Can Nanny Goats Have Horns?

Kid’s cartoons usually show billy goats with long, curved, ornate horns, and the nanny goats have nothing but cute, fluffy ears. But does this trope hold up in real life, or was it created by tired animators who just wanted kids to know the difference between the male and female characters?

Yes, nanny goats have horns. Whether goats have horns is a genetic factor, but it’s not at all related to the gender of the goat. Goats without horns either didn’t grow horns because the genes weren’t in their genetic code or they were removed as a kid or adult.

It’s hard to know exactly why that rumor persists, probably because horns are more “masculine,” and hornless goats look “cuter,” but in truth, there’s more to goat horns than outdated gender stereotypes.

Genetics: Horned Vs. Polled

Fun Fact: Goats without horns are called “polled goats.” It makes sense that they have their own name; it takes a lot of energy to call them “goats without horns” every single time. Plus, polled goats just sound cooler than hornless ones. It’s like they’re part of their own club.

Some genetic traits are based on gender. Not goat horns. Goat horns have nothing to do with gender. The traits that control goat horns aren’t x-linked or y-linked; instead, the trait that prevents horn expression in polled goats is actually the dominant trait.

If you don’t know what that means, here’s a basic summary: For each gene, there are dominant and recessive traits. Dominant traits, if present in DNA, tend to “cover-up” recessive traits. For example, brown eyes are dominant, and blue eyes are recessive. If someone gets a blue eye gene from one parent, but a brown eye gene from their other parent, then they will have brown eyes. It doesn’t matter that the blue eye trait is still in their DNA; brown eyes are dominant, so they’re going to be expressed.

The same holds true for horned and polled goats. The hornless trait is dominant. So if a kid gets a horn trait from their mom, but a hornless trait from their dad, they’ll end up being polled–that is, without horns.

A goat will (or won’t) have horns depending on what traits their parents gave them, not whether they’re male or female. While there are many decorative traits in other animal species that usually dictate whether an animal is male or female (a peacock’s blue feathers, for instance), in this case, horns have nothing to do with gender. They are purely a case of dominant and recessive genes.

Horn Removal

Sometimes, goats are born with horns, but their owners decide to get rid of them anyway. While this decision might seem sad, it’s a logical one. Whether it’s a nanny or billy goat, horns can be a total pain. They can be dangerous to people and to other goats. After all, head butting is a common way for goats to play and assert dominance within the herd, and horns make that a little bit more dangerous.

There are different ways to rid goats of their horns. One way to go is the genetic route. If you breed your goats with a polled buck, chances are, most of the kids will also inherit the dominant trait and end up being hornless as well. But this tactic still doesn’t prevent all the recessive horn traits from leaking through. The hornless gene also correlates to the gene that breeds hermaphrodite goats (a mix between male and female), so that could cause some confusion. Some kids will probably still end up with horns, and that’s when it’s time to take more drastic measures.

Disbudding is the most efficient, if not scarring way to get rid of a young kid’s horns. This process is done by putting the baby goat’s head in a secure box, then burning, cauterizing, or straight-up cutting the horn buds off. The cauterizing process is especially risky because you usually hold a hot rod of iron right up to the baby goat’s head. If you hold it there too long, it could cause brain damage. But if you don’t hold it there long enough, the horn won’t be entirely cut off, and scurs (partial horns) could form in the future.

However, disbudding has long been debated as being cruel to the baby goats, especially since it’s meant to be done four to ten days after birth (as soon as the horns start forming), so another method is called dehorning. Dehorning is the process of getting rid of horns after the goat has fully grown, and the video below goes into detail on how to properly dehorn a fully grown billy or nanny goat:

However, dehorning and disbudding goats can be a difficult process, and there are plenty of pros to letting goats keep their horns. First of all, they’re gorgeous. Secondly, they can help serve as some defense if your herd is attacked by a wild animal. They also help regulate temperature, and goat farmers often use their goat horns as a handle to move goats to a new place, which makes relocating very convenient.

Differences Between Male and Female Goats

Even though horns aren’t a black-and-white distinguisher between genders, the horns on some types of goats look different depending on their gender. Male and female goats have slight differences in appearance anyway, so it would make sense for the goat’s horns to look a little bit different as well.

In mountain goats, male goat’s horns are long, close-set, and slightly curved. In comparison, female goats have horns that start further apart on the base of their skulls. Their horns are also thinner than those of male goats, and they have a curve more at the end.

Another way to tell the two genders of goats apart in the wild is their behavior. Billy goats generally spend their time alone, lone-wolf style (nevermind the fact that they’re definitely not wolves). Whereas nanny goats travel together in groups called bands with other nanny goats and kids for protection. The only time that billy goats and nanny goats are together is during the breeding season, but other than that, they generally spend time away from one another.

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