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Polled Cattle

Updated on December 4, 2017
Polled Durham Bull (1903)--note lack of horns
Polled Durham Bull (1903)--note lack of horns

A polled bull or cow is one that is born without horn and does not grow horns. Cattle descend from wild breeds where both bulls and cows grow large horns, and most domestic breeds retain this trait.

Cattle with horns can be dangerous to other cattle and to people. For this reason most calves are dehorned at a young age, before the horn bud attaches to the skull and begins to develop into a full horn.

The advantage of polled genetics is that you do not need to dehorn the cattle, a labor-intensive and potentially painful procedure. The polled gene is dominant, so if either parent is carrying this gene the calf will be born polled (and not develop horns). Polled genetics is present in most cattle breeds including Zebu.

Polled genetics are available in many cattle breeds including: Aberdeen-Angus, Ayrshire, Belted Galloway, British White, Charolais, Dexter, Durham and Hereford. The proportion of polled animals varies by breed and location with polled, horned and mixed herds. The picture (right) shows Welsh Black cattle where some of the animals are horned and others polled, demonstrating mixed genetics in the herd.


The polled gene is dominant, so a herd can be moved from horned to polled over several generations by using a polled bull. However in many breeds, polled bulls with desirable production qualities are not avialable.

Polled Hereford

Polled lines of Herefords were first developed in the 1889. Warren Gammon in Des Moines is considered the originator of the breed. He got the idea from seeing other lines of polled cattle at the Trans Mississippi World Fair.

Polled Hereford cow
Polled Hereford cow

Photo credit: cliff1066™ / / CC BY

Red Polled Cattle

One breed synonymous with polled genetics is the Red Poll. The first herd book for this breed dated from 1882. This heritage breed is raised for both meat and milk.

Many modern herds have not taken the time to select for polledness and so continue to carry out painful disbudding to prevent their calves from developing horns.

Red Poll Cow
Red Poll Cow | Source

Some people suggest there are negative temperament traits associated with polled genes but research has not found this to be the case.


A 'smooth polled' or 'double polled' cow or steer is one that is homozygous for the polled gene, and so if breed with another smooth polled animal none of their offspring will ever have horns.

However a completely different gene may cause a calf to develop very small and malformed horns called scurs. The scurs can sometimes be quite large but they are not attached to the animals skull and so do not serve as effective weapons

Scurred cattle are technically considered polled, but most breeders want to develop cattle with no horn development at all and so select against scurs.

Other species

Polled breeds also occur in other species, such as sheep and goats.


  • Goonewardene, L. A., M. A. Price, E. Okine, and R. T. Berg. "Behavioral responses to handling and restraint in dehorned and polled cattle." Applied Animal Behaviour Science 64, no. 3 (1999): 159-167.
  • Sanders, J. O. (1980). History and development of Zebu cattle in the United States. Journal of Animal Science, 50(6), 1188-1200.


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    • Gulf Coast Sun profile image

      Gulf Coast Sun 

      6 years ago from Gulf of Mexico

      Here in Florida we have lots of Angus and Brahmans raised for beef. But the original steers came by way of the Spanish during their 200 year reign and when Florida, then a territory, seceded from the Spanish, many of their steer, which roamed free range, then mated with other steers, those making for a very healthy new generation. Thank you for your educational article. Kathleen aka Gulf Coast Sun

    • Ann1Az2 profile image


      6 years ago from Orange, Texas

      I don't know about cattle, but with goats, I learned to "dehorn" them myself with an iron used for that purpose. The iron is placed over the nub where the horn is coming through (usually at about 2 to 3 weeks of age). It hurts for about 15 seconds, then, it's over. It's far better than the alternative which involves cutting the horn out and leaving two gigantic holes in their head, which I did once and never did again after I saw how the vet did it. I don't see why the same thing can't be done with cattle. Voted up and interesting.

    • WildRoseBeef profile image


      6 years ago from Alberta, Canada

      I see. Then I'll have to add that polled genetics are for the following other breeds:



      Maine Anjou





      Santa Gertrudis


      And many others...

    • psycheskinner profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago

      I meant that polled genetics are available, not that the breed is uniformly polled.

    • WildRoseBeef profile image


      6 years ago from Alberta, Canada

      Actually North American Dexter herds are predominantly horned, not polled. Charolais, Durham (or Shorthorn) and Hereford are also not 100% polled either, and really shouldn't have been listed nor mentioned in your hub.

      Your TRULY polled cattle are: Black Angus, Red Angus, Red Poll, Galloway, American White Park, British White, Speckle Park, and Belted Galloway. All the rest of the breeds either come in polled or horned.

      Not bad hub otherwise. :)


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