Sheep Horns, Polled or Non Polled

Polled is a term given to sheep without horns, the animals with horns are said to be non-polled. The poll being the highest point on the animals head, roughly between the ears. There are advantages and disadvantages to each.


Some sheep breeds have no horns in the rams (males) or ewes (females), while others have only the rams with horns, a few have horns on the ewes too. Some breeds can have sheep that are both polled, or non-polled. Scurred is a term given when an animal has small, poorly formed, horns, and these are more common in ewes.


When people consider what breed of sheep they wish to have, horns, or lack of horns, should be a consideration, as for some people horns are an advantage, and for others they are a disadvantage.

Two lambs – one is polled, one has 4 horns.  They are about 4 months of age.  Photo by author.

Advantages of Horns on Sheep

Horns make great handles. When a sheep is caught there really isn’t much to hold on to, especially with the wool sheep, a rope around the neck, or a halter, can be used, but horns are far easier to hold onto and offer excellent control of the head.

Horns add value, as a mature ram with a good set of horns will often sell higher, and in some areas are very sought after by hunters (certain breeds of sheep in particular).

Disadvantages of Horns on Sheep

Large horns prevent sheep from getting their heads into the feeders.

Horns can get stuck in the wire fences.

When the lamb is still nursing, and its horns are growing, they can hurt the ewes udder, and underside.

Although sheep do not fight aggressively as some animals they do head butt each other, in play, and at feeding times. When sheep have horns such action can be more of a concern.

When damaged (which occurs more often in young, and scurred sheep) damaged horns from can result in bleeding which can be a problem, or lead to infection.

When sheep are not using to being handled, the horns can be dangerous to the human handler, or can be dangerous if a ram is aggressive to humans.

If not curved correctly they can go into the animals head, or eye, a serious problem, and should be removed if this is a concern.

File:Arapawa merino.jpg

photo source- Arapawa Ram

What are Horns ?


Horns start growing from a horn bud which can usually be seen when the lamb is born. In rams the horns grow faster than in ewes, and often become larger. 

Horns grow from the skull and are a boney structure, make of keratin. The center of a living horn has blood flowing through it will will result in bleeding if broken.  They remain on the animal for its lifetime (unlike antlers which shed).  When they animal dies the horn’s interior dries up and it becomes hollow.

Horns are seldom removed on a sheep, if broken they will continue to grow.  In goats it is not uncommon for the horn bud to be removed at a week of age to prevent problems from horn growth.

Horn Genetics

Horn presence is controlled by three genes, P (dominant for Polling), p (sex linked for non-polled) and p’ (produces horns in ewes as well as rams). Each sheep has 2 genes and depending which ones they pass this will determine if their offspring are to be born with, or without, horns.


As an example two sheep who are both polled might have the genes Pp. Each would have a 50/50 chance of passing on the P gene for Polling, or the p gene for non-polling. If they had 4 lambs the chances are that 1 would be PP, 2 would be Pp, and 1 would be pp, as such only one in four lambs would have horns, and only if it was a ram as this gene is sex linked. The other three lambs would be polled and there would be no physical way of determining which was PP and which was Pp.

Related Links

Jacob Sheep – can have up to 8 horns

Barbado Sheep- Also known as the American Blackbelly

Strange and Exotic Sheep

Sheep Blog with more Sheep Resources

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30 Responses to “Sheep Horns, Polled or Non Polled”
  1. CA Johnson Says...

    On December 22, 2010 at 12:34 pm

    This is very interesting. I didn’t realize there was a difference between sheep with and without horns. Thanks for telling us the advantages and disadvantages of sheep with horns. The horns do look pretty painful.

  2. Wiggles18 Says...

    On December 22, 2010 at 12:40 pm

    Horns are hollow?… Hmm, I learned something today ;)

    No wonder primitive peoples started using them as flasks…

  3. lillyrose Says...

    On December 22, 2010 at 12:45 pm

    Very detailed article, great information that I didn’t know.

