Horned livestock can be spectacular to look at. The spread of a Texas Longhorn is an impressive sight, and there is something appealing in the curled horns of an old-fashioned sheep breed. But are horns practical?
Not surprisingly, there are both advantages and disadvantages to leaving the horns on your livestock. Let’s take a look.
- Predator protection. The primary purpose of horns is to give the animal a way to defend itself if necessary. In some places, this is a distinct advantage, while in other parts of the country it is not so important.
- Health considerations. While young livestock are relatively easy to dehorn without complications, removing existing horns on an older animal can be painful and risky, though doable.
- Handling ease. It may sound counterintuitive, but sheep and goats can actually be easier to handle when they have horns. Owners can lead them and keep them still by gently guiding their horns.
- Value. Depending on the breed and the market, horns can add value. In ethnic meat markets, a dehorned animal may be regarded as maimed. With heritage breeds, horns are sometimes considered part of what makes the breed distinctive. In direct marketing, horned trophies and polished horns can add more variety to your product lineup.
- Risk of injury. This is the main reason why you might consider dehorning your livestock or looking for a naturally polled (hornless) breed. A horned animal can harm both people and other members of the herd—sometimes even on accident. It can also break off its horns and injure itself.
- Tight places. Horned animals are prone to getting stuck in feeders, stalls, fences, and other tight spots. If they panic while caught, they can injure themselves severely. (This can be avoided by using specially designed equipment.)
- Value again. In some markets, a hornless animal is preferred to make livestock management and handling easier. For instance, small-scale dairy businesses often want either polled or dehorned goats and cows, while at the sale barn horned animals typically sell for a discount.
As with most things, horned livestock will fit better into some situations than others. In extensive systems where the animals are expected to fend for themselves, horns can be a distinct advantage. In small operations where the animals are frequently handled at close proximity, horns can be a serious disadvantage.
As for horns and their effect on value, there are many variables to consider. Two key questions to ask yourself are:
- What breed are you interested in raising?
- Who is your customer and what are his needs?
It is important to have a clear idea of the expectations of your market before making your final decision.
So are horned livestock right for you? Only you can decide.