When we think of rams, the iconic image is of those powerful, spiralling Aries horns. Many (but not all) sheep breeds have horns. At Mudchute, we currently have 3 sheep breeds including a range of horn types. Neither males nor females of our Oxford Down sheep have horns and such hornless sheep are described as polled. Both our male and female Whitefaced Woodlands have horns and our Jacob sheep are polycerate (many-horned).
Unlike antlers (which are made of bone), horns are composed of a bony core covered with a sheath of keratin (much like hooves and our fingernails). Horns are not shed and continue to grow through an animal’s life, though they grow most rapidly in the first few years.
Unfortunately, horns don’t always grow properly and today two of our Whitefaced Woodland rams (Billy and Hellboy) had to have their horns cut as they were starting to grow too close into their cheeks. While their full sets of horns do look lovely, they simply had to come off before they became a welfare issue.
See how Lauran the vet set to work removing the problematic sections of horn and a closer look at those spiraling horns on the next page!
Horn cutting is a tough work and far more hands on that you might imagine! Our farm vet, Lauran used a device much like a extra tough cheese wire to saw through the problem horns. It looked like a gruelling workout, with the heat from the friction of the cutting even producing a bit of smoke. To prevent any bleeding, the new ends of the horns were treated with silver nitrate (a black powder you may have encountered in chemistry class).
Troublesome horns cut, you can see the ram’s faces again! And they must be feeling a great weight lifted as the removed sections are surprisingly heavy! We’ll be keeping an eye on the boys over the next day or two, but you should see them back out on the fields very soon!