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Predetermining Horn Growth
By Darol Dickinson

Alligators don’t have puppies—or do they? In all species of animals genetics prove to reproduce consistently to an average degree. A Jersey steer does not grow six foot horns any more than Longhorns would produce 18,436 pounds of milk annually, as is expected on an average Holstein cow.

The science and study of these mysterious genetics have fascinated man from the beginning of time. Nothing seems to fascinate more than the predetermination of horn development by Longhorn pursuers. A lot of factors are involved. Lets look them over!

Measuring horns to the percentage of an inch can only be done accurately with a tape measure. We’ve heard of eyeballing, measuring with a pitch fork handles, and measuring gates after a Longhorn nearly tipped both sides after walking through. Nothing works like a carefully confined bovine and an exact tape record.

In measuring horns the most acceptable means is a straight tip to tip. This is a measurement where on e end of the tape measure is held firm to one tip and the tape is stretched to measure to the widest point of the other tip. This is the only accurate way to measure. Ina standard tipi to tip, there shouldn’t be over 1/8” variation between two people’s results. Any other method can have huge variables.

Some of the other methods include tip to tip going down to the top side of the horn, tip to tip down the back side of the horn, from the bottom side hair line up the outside horn to the tip and the famous tie-a-knot-in-the-tape.

Bulls & cows totally differ in horn growth projection. When measuring cattle that will mature when horns are over four feet, it is not difficult to project a bulls mature length within 2 percent at 24 months of age. At 18 months cows will have 4.37” less tip to tip than a bull (both maturing over 4’). A bull will have nearly 90 percent of his mature horn growth at 24 months. Some cows will grow horn very high for a few years with very little tip to tip increase then as the horn tips roll lateral a very fast increase will begin. This makes mature projections very hard on cows.

Horn base circumference measurements reveal that an average adult Longhorn cow has only 69.14 percent as a much circumference as an average bull. No positive correlation has been proven that large or small base horns grow longer or shorter. Records show conflicting results.

Horn growth (three factors). Three types of horn growth affect a cow’s spread at maturity. 1. Speed of growth. 2. Natural horn curl. 3. Backward twist.

Speed of growth affects desirability of spread probably more than any one factor. Some Longhorn breeders don’t care which direction the horns grow if there is lots of it. Growth speed is the amount of inches that grow out of a cow’s head in a specific amount of time. The more the better!

Natural horn curl is the way a horn angles forward and up. No horn grows perfectly straight. To determine the amount of natural curl, slide a large cylinder over the horn of a young cow and it will reveal the horn has a forward or upward gradual curl. All cattle have some of this curl either coming straight out then turning forward like a Mexican fighting bull or growing out then going up more like an Ayrshire dairy cow.

The cows with excellent horn tip to tip measurements have very little curl. The less curl the better. A cow could possess 35” on each actual horn but if it curled drastically, the cow could have very little tip to tip. To the opposite, if the same 35” horn has a lateral smooth growth angle, the cow could measure over five foot.

Backward twist is the corkscrew factor that is a gradual result of the horn itself twisting backward as it grows out of the head. If it’s slow, it becomes a normal Longhorn type. If it doesn’t twist at all the horn looks very unusual as it totally yields to the curl and growth direction. This is rare.

Genetics affect growth. Rarely it will happen that a 38” five year old bull will be bred to a 38” fifteen year old cow and a 45” two year old bull will result. That is almost as unlikely as breeding a Shetland to a Morgan and hope for a Kentucky Derby winner.

Genetics prove that Champions sure Champions, quality sires quality, big horns are sired by big horned cattle, etc. This doesn’t always happen, but it’s more likely to.

The most sure way to raise the type born desired is to utilize bloodlines where every animal in the pedigree for three generations back is very superior. The more outstanding individuals accumulated in the pedigrees, the more consistent offspring can be projected. The occasional inferior ones in a pedigree always seem to continue to pop up when you don’t want them to.

Nutrition definitely affects all types of body growth. Horn growth can’t be excluded. Well fed cattle grow better all over. Cattle in highly infested parasite areas will require more feed or treatment for good growth. Often people feel big cattle don’t have as good of horns because their large body makes the horn look small. To the opposite, small cattle with medium horn appear to have huge horn in relation to their body size. To accurately evaluate horns it is essential to know what a cow’s body size is and use a tape measure.

Certain game animals grow very large horns in areas high in certain minerals. Each Longhorn breeder should contact their local Soil Conservation office or county agent to find out what deficiencies are in the soil. Special minerals can be fed to balance the cattle nutrition intake. No one type of all purpose mineral fits all situations or areas.

Climate has a strong effect on horn growth. Fast horn growth only grows during warm weather. This has been fairly well documented. The warmer springs and falls of lower warmer climates allow a longer “fast” growing season for cattle in the southern states. In extra cold high elevations, the horns grow at a snail’s pace. This can be observed by the horn growth rings. Winters produce a darker small growth ring while summers yield a lighter colored longer stretch of growth. The northern climate shortens this growing season and does not allow the growth longevity per season.

Horn increments. With fifteen years of horn measurements for documentations, it is with quite a lot of confidence breeders can now project horn growth with some degree of accuracy. For this determination lets use only bulls and some assumptions:

Assume five years as maturity for sires. This is fairly accurate as many bulls wear off more horn as they get older than is grown.

Assume normal health and nutrition.

Assume horns are not splintered or broken off.

Assume bloodlines are considered that do not turn in on the tips. Some bloodlines grow well at 6-12 months then start a forward curl. The horn appears straight to look into a bull’s face but the growth curl has started. By 18 months this bull has near peaked out and by 30 months horn tip to tip is actually in regression.

A mature bull measuring 36” at age five will measure 31.8” at 24 months with a maximum variation of 4.52 percent. A 40” will measure 35.36”. A 55” will measure 48.58” at 24 months and a 65” will measure 57.42” at 24 months.

Never expect a three year old bull to grow an additional 10 percent more horn, because he won’t, no matter how much you cheer for him, unless the tape measure gets a knot in it!

Material is courtesy of LonghornJournal.com

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