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Cow Horns Uses / Scrimshaw

Uses of Cow Horns

Cow Horn Formation and its Uses

It’s almost like a mystery to some people, on how cows get to grow horns. And that’s today, we will be looking at how cow horns are formed, and the benefit these horns provide to the cow. Without any further ado, let’s get started!

Cow Horns have been used for thousands of Years. Their Uses include Water Storage, Black Powder Storage for Soldiers, Musical Instruments, Decorations, Knife Handles and the Fine art of Scrimshaw.

How Cow Horns Are Formed

As we all know, whether in a human or animal, an embryonic development starts with a fertilised egg cell. But in the case of a cow, firstly, the amniotic membranes will start developing, before the actual embryo will separate itself from them later.

Through the navel cord, it will remain connected to the membranes surrounding the fetus (embryo with its complete organ system), and its mother until birth. This is why the head and beginnings of the initial five-fingered limbs, are often present in the 5 weeks old and roughly 2cm long cow embryo.

At the end of the second month, all the future organs (including the four stomachs) will be present in latent form, the fingers and toes will reduce to two, and the hooves will already be visible, even though they may initially comprise of very soft, watery tissues.

When the nascent horn of a several weeks old calf is about 1cm high, it can be held between two fingers and moved back and forth a little on the skull bone. It is a structure connected with the skin and not the skull.

Later on, the bones of the forehead will grow out into a small horny sheath from beneath. The bony core of the horns will at first appear cartilaginous in nature, and only later become solid bone fixed to the skull.

From about 12 months of age, the paranasal sinus cavities will start developing in the skull of the calf. They will be directly or indirectly linked with the nasal cavity, and at the same time, also coated with the same mucous membrane.

However, you should note that the cow’s sense organ for smelling is often located just in the upper rear part of the nasal cavity. And that the older the cow becomes, the further the sinuses get into the bony cores of the horn, thus making them ever more hollow.

When the cow is fully grown, the sinus cavities will fill the entire space in various compartments between the roof of the skull and the brain capsule. The hollow horn bone will be the only bone that will continue growing throughout the cow’s life.

The bony core, which is the innermost part of a cow’s horn, consists of bone materials, which are strongly attached to the frontal bone of the skull. It is conical in shape and has some rough longitudinal furrows on its outer surface. This structure helps in increasing the surface area, and ensuring a good link between the horn and bony core.

Through the diameter of the bony core, which is often bigger as a result of the narrow neck base horny casing, large blood vessels are often able to find their way into the bones of a cow’s skull.

And inside the bony core is a network of airy sinus cavities, that can extend to almost the end of the bony core, and become lined with a fine layer of mucous membranes, as the cow’s age increases.

Air passes through them with each breath inhaled through the nose. And given that a cow’s breath is often mixed with the gases released from the rumen (the cow’s belches which happens once or twice in every minute), the stinky odor of the rumen always gets right into the cavities of the bony core.

This is the smell we often perceive when a cow’s horn is amputated, or when a cow has an open wound on its horns.
DeHorning Cows

Benefits of Cow Horns

Unique Trait

Their horns allow them to reach a certain stature beyond the compactness of their bodies. The cow’s silhouette has character through its horns. And given that an average cow’s capacity for clear vision is subjected to about 10 meters within a 60° viewing frame while its horns are available, anything other than that will only be seen in terms of outline and movement. According to Christian Müller, a German farmer,

“The horn is a manifestation of the animal’s biography. Physical and soul qualities are expressed in the form. The character of the animal is perceived by the others at least in part through its horns. Horns bequeath a higher status on the cow, she receives more respect.”

See Our Guide – Ways to Make Money Cattle Farming


Another reason why a horn is so important and beneficial to a cow is that it helps it protect themselves, alongside their calves from intruders or danger. Put differently, horns are a cow’s defensive weapon. Just like the tigers and lions use their long and sharp claws to attack and defend, cows use their horns to at least protect themselves and calves. And according to another German farmer, Hans Oswald, “Horns give the animals serenity, inner contentment and also security”.

Maintaining Their Status in The Herd’s Hierarchy

Just like there is some certain hierarchy in a lion’s pride, so do cows trade respectfully when grazing together as a herd. So having a horn as a cow, is like a symbol of belonging in the herd’s hierarchy.

So as a recap, cow horns start often start growing, soon after birth, and continues to develop throughout the life of a cow. And these horns, just like those found on sheep and antelope, are found in both sexes (male and female), grow and wear continually, without branching.

The horn is composed of dermal bone, covered by a thin epidermal layer, and beneath a thin layer made up of keratinized cells. And dermal bone in cows refers to the fact that during development, it was “always” bone and never cartilage. For instance, many of the human bones like your femur (thigh bone) start growing as cartilage.

For the beneficial aspect, horns give cows a distinguishing characteristic, serves as a medium for security and also, gives them a sense of belonging in the herd family. Put differently, amputated hornless cows, are not happy cows!


Cow Horns, Sheep Horns, have been used for Thousands of Years as Decorations and Art. Fastened to wood bases they make very unique artwork. Each Horn is Unique and has individual characteristics as far as, size, color, and Length. Some of the Shapes of Cow Horns and different according to the Breed.

Finishing and Decorating a Horn

Powder Horns

Traditional Black Powder Firearms, Use Black powder to fire the weapon. During the Civil War and Pilgrims used to use the Animal Horns to store and protect their powder and also to keep it dry.

Making a Black Powder Horn for Primitive Shooting


Hunters seek the Large size Horns in Other Rudiment Species as prize trophies – Deer – Elk – Mountain Sheep – Buffalo – Caribou – Moose are some of the Horns that are sought after as trophies

Mounting Bull Horns

Musical Instruments

Some of the World Oldest Musical Instruments were made from Animal Horns

Making a Cow Horn Bugle

Drinking Vessels

Before the age of Plastics and Metal Forming – a horn was used to store and carry drinking water.
Making a Drinking Horn

The Craft of ScrimShaw – Bone Carving

The Fine Art of Bone Carving –