  4. Larry Fish Says...

    On December 22, 2010 at 1:04 pm

    Very good information, much there that I didn’t know.

  5. Larry Fish Says...

    On December 22, 2010 at 1:05 pm

    Very good information, much there that I didn’t know.

  6. webseowriters Says...

    On December 22, 2010 at 1:10 pm

    Very well written

  7. albert1jemi Says...

    On December 22, 2010 at 3:43 pm

    well written

  8. Jimmy Shilaho Says...

    On December 22, 2010 at 3:54 pm

    This is a very informative entry. No wonder the editors placed it under very serious business.

  9. N. Sun Says...

    On December 22, 2010 at 4:19 pm

    Haha, Jimmy sure is funny xD

  10. giritharanj Says...

    On December 22, 2010 at 6:39 pm

    nice one

  11. Literary Princess Says...

    On December 22, 2010 at 7:15 pm

    Well, I learned a lot from this article. Thanks for the pictures too!

  12. J Anderson Says...

    On December 22, 2010 at 8:10 pm

    Good one..

    Thanks for share.

  13. PR Mace Says...

    On December 22, 2010 at 10:43 pm

    That was very educational for me. I don’t know anything about sheep.

  14. PSingh1990 Says...

    On December 22, 2010 at 11:43 pm

    Nice Share.


  15. The Soul Explorer Says...

    On December 23, 2010 at 1:59 am

    Excellent work!

  16. bala99 Says...

    On December 23, 2010 at 2:04 am

    Farmers in India actually cauterize the hornbud within a week of birth. They say it is to prevent injury when goats fight. Personally I think it is horrible.

  17. Freethinking Says...

    On December 23, 2010 at 3:59 am

    This is a good example of why I read. First of all, I never really gave this much thought and secondly, now that I have, you educated me well on the subject.

  18. papaleng Says...

    On December 23, 2010 at 4:40 am

    Another highly educational entry. Now I learned the pros and cons of horns on sheep.

  19. BruceW Says...

    On December 23, 2010 at 5:41 am

    So the word “polled” applies to a sheep without horns, whether that’s natural or whether it had horn growth stopped artificially?

  20. Sceptical Thinker Says...

    On December 23, 2010 at 11:48 am

    Interesting article, often see sheep when go walking on the moors. rather naively assumed with horns male without horns female.

  21. catlord Says...

    On December 23, 2010 at 4:43 pm

    This is very neat stuff! I like the 4-horn goat. A guy I used to work for back in NY has these miniature goats, -not even knee-high to me, -that are awesome! Haffta watch ‘em though as they all have short horns and they like to butt ya with ‘em…

  22. Geny Says...

    On December 23, 2010 at 5:12 pm

    nise article

  23. Mark Gordon Brown Says...

    On December 23, 2010 at 7:44 pm

    Jacobs are some hardcore looking sheep……… and I am both sad and glad that we don’t raise too many of them lol

  24. Minister Marlene Says...

    On December 23, 2010 at 7:58 pm

    I didn’t know their horns were hollow either. Very serious animal facts here.

  25. Starpisces Says...

    On December 23, 2010 at 8:25 pm

    very good information here about sheep!
    This is very educational, I learn so much here.

  26. albert1jemi Says...

    On December 24, 2010 at 7:06 am

    good share

  27. Anuradha Ramkumar Says...

    On December 24, 2010 at 1:21 pm

    I was under the impression that the horns would grow when the sheep grows…how ignorant I was? Very informative, Brenda.

  28. Blaber Blogger Says...

    On December 25, 2010 at 8:42 am


    Thank you for sharing this article….

    It was very nice reading your article.
    I hope I get to read more nice articles from you in future..
    Be commenting in mine too.

    Mr Arrogant

  29. Val Mills Says...

    On December 30, 2010 at 4:27 am

    This is all new information to me, I have learned so much here. Thanks Brenda.

  30. Ruby Hawk Says...

    On December 31, 2010 at 6:53 pm

    this is interesting, I’m afraid I don’t know very much about sheep.

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