Most people are familiar with the distinct appearance of a ram’s horns, whether you’ve seen them in person or not. If you asked a random person on the street what a ramshorn shape looks like, they’d almost certainly be able to describe the spiral shape the horns make. The thing is, though, that rams’ horns are a little more complicated than you realize due to the factors that impact every aspect of their horns. You’ve likely figured out that sheep have horns, but is it all sheep? Is it only male sheep? What’s the deal with sheep’s horns?

sheep divider 2 Do All Sheep Have Horns?

Not all sheep have horns. The interesting thing about sheep’s horns is that it isn’t consistent between breeds. In some breeds, only rams have horns, but in some other breeds, both rams and ewes have horns. Also, being a specific breed or being a male or female sheep doesn’t guarantee horns or no horns. Although it isn’t common, there are some breeds of sheep in which both males and females lack horns. Sheep without horns are referred to as “polled”, while sheep that do have horns are referred to as “non-polled”.

Romney sheeps in the meadow
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What Types of Sheep Lack Horns?

There are not very many sheep breeds that lack horns in both males and females. It can be highly variable and crossbreeding and mutations can lead to non-polled sheep occurring in polled breeds. This is not a comprehensive list of polled sheep breeds.

The Derbyshire Gritstone is one of the oldest sheep breeds to have originated in Britain and is known for its large size and weatherproof fleece. They are often crossed with Welsh sheep to increase the size within the Welsh breed.

The Polled Dorset is an American sheep breed that originated in the 1950s after a ram was born with a genetic mutation that caused him to be polled. This breed is an outbred, polled sheep that descended from the non-polled British Dorset Horn. The Polled Dorset shouldn’t be confused with the Poll Dorset, which is an Australian polled sheep breed.

The Devon Longwool is a rare breed of sheep that is naturally polled. These sheep are primarily bred for their long, strong fleece that is often used to make items like rugs. They are also sometimes bred as mutton sheep, although this is less common.

The Pelibüey primarily lives in the Caribbean and coastal Mexico. They account for approximately 75% of the population of sheep in Cuba. Although they are primarily polled, it is possible for these sheep to be naturally non-polled. They are a breed of hair sheep, which means their coat is more like hair than wool, making them less valuable as wool producers and more valuable as a food source.

What Determines if Sheep Will Have Horns?

To produce a non-polled ewe, you must have a specific set of genes or some form of a mutation. There are multiple genes that are associated with the presence of horns. The first is a dominant polled gene, the second is a sex-linked non-polled gene, and the third produces non-polled offspring regardless of sex. If both the ram and ewe are polled but carry the dominant polled gene and sex-linked non-polled gene, there is a 25% chance they will produce non-polled offspring. The size and appearance of a sheep’s horns can also be impacted by male-linked sex hormones.

Texel sheep in the grass
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What Types of Ewes Have Horns?

The Jacob sheep is a unique sheep breed because not only can the females have horns, but most of these sheep have more than one set of horns. Although they can have the normal single set of horns, many Jacob sheep have two or three sets of horns. Generally, the females have smaller and more delicate horns than the males.

The female Bighorn sheep is known to regularly exhibit horn growth. Their horns are not as distinct and impressive as the large, curved horns produced by males usually. The Bighorn is an imposing sheep regardless of sex, often exceeding 100–300 pounds in weight.

Female Wiltshire Horn sheep are known for growing large horns that can rival those of the males of the breed. They are considered to be highly valuable sheep due to their tendency to birth multiples, often producing twins and triplets.

Racka sheep females can produce horns much like males. What makes these sheep fascinating is the appearance of their horns, regardless of sex. These horns protrude at an angle out from the top of the head, spiraling all the way. They almost appear to have two unicorn horns pointing up and out instead of forward.

Related Read: Do Sheep Make Good Pets? What You Need to Know!

sheep divider 2 In Conclusion

The development of horns in sheep is a variable thing, and genetics play a major role. There are other factors, though. This means that in some sheep breeds, it can be difficult to determine whether a breeding pair will produce polled or non-polled offspring. It’s interesting to see how genetics play out in sheep breeding pairs since the presence of horns in most animals is an exclusively sex-linked trait that does not make an appearance in females.

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