Are Holstein Cows Polled Or Horned? What Do Genetics Say?

Holsteins are a large animal breed, An adult Holstein cow weighs about 1,500 pounds and gives birth to large calves. A healthy Holstein calf weighs 90 pounds or more at birth. They have their own distinctive color patterns, with black and white or red and white markings.

Holsteins cows are one of the highest milk-producing cows and they dominate the dairy industry in the United States and many countries. They make up more than 90% of the dairy cows raised on American dairy farms. They produce unprecedented amounts of milk at a rate of more than 72,000 pounds of milk per year.

As a result of this extraordinary performance in dairy production, Holstein cows gained great fame and became one of the largest sources for the dairy industry. Therefore, Holstein cows received a great deal of attention and research to develop their characteristics and upgrade their performance.

In this article, let us learn about one of the traits that have been developed in Holstein cows and how the development of genetics has led to its improvement.

Are Holstein Cows Polled Or Horned?

two cows without horns

Holstein cows are polled, this is how the answer to this question can be based on the current Holstein cows form. Since all or most of the cows Holstein that we see on farms are hornless, but this is not the origin of the Holstein breed, let us make it more clear to you. [1]

Holstein cows were born with horns that grew naturally in their calves. as the character of horn growth is controlled by a dominant gene in the genome of Holstein cows.

But thanks to Genetics which is advancing tremendously every day, which scientists have used to improve unwanted genetic traits in cow breeds, Holstein cows were developed without horns, as we see in most farms today.

The Story Of Holstein Cow’s Horns

Cow with horn

When you look back a little, you will find that Holstein cows were growing horns naturally, as you will be surprised when you know that about 85 percent of cows’ milk sold in the United States comes from Holstein cows born with horns!

The removal of the horns from the Holstein cows was one of the usual practices in most cattle farms. Due to the injuries caused by cow horns to other cows in the herd, workers, and veterinarians.

Therefore, scientists thought of a solution to the problem of horns, especially since in recent years, many animal welfare groups have called for stopping the practice of removing cattle horns. as they describe it as a cruel measure on animals.

Related Article: Can Jersey Cows Really Have Horns?

A lot of research by animal rights associations has shown that the process of removing cow horns causes great pain and stress to them and that it is carried out according to merciless procedures, as analgesics are rarely used during the removal of cow horns.

The cows’ horns are also removed in most cases by harsh methods, such as removing the developing horns with metal scoops, which causes great pain to the animal. There are also no rules that oblige farmers to remove the horns of cows in humane ways to ensure that they are not exposed to pain and harm. 

How Did Holstein Cows Become Without Horns?

Researchers have come up with another way to remove the horns of Holstein cows, thanks to the great progress in genome selection and DNA testing, where scientists were able to develop Holstein cows without horns by swapping a gene from the Angus strain (a breed that does not have horns naturally) and placing it in Holstein cows.

In other words, the scientists cut off the allele of the Holstein cows, which is responsible for the growth of the horn, which is found naturally in the breed of Holstein cows. and replaced it with an allele in the Angus breed that prevents the growth of the horns. Which led to the birth of Holstein bulls without horns. Thus, the desired genetic content of Holsteins cows was chosen very carefully to improve their characteristics, without affecting any of their other genes related to their milk production.

Hence, generations of Holstein began to reproduce with new characteristics without a horn, until most Holstein cows in farms are now without horns. 

The selection of the non-horny gene has not been a high priority for dairy farmers until recently, as their greatest interest is in milk production in the first place before anything else.

Some dairy farmers were afraid of changing the genome of Holstein cows and rejected it, fearing that this would affect the milk genes responsible for the large amounts of milk produced by Holstein cows.

Thus, the amount of milk produced by cows would decrease, forcing farmers to lose a large part of the milk profits. But that is not what happened.

What Are The Benefits That Resulted From Removing The Holstein Cows’ Horns?

The removal of the horn gene from Holstein cows led to the emergence of a wonderful milking strain without horns. Which removed the burdens of cumbersome management of cows that have horns and the injuries they cause to fellow cows and workers.

Another result from it also, getting rid of the cumbersome procedures of removing horns from cows. Whether in terms of the pain that the animal is exposed to or other risks that result from it. In addition to saving farmers’ money that was spent on pod removal procedures for labor costs and veterinary care.


Are Holstein-Friesian Polled?

No,  Holstein-Friesian cows grow with horns naturally as the character of the horn is a major character in the Holstein-Friesian cows. but recently genetic engineering has been used to improve the characteristics of Holisten cows, and the horn gene has been removed and cows are born without horns.

What Is Unique About The Holstein Cow?

They are high milk-producing cows, or as some call them, Holstein cows are milking machines that outperform all cows in converting fodder into milk. It is milked three times per day ad It produces 75 pounds of milk a day!

Does Dehorning A Cow Hurt Them?

Yes, although removing horns from animals is a common practice for many reasons, it is in fact painful anyway. Although it is rumored that newborn animals feel less pain than adult animals, this is not true. Research has proven the opposite.

Studies have shown that newborn animals are able to feel pain not only after birth but even before birth. evidence indicates that ruminants become very sensitive to pain when they are only a few days old.

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Doaa Salah
The shy one (too shy to put her photo) and the only girl in our team! Doaa is a veterinarian who is passionate about writing content. She knows a lot about animals and birds, as she has been studying them for many years now. Her goal? She is researching and learning to convey to you all the knowledge she have and what's new about farming.