of skin, and will soon begin growing into proper horns as the sheep grows.
No matter the breed, expect it to take a few months for the horns to begin to take their proper shape.
Much of the time, one of the easiest ways to tell apart a younger lamb that is showing all other signs of physical maturity is via their horns, if other sheep have them.
The horns of a younger sheep will typically look scrawny or undersized; because a sheep’s horns will continually grow for most of its life, older, mature sheep (and especially males) can have very impressive horns!
Do All Wild Sheep have Horns?
Most do. The vast majority of wild sheep species have horns, both males and females with the horns of males being larger. However, certain species and certain subspecies will have females that lack horns entirely.
For instance, the mouflon sheep found in Turkey, Iran and Armenia has several subspecies with females that are naturally polled, or hornless.
Do Domestic Sheep Have Horns?
Yes, some. Although horns on domestic sheep are far less common than their wild counterparts, they do still exist and even in breeds that don’t have horns as a feature, they might still crop up as a result of careless breeding or accident.
Some Sheep are Bred to Be Hornless
Over the years, domestic sheep have been selectively bred for a variety of beneficial traits.
Size and wool production, along with wool retention, or of course near the top of the list along with temperament but another factor domestic sheep have been selected for is hornlessness.
Sheep that lack horns are known as being polled. This is distinct from horn removal which we will talk about later.
However, careful breeding is essential to maintain hornlessness in these lines…
Through carelessness or sometimes just by genetic accident, it is a possible that a breed of sheep, or even a line of sheep known for being homeless, might spontaneously develop horns in offspring, even if both parents lack horns!
Accordingly, if you’re breeding sheep and especially if you want to keep them all hornless no matter what you’ll need to pay close attention to lineages and other genetic factors before you start expanding the size of your flock!
Is there Any Reason for Domestic Sheep to Have Horns?
Honestly, no. In the wild, sheep depend upon their horns to protect themselves from predators and, in the case of males, to clash with other males to figure out which sheep is dominant and has access to the ladies.
But in my experience, none of this matters one lick when you’re talking about domestic sheep.
If your sheep have horns, they can still use them as nature intended to fight with or attack and potentially injure other sheep or even you!
Getting popped by a charging 200 pound ram with huge, broad horns could send you to the hospital.
And, not for nothing, it’s going to make everything about your life dealing with the sheep a lot harder: I’ve seen them get tangled up in fences and vegetation, get tangled up in stanchions and a lot more.
It’s just not worth the trouble, and keep in mind that horns are living things that grow continuously throughout the sheep’s life.
This is important because only that outer surface is hard, like a shell. The interior is bony and fleshy and full of blood vessels.
If the horns of the sheep get damaged, or if you’re forced to cut them or snip them in order to free the sheep, they’re going to bleed all over the place, and it can be very difficult to stop.
So, unless you are keeping a so-called hobby flock of heritage breeds that have horns, or you want to show off a horned breed in particular, I would stick with polled sheep if I were you.
Horns Can Be Permanently Removed by Disbudding
Now, if for whatever reason you wind up with some little lambs that have their hornbuds and you definitely don’t want them to grow up to be mature sheep with full size horns, you can take action to prevent them from growing.
The process of preventing a sheep’s horns from growing is called disbudding, basically removing the bud from which the horns will eventually grow.
I warn you, this isn’t a pretty process, and having seen it done in person several times I would not recommend it unless you can sedate the animal.
This process is typically performed via cauterization using a specialized tool which will burn away and sear closed that veiny flesh that grows the horns themselves.
This, as you might imagine, can be extremely painful and highly traumatic for a lamb. Local anesthetic at the minimum is mandatory!
Dehorning is Different and Even Worse
If you’re dealing with a mature sheep that already has horns and you need them removed, you’re going to have to cut them off.
This process is properly called dehorning although some people use the term interchangeably with disbudding, though it is not correct.
This process is exactly what it sounds like: a sheep’s horns are basically sawn through, and the exposed core will be cauterized.
Highly traumatic, and even performed by professionals, there’s a good chance of a negative outcome or even death for the sheep. I don’t recommend you do this unless you have no other choice for the sheep’s health.
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.