Probably the most iconic vision of a bull is their majestic horns, but have you ever wondered what they are made from? Is it bone? Or maybe ivory?
Cow and bull horns are made from keratin, which is the same material that their hair and hooves are made from, but that’s only half the story. Cow horns aren’t solid keratin all the way through, the inside of the horn contains bone, skin, tissue, and lots of blood vessels which the cows use to regulate their temperature.
In this article, we’re going to find out all about cow and bull horns, specifically about what they are made from (both inside and out).
What Are Bull Horns Made From?
Bull horns are made from an outer layer of keratin, which is the same material that cows’ hooves are made from, and also what human hair and nails are made from.
This keratin outer layer encases the core of the horn, which is made from bone, tissue, and blood.
Keratin is a hard, insoluble protein that is found throughout the animal kingdom, including in scales, claws, nails, horns, skin, and beaks.
Are Cow Horns Made of Ivory?
The horns of cows and bulls are not made from ivory, although it’s a common misconception. Cow horns are made from keratin, which is the same material as cow hooves, while Ivory is calcium phosphate, the same material as human teeth and elephant tusks (sometimes called dentine).
In some way, it’s lucky for cows that their horns are not made from ivory, because it means they don’t share the plight of many animals who are killed solely for their tusks, often in a brutal and painful manner.
Related Article: Can Bulls and Cows Swim?
Are Cow Horns Made of Bone?
Another common misconception about cow horns is that they are made from bone. This is probably because of the popular image of a cow or bison skull, which usually has the horns still attached, making it look like they are part of the skull.
While cow horns are not entirely made of bone, there is a small bone core in the center of the horns, which is fused to the front section of the animal’s skull. Most of the horn is made from keratin, which surrounds the core.
Read More: Do All Cows Have Horns?
Are Bull Horns Solid or Hollow?
Bull horns are hollow, with a hard keratin outer shell and a soft inner section made from soft tissue and blood.
At the very center of a bull’s horn, there is a solid core made from bone.
What’s Inside a Bull’s Horn?
The inside of a bull (or cow) horn is made up of a small, rigid core made from bone, surrounded by soft tissue and capillaries for carrying blood.
When calves first develop their horns, the horns are free-floating and aren’t attached at all to the skull. Up until around the age of seven months, the horn is solid, with dense keratin surrounding a bone core, however, after seven months this starts to change.
At around seven months old, the base of the young bull’s horn begins to open, at the point where the horn meets the skull (called the corium).
Eventually, an opening forms, linking the inside of the horn directly to the bull’s sinuses.
The inside of the horn then grows and fills with capillaries and other soft tissue, which the bull can use to pump blood into their horns to cool themselves down and regulate their temperature.
Are All Cow Horns The Same?
Although anatomically most horns have a similar structure and are made from the same materials, each breed has different shapes, sizes, and colors of horns and some breeds don’t even have horns at all!
Cow horns can be all kinds of different colors, most of the time they are black, grey, or light brown, but some breeds have unique colors or patterns. As an example, White Park cattle have white horns, with black tips. This matches their unique white coat with black ears.
Cow horns also differ in size between breeds. The largest cow horns are usually found in Ankole-Watusi cattle, which can have horns up to 8 feet in length.
Are Cow and Bull Horns Valuable?
The keratin found in cow horns isn’t especially valuable, especially compared to the beef or dairy that cows produce, however it does still have some value and is widely used in the cosmetics industry.
Keratin is widely used in the cosmetics industry, where it’s found in skincare products, shampoos, nail care products, and anti-aging creams.
Cow horns are sometimes used in their raw form to create decorative jewelry or buttons.
Cow horns are just one byproduct of the dairy and meat industry, but almost every part of the cow is used in some way.
Read More: 17 Products You Never Knew Came From Cows
To sum up, cow and bull horns are made from a keratin outer shell, with a small bone core and a hollow center filled with blood vessels, capillaries, and soft tissue.
As a cow ages, their horns eventually connect directly to their sinus system, and the cows can use their horns to regulate their temperature, by sending warm blood to their horns where it cools down.
Cow and bull horns are not made from ivory or bone, and aren’t particularly valuable, although the keratin from their horns (as well as their hoofs and hides) is widely used in the cosmetics industry.
All cow horns are made of the same stuff, but their exact size, shape, and color varies between breeds, and some breeds don’t have horns at all.
Stuart is the editor of Fauna Facts. He edits our writers’ work as well as contributing his own content. Stuart is passionate about sustainable farming and animal welfare and has written extensively on cows and geese for the site.