What Steps Should You Take If Your Dairy Sheep Breaks The Horn?

By Dairy Farming Hut


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If you own a herd of horned dairy sheep, you may have experienced the challenges that come with dealing with a broken horn. The injury can cause a significant amount of bleeding, which can be difficult to stop, and it's essential to provide prompt treatment to ensure the well-being of your sheep. But how serious a problem is it when a dairy sheep breaks a horn? Is it life-threatening, and will it lower the sheep's quality of life?

When a dairy sheep breaks a horn, you must stop the bleeding, apply an antiseptic, and cover the wound with a sterile dressing. The sheep should also receive antibiotic treatment. The milk from a ewe on antibiotics should not be consumed. If necessary, the sheep's horn might need to be removed.

If a break is minor and doesn't threaten the sheep's health, you can treat it at home. However, a sheep with a badly broken horn should be seen by a vet. A vet can safely remove a horn under anesthetic and prescribe treatment for the sheep if needed. Let's consider what to do if a dairy sheep breaks a horn.

1. Stop The Bleeding From The Horn

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If one of your dairy sheep breaks a horn and the wound is bleeding profusely, you'd need to stop the bleeding as soon as possible. Doing so will help to prevent excessive blood loss, plus it'll help you identify the severity of the break.

If the horn is bleeding, the living core inside the outer covering has been damaged. Apply pressure to the wound for 5 minutes to stop or slow down the bleeding. Inside the core is a major artery, which will stop bleeding eventually.

You can speed up the blood clotting using blood-stop powder or a spray-on wound-care product. Alternative options to speed up blood clotting include corn flour and cornstarch.

2. Apply Antiseptic Treatment To The Wound

You must apply an antiseptic to the wound to prevent infection from developing in the horn. Additionally, if there are flies, you should apply a fly repellant. The fly repellant should only be applied once the wound has scabbed over. Alternatively, you can use a pine tar spray with antifungal, antibacterial, and anti-inflammatory properties.

Since a sheep's horns are attached to its skull, there is a risk of infection spreading from the damaged horn to the brain. So, to guard against cerebral disease, you want to prevent microorganisms and other parasites from entering the wound.

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3. Determine If The Skull Has Been Damaged

If the dairy sheep's whole horn has broken off, you may need to call in the services of a veterinarian. Sometimes, a part of the skull breaks off with the horn, exposing the sheep's brain. If the skull has been damaged, it's in the sheep's best interest to visit the vet as soon as possible.

Depending on the severity of the skull wound, it might be necessary to put the sheep to sleep. However, if the vet finds a way to seal the wound so it can heal, euthanasia might not be required. You would need to maintain the dressing on the wound and keep it sterile until it has healed.

4. Seek Veterinary Care If Necessary

You might need to see the vet depending on how badly the horn is broken. Suppose it's a minor break where the outer covering has broken off, but the core isn't exposed. In that case, you could probably attend to the injury yourself. However, if confronted with one or more of the following scenarios, rather take your dairy sheep to the vet:

  • The whole horn has broken off and exposed the sheep's brain,
  • The skull is damaged,
  • Part of the horn has broken off and won't stop bleeding,
  • You treated the wound, but it smells terrible,
  • To treat sepsis,
  • The sheep is lethargic or has lost its appetite, or
  • You don't have the necessary equipment or medication to treat your sheep.

5. Debride The Damaged Part Of The Horn

Depending on where the break is on the sheep's horn, you should remove the broken part. If the break is nearer the horn's tip, it might be possible to remove the piece yourself. However, a veterinarian should debride a horn.

Debriding a horn means removing the necrotic (dead) matter to prevent it from rotting and infecting the bloodstream. A vet would use specialized equipment to cut and cauterize the dead tissue.

It might also be necessary to remove the whole horn to prevent it from growing at a strange angle. But, again, this surgery must be done by a vet or qualified person.

6. Administer Antibiotics To The Dairy Sheep

A sheep with a badly broken horn will likely need antibiotic treatment. If the affected dairy sheep is a lactating ewe, you should not consume or sell her milk until the antibiotic course is completed. The antibiotics will be released into a ewe's milk. Therefore, they could adversely affect those consuming it, even if the milk has been pasteurized.

Below are some reasons why you should avoid consuming dairy containing antibiotics:

  • You could develop antibiotic resistance,
  • Your risk of allergic reactions increases,
  • Antibiotic residues have carcinogenic potential,
  • There's an increased risk of mutagenicity and infertility,
  • You may suffer intestinal disturbances, and
  • Newborns exposed to antibiotics in utero might suffer congenital abnormalities.

Additionally, sheep milk containing antibiotics shouldn't be used in cheese or yogurt making. The antibiotics might affect the starter cultures and impede the fermentation process.

7. Separate The Ewe From The Rest Of The Flock If Necessary

You might need to separate an injured lactating ewe from the rest of the flock while she recovers. It will depend on the extent of her injury, how active the ewe is, and the temperaments of the rest of the flock. Keeping the wound clean will also be easier if the ewe is in a controlled environment. If the ewe is lactating, she must still be milked to avoid mastitis.

8. Determine The Cause Of The Horn Injury

By determining the cause of the horn injury, you might be able to prevent it from happening again to another member of your dairy flock. Here are some of the ways sheep break their horns:

  • Butting heads with other sheep,
  • Getting entangled or stuck (e.g., in a fence) and panicking,
  • Connecting with a solid surface (e.g., while running away from a predator),
  • An encounter with an amorous or testosterone-filled ram, or
  • Falling on a hard surface.

Usually, rams butt heads and are more susceptible to breaking their horns; however, you get cranky ewes, too. Ill-tempered sheep should be monitored and preferably kept separate from the flock, mainly if they cause physical harm to the other sheep.

If your dairy sheep have horns, check the fencing around their enclosures regularly, and don't use electric mesh fencing. Often, sheep put their head through the fence to eat the greener grass on the other side. However, their horns prevent them from retracting their heads, so they panic and even asphyxiate.

9. Consider Dehorning Or Disbudding Dairy Lambs

Dehorning or disbudding dairy sheep has many advantages. Firstly, you don't need to risk losing one of your beloved ewes over a broken keratin protrusion. Secondly, you don't need to look at a lopsided sheep. Other advantages of removing a dairy sheep's horns or buds include the following:

  • The sheep is less likely to injure other animals and humans,
  • The sheep doesn't need as much space at the feeding trough,
  • Stock losses should decrease, and
  • Vet bills should decrease.

However, the best advantage is that you're literally "nipping it in the bud."

Disbudding a lamb means removing the horn bud when the lamb is less than a week old. Then, the exposed growth cells are cauterized with a heated dehorning iron. A dehorning iron is cylindrical but with a hollowed tip to fit over the horn's bud. If the procedure is done correctly, a disbudded lamb will not grow horns as it matures.


Owning dairy sheep with horns risks losing some of your ewes due to a broken horn. Depending on the wound, an infection could travel to the sheep's brain, which usually ends in euthanasia. However, horn breakages can be minimized through farming practices. For example, some farmers poll their dairy sheep lambs within the first week after birth.

This is not a Veterinarian Advice

The Ideas and Strategies presented on this website and the information are based on our research and experience. These strategies are not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. The information and/or documents contained on this website do not constitute veterinarian or medical advice. You should not disregard, or delay in obtaining, medical advice for any medical condition your livestock or pets may have.

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