From tiny nubs to great big honkers, these features can hang down, curve up, or even stick straight out, but if you’re “polled” beef you don’t have any. And I don’t mean the shredded kind—though yummy—that’s “pulled” beef. What in the world could it be?
Horns. Yep, as you learned before in a previous post, all cows, male or female, can have horns, but most ranchers prefer their stock not to have them. While horns might be great protection for the cow, they’re also a liability. They can hurt themselves, other livestock, or people. I don’t know about you, but I personally never want to be gored by one of those pointy things.
Ranchers have options here when it comes to horns. They can either dehorn them (dig the nub out of their head) shortly after they’re born, or breed the genetic feature out. Which brings us to the term “polled”, a cow born without horns. Having watched the bloody mess that comes from dehorning, it’s easy to understand why most ranchers, my father-in-law included, choose to breed this genetic feature out. Although, it does depend on what kind of stock they’re raising, and what they use them for. For example, rodeo stock, or the Texas Longhorn, typically have horns. They up the danger factor for bull riding, and a Texas Longhorn would cease to be one without them.
Unfortunately, breeding is not foolproof. Even when both parents are thought to be polled, horned calves are still sometimes born. So the need for dehorning may never completely disappear. But the next time you’re driving past a herd of hornless cows, roll down the window and show the rancher how smart you are. “That’s a nice polled herd you got there. Or did you have to dehorn them?”