HORNED AND POLLED
Dexters are a naturally horned breed of cattle. These days most cattle are disbudded as calves to prevent horns from developing. Animals that are not disbudded will develop horns which are quite wide, sweeping forward and upwards. Horns are white with black tips giving them a dramatic appearance.
Somewhere in the past the poll gene slipped into the mix resulting in naturally polled or hornless Dexters. The first purebred Dexter to present with natural polling was Kalinda Angus. Kalinda Angus was born in Australia as was his brother Kalinda Allan. Kalinda Angus was born naturally polled and short-legged (BD1 carrier) while his half brother Allan was born horned and long-legged (BD1 non-Carrier). Both bulls have had a significant impact on the Australian Dexter herd and appear in many extended pedigrees.
The poll gene was also introduced through the grading-up process where naturally polled breeds such as Angus and Murray Grey were used as foundation dams. The polling trait has been selected by some breeders as the preferred option, whilst others prefer the traditionally horned animals.
The term polled is often erroneously applied to animals which have had their horns removed as calves, giving a similar appearance to that of a naturally polled animal. When selecting hornless animals for purchase it is important to ask if the animal is naturally polled or if it has been dehorned.
The poll gene is a dominant gene which means only one parent needs to have the gene for there to be a chance of producing a polled calf. An animal only needs to carry one copy of the poll gene to be polled.
Until recently breeding for poll was a bit of a hit and miss affair because there was no way to know if an animal was heterozygous for the gene (carried one copy of the polling gene) or homozygous (carried two copies of the gene).
A test to identify the poll gene has now been developed offering breeders a cost effective method of confirming the status of their animals based on science not speculation.
Pairing a horned animal with a polled animal will not necessarily produce a polled calf, nor will a poll to poll mating unless at least one animal in the pair is homozygous for the gene. Heterozygouse Polled to Heterozygous polled matings may still produce a horned offspring.
Scurs come from a totally different gene but an animal must be polled in order for scurs to be present. Scurs are small, semi detached horns, often barely noticeable that do not develop to any size.
Often an animal's pedigree will inicate the animals is horned (H) but that does no mean it has horns it means it is genetically horned but in most cases the animal does not still have its horns so knowing how to interpret a pedigree is important when selecting cattle.
Whether you prefer horned, dehorned or polled cattle is entirely your choice. Horned cows are no different to manage than polled animals and generally those who have horned animals prefer them for their appearance and their ability to protect themselves and their calves.
Dehorning or disbudding calves when they are young is not difficult and is done humanely using a variety of methods depending on the age of the animal and the preference of the breeder.
Keeping herds with a mixture of horned and non - horned animals is generally not a problem other than if they are yarded or being hand fed. The cattle with the horns can be bossy to their unarmed counterparts when it comes to who has first right of passage at the feeder.
Horned animals are still shown in Australia and, more particularly, in England. Horns are washed and polished for showing creating a dramatic contrast on black cattle in particular.
If you are inexperienced with cattle it is wise to consider the options of managing horned animals before purchase. Horned animals should be shown respect and managed accordingly to prevent accidents.
Bulls which still have their horns should not be considered as an option for inexperienced owners. Regardless of the Dexter being renowned for its easy going temperament, a bull is a bull and should not be allowed to carry a weapon.!!!
Note: Individuals should familiarise themselves with management and transport of horned animals. If you are intending to raise Dexter cattle specifically for beef production with the intention of selling through mainstream sale-yards or sending animals to abattoirs for processing, it is wise to disbud (dehorn) your calves. Restrictions and penalty fees can apply to the processing of horned animals in some facilities.
Regardless of what you choose for your herd you should ensure you have suitable facilities in which to conduct normal husbandry activities the safety of yourself and your animals.