Highland Horns

What About Those Scottish Highland Horns?

This interesting article was submitted by Wild Rose Meadows Farm in Otsego, Michigan.

Scottish Highland Cattle are known for their long hair and their long horns. Both males and females have horns.

WildRoseMeadows1307It’s rare that cattle break their horns, but when a horn is broken it needs to be repaired immediately. If blood vessels inside the horn are ruptured, the broken horn can cause tremendous pain to the animal as well as exposing the animal to serious health issues or even death. With immediate attention, horns sometimes grow back together if the break isn’t too serious.

Whopper is a dun (brown) yearling Scottish Highland bull who broke his horn. I went out to the pasture to find his horn bent and bleeding. There was danger that he could bleed to death or get an infection in the break, or that flies attracted by the blood could lay eggs which could enter his blood stream and mature into maggots eating his body from inside out. He needed immediate medical attention.

Doctor Brown, our farm veterinarian said most horn breaks are not serious, but just to be sure, he came out to the farm to check on Whopper. This particular break turned out to be very serious. Doc had to amputate the end of the horn. Blood spurted from the crushed blood vessels. Doc applied antibiotic paste liberally to the wound, then packed it with gauze, wrapped it with ace bandage, and then wrapped the entire horn in duct tape. As you might imagine, this was a tricky task on an 800 pound bull suffering from intense pain and without the benefit of an operating table or even anesthetic.

WRM-Broken-HornWhopper was already feeling better the next morning. He was up and eating normally, looking for treats. He looked like he was back to his normal good nature. The bandage came off in about two weeks. The end of Whopper’s horn scarred over and he had no ill effects from losing the end of his horn, although his nickname is now "Lopsided Louie."

The core of a cow’s horn is made of bone. The bone grows from the skull through to the tip of the horn. The bone has blood vessels running throughout as well as nerves. The bone is a living part of the cow as with any other bone. With proper nutrition and good health, the horn will continue to grow throughout the life of the cow, although growth slows as the cow ages.

The outer shell of a horn is made of keratin. Keratin is a tough, non-mineralized, structural protein commonly found in fingernails, claws, hair, feathers and hooves.

A thin layer of tissue connects the outer keratin shell of the horn to the bone. This tissue is a living organism of the cow. Upon death of the cow, this tissue dies which will cause the outer shell to slip off the underlying bone.

Horns differ greatly from antlers found on deer, elk, and other species. The anatomy of antlers is simpler--antlers are made only of bone. Antlers die upon maturity each season and are shed annually. Therefore, they are not a permanent part of the animal's anatomy as cow horns are. Unlike antlers, cow horns do not branch out, having just one point at each end.

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