October 14, 2016

Horned Bulls and Lack Thereof

Besides the myth about cow-tipping, there exists another dastardly myth that: "all bulls have horns. "

By bulls, I mean intact male bovines.

Simply put, not all bulls have horns. Rather, all cattle genders (cows, bulls, steers, and heifers) have horns, but not all breeds or breed crosses. Genetics play a big role in determining horn existence, and horn existence is not male sex-linked (or only found on the male chromosome).

Most breeds in the world have horns, but there are also a large number of animals that are dehorned or "disbudded" when quite young.

Various breeds have horns primarily for aesthetics--to keep the characteristic "look" of that particular breed--and for their protection. There is some science showing that horns also act as a temperature control system, especially for animals raised in hot and humid climates.

However animals that are dehorned or disbudded are done so for the safety of the people handling them and for other animals. Few horned cattle get themselves stuck in a fence or shrubby vegetation, primarily because they know the breadth and size of their horns, and are quite intelligent in knowing how to maneuver their horns through seemingly tight spaces. Cattle are actually a lot smarter about maneuver their horns through a tight space than a dog is trying to get a big stick through a door!

There are many bulls that do not have horns, whether they were born that way or disbudded when very young. So I really and strongly suggest that the existence of horns in a bovine animal is not the best way to tell the gender. Rather, I'd sooner you take a look at what's hanging down in between the hind legs to see if the animal you are looking at is a cow or bull, or even a steer or heifer.

Here's where pictures are a huge help. 

Polled Cattle Breeds

Angus: Black

Angus cow
Angus bull with his bull calf

Angus: Red

Red Angus cow
Red Angus bull

Red Poll

Red Poll cow
Red Poll bull

Belted Galloway

Belted Galloway cow
Belted Galloway bull 


Galloway cows
Galloway bull

Speckle Park

Speckle Park cow and her bull calf
Speckle Park bull

British White

British White cow
British White bull

Some Horned Cattle Breeds

Texas Longhorn

Texas Longhorn bull
Texas Longhorn cow
Texas Longhorn steer

Spanish Fighting Cattle

Spanish Fighting bull (Iberian heterogenous)
Spanish Fighting cow (Iberian heterogenous cattle)

Scottish Highland

Highland bull - summer coat
Highland cow with bull calf


(Horned) Hereford cow with calf
(Horned) Hereford bull
Just for grins and giggles, here are some pictures, for comparison, of polled Hereford cattle. Exact same breed, except that somewhere down the line, a long time ago, a genetic mutation enabled this breed, without any influence from the Aberdeen Angus lineage, to be naturally polled (never born with horns). 

(Polled) Hereford cow
(Polled) Hereford bulls


Ankole-Watusi cow with bull calf
Ankole-Watusi bull

Here's the thing: If you see a calf suckling from what looks to you like a "bull" because it's a bovine and has horns, chances are you are looking at a cow caring for her calf.

So as you can see, not all bulls have horns, but there are plenty of breeds out there with all genders/sexes that have horns. I didn't include other breeds like Simmental, Limousin, Charolais, Jersey, Holstein, Braunvieh, Brown Swiss, Nellore, Braford, Beefmaster, Florida Cracker, Corriente, and many others, mainly because I didn't want to take too much time and space up showing the many breeds that are capable of having (and not having) horns.

Fun fact: Did you know that if you bred a horned bull to a polled cow (or a polled bull to a horned cow), you get a calf that is also polled? This is because the gene for horns is what geneticists call "recessive" or suppressed indefinitely so that it does not show up ever, physically, in the offspring.

Of course, there's a bit more to this genetics story to be discussed at a later date! 
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