Do Dairy Cows Have Horns? Meaning, Comparisons, Dehorning, & Polling

Ever visited a dairy farm and seen cows without horns? It’s a common sight on dairy farms that stirs a lot of questions.

You begin to wonder if the cows were born that way. Perhaps there was genetic editing somewhere before birth to keep the cows from growing horns.

All cows – dairy or non-dairy – have horns except they have gone through dehorning. Dehorning is a process of removing the horns from cows to ensure safety on the farm.

So, take off the idea that all hornless cows are females. Let’s get into the focus of this article – dairy cows and why they may not have horns.

What are dairy cows?

Dairy cows are bred for dairy products – milk, cheese, and butter.

In the U.S., there are seven different breeds of dairy cows. They include Ayrshire, Brown Swiss, Guernsey, Holstein, Jersey, Milking Shorthorn, Red, and White.

Furthermore, dairy cows produce milk for ten months in a year and give birth once. These cows do not produce milk all their lives. After about 3 or 5 years of producing milk, the cows are slaughtered for beef.

Do dairy cows have horns?

Naturally, all cows are born with horns, including dairy cows.

However, some cows never have horns due to circumstances like genetic modification. These cows are called naturally polled cattle.

Also, some cows on a dairy farm do not have horns if they have gone through disbudding (a process of removing horn buds to prevent horns from growing) while they were calves.

Do all female cows have horns?

Yes. A common misconception about cattle is that the presence of horns determines whether they are males or females. But this is not true.

All female cows have horns except if they are polled or have been dehorned.

Are dairy cows different from beef cows?

Yes. Dairy cows and beef cows are cattle raised for different purposes.

Dairy cows are raised for dairy products while beef cows are raised for their meat. Both of them fulfill commercial purposes but are raised differently by breeders.

Additionally, dairy cows are usually thinner and longer while beef cows are round, stout, and stocky. Both types of cattle eat grasses and grains.

Although beef cows produce milk (two gallons per day) when they have their calves but the milk is only enough to feed their young.

In the same vein, after about 3 or 5 years, when dairy cows have produced a lot of milk, they are sent to the slaughter to provide beef. Dairy cows can produce 8 to 10 gallons of milk per day.

What is a polled cow?

A polled cow is a cow that is not born with horns because of genetic editing that happens before they are born.

It is a conscious breeding plan that prevents cows from growing horns. Some of the advantages of breeding polled cows are that it makes the farm safer to a good extent.

The growth of horns is uncontrollable without dehorning. When the horns grow too big, the chances of cows hurting themselves and their young is high. They could also injure farmworkers if they get into a struggle.

Moreover, breeding polled cows save adult cows from going through the pain of dehorning. And young calves do not also have to go through the pain of disbudding.

While it is a blessing, it could also leave the cows defenseless before predators.

How to dehorn dairy cows

If you run a dairy farm, you can dehorn your cows yourself with some simple and easy-to-use tools.

Most importantly, know that dehorning a cow that is over 12 months is not advisable and some states are strongly against the practice.

Also, put the right post-dehorning aftercare in place after dehorning dairy cows to prevent excessive bleeding and infections and to speed up the healing process.

1. Chemical method

This method cannot remove full-grown horns; it is best for disbudding calves. Applying caustic chemicals to the horn buds of 1 to 3 weeks old calves will destroy the cells around the horn bud. As a result, they do not grow horns while they grow.

But you have to be careful with caustic sticks or pastes. Keep them away from your eyes and do not use them during the rainy season.

2. Use a dehorning knife

It may not always be a dehorning knife. It could be a spoon or tube. This is another quick method for disbudding less than 8 weeks old calves.

The metal goes through the skin down to the base of the horn and removes the horn bud and skin around it.

Additionally, this method is highly recommended because it reduces the risk of tissue damage. Also, if it is successful, there will be no regrowth.

3. Cup dehorners

These tools are better for older calves that already have defined horns. Dehorning knives or spoons cannot effectively remove the horns of a year-old cow. But you should only use this tool if you have good knowledge of it.

4. Scoop dehorners

A sharp scoop dehorner helps remove a ring of skin around the horn bud while removing the horn bud simultaneously.

This method and tool are more effective for horns four inches long and above. Scoop dehorners come in different sizes that fit cows of different ages.

5. Horn saw or guillotine dehorners

Horn saws and guillotine dehorners are for older cattle with full-grown horns. These tools are for professional veterinarians. But if you’re using any of them by yourself, it should be for tipping.

Dehorning aftercare

  • Control bleeding with a hot iron
  • Clean and dress the wound neatly and carefully
  • Use a fly repellant to drive off flies
  • However, do not apply insecticides directly to the wound
  • Also, do not allow recently dehorned cows to mingle with other cows immediately
  • Observe the cows for signs of infection
  • Most importantly, feed dehorned dairy cows well

Can a dairy cow’s horns grow back?

A dairy cow’s horns may grow back or they may not.

In most cases, horns will not regrow if they are removed intentionally or broken during a fight or accident. Horns are permanent organs that grow from the skin of cows.

In a few cases, the horns may regrow if the horn buds are not well-treated. However, they won’t be like normal horns. The horns may grow back into the cow’s head or be abnormally curled.

How to keep a dairy cow

  • Get a breed of dairy cow. Make sure it’s a bread you’re familiar with
  • Provide a spacious shelter, water, and feed for the cows
  • Also, check on the cows regularly to be sure they are in good health
  • Get a bull to get her pregnant or employ artificial insemination
  • Most importantly, do not milk a dairy cow dry at once


Do beef cows have horns?

Yes, they do.

Beef cows are normal cows born with horns except for the polled breeds.

Do Jersey cows have horns?

Jersey cows have horns but not always.

When they are products of crossbreeding between cows with horns and polled cows, they are born without horns. Also, they may not have horns if they have gone through dehorning or disbudding.

Do female Holstein cows have horns?

Yes, they do.

Just like the bulls, female Holstein cows have horns. However, if they are for dairy products, most farm owners remove their horns for safety reasons.

Do female Highland cows have horns?

Yes, they do.

The horns of female Highland cows are thin and long with a more pronounced curve that makes them point upwards.


A cow without a horn is not always a female cow. Dairy cows are born with horns except in cases of genetic editing.

When breeding cows, you must decide what you want from them early. Dairy cows and beef cows are bred differently because of their separate purposes.

Most importantly, raise your dairy cows in the most healthy way possible. Dehorning them may be painful, but it ensures safety on the farm for both the breeders and other cows.

Hope you enjoyed this article. Learn how many ribeyes and briskets you can get from a cow.

Thanks for reading.