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Do Female Sheep Have Horns? – Ewe Horns Explained

While rams have horns more often than ewes, some female sheep from some breeds also have horns.

Hornless sheep are called polled sheep, while sheep with horns are simply called horned sheep. There are also naturally and genetically polled sheep:

  • Naturally Polled: Breeds of sheep born without horns.
  • Genetically Polled: Breeds of sheep that have been selectively bred to not have horns.
  • Horned: Breeds of sheep with horns.

Females who have horns usually have smaller horns than rams. Horns in females are visible in several sheep breeds, including Thinhorn sheep and Bighorn sheep. Many domestic female sheep don’t have horns.

Do Female Sheep Have Horns

Which Female Sheep Have Horns?

These are the most common sheep species where ewes are born with horns.

1. Bighorn Sheep

Bighorn sheep are some of the most common sheep we think of when talking about large sheep horns.

These fellows have large and bent horns that grow throughout their lifetime. Ewes have much smaller horns than rams, but they still have larger horns than the majority of other females of other breeds.

The significance of horns for these sheep is vast. One of the most important roles of their horns is to intimidate their opponents – namely, other males of the same breed.

Horns are often used in fights to absorb shocks from other rams or to attack the other ram and claim dominance in a hierarchy. Usually, the larger the horns, the more dominant the male is.

Females usually don’t use their horns in the same way as males do, but they still hold significance. They can come useful for self-defense if they are ever threatened. Ewes are also more attracted to bigger horns since they project a higher status in males and more dominance.

2. Thinhorn Sheep

Thinhorn sheep, or Dall sheep, are also non-polled sheep. They are wild sheep native to Northwestern America – Alaska, more specifically.

The Dall sheep are known for their rugged appearance and large horns that allow them to survive the harsh conditions of the cold Alaskan weather.

As with Bighorn sheep, Dall sheep also display sexual dimorphism, meaning males have much larger horns than females. The horns of the male are curved and large, while the horns of the female are smaller and spiky.

The horns of the males continue to grow steadily throughout their lifetime – most growth will occur between spring and fall when the conditions for growth are much better.

Young rams resemble ewes in many ways, as they still have relatively small horns. Thinhorn sheep use their impressive horns to fight and assert dominance over other males.

3. Jacob Sheep

Jacob sheep are native to North America, and they are very unique in their own way.

As with Bighorn and Thinhorn sheep, Jacob sheep ewes also have horns. It’s believed that this type of sheep is a derivative of some British sheep species and other native species, which created a unique mixture and look.

Rams also have four horns, which is different from the vast majority of other sheep species with horns. Some rams may have only two horns, while on the extreme end, some rams may have up to six horns altogether. Black horns are more common and more desired by breeders, while white horns are not as much desired.

Why do Sheep have Horns?

Horns are a survival tool for sheep. In the wild, they are used to protect the sheep from other predators.

For example, mountain sheep, or Bighorn sheep, have sharper and longer horns, and females also have horns, but smaller than males. These horns allow the sheep to defend themselves, absorb shocks, and intimidate sheep with smaller horns.

How Can You Tell a Female from a Male by Looking at Horns?

The way to do it is quite simple: rams usually have much larger horns than ewes. Some breeds also have curved horns in rams, while ewes have smaller and spikier horns that are not as noticeable.

The horns display a ram’s ability to provide for the family and fend off potential aggressors. The larger the horns, the more capable the ram is.

This is why most females tend to go after rams that have larger horns because they display clear signs of dominance over other males in the group.

Females, on the other hand, have much smaller horns. They don’t need to use their horns very often as they don’t fight as often as males do. They leave the fighting to males, although some female species also have horns.

There are also many other ways that will allow you to tell a female from a male: rams are much larger than ewes and also bulkier, usually.

Some rams have longer hair than females, but that’s not always the rule. Some rams might even have four or six horns as compared to the two horns of the female, as seen with Jacob sheep.

Why Don’t Domestic Sheep Have Horns?

Most domestic sheep don’t have horns because they don’t need them, and they have been selectively bred to be polled.

Some domestic sheep will have horns while others won’t have them.

With domestic sheep, genetics play a major role in determining whether they will have horns or not.

The majority of female sheep in domestic breeds don’t have horns, because evolutionary, their genetics have changed and the need to have horns for self-defense has been diminished.

Male sheep, or rams, on the other hand, might still have horns, even if they are bred and kept domestically.

In fact, some breeders prefer their rams with horns rather than without them, so they will try to make sure that they are bred in such a way that they have horns. Other breeders prefer them without horns.

Again, this will mostly depend on how the sheep are bred, which species they are from, and how the breeder chooses to have them.

Conclusion

Most female sheep don’t have horns, but there are some sheep species where ewes also have impressive horns. These include Bighorn, Thinhorn, and Jacob sheep. Some domestic sheep might also have horns, but this is much rarer. Evolutionary, it has been much more important for male sheep to have horns as they defend themselves and other sheep from predators.

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