Even though fairs and festivals this past year haven’t gone to plan, it has gotten me to thinking about all the people I have encountered at these, and the things they have asked, most notably about drinking horns.
First I must say please excuse, my sometimes, snarky tone. I do realize that in this day and age many people are far removed from many things natural, or how certain materials are sources. They seem to think all is manufactured or just pops into a store without a thought as to how things get there.
So without further ado, here we go…
1. What are these made of (referring to the horns)? Plastic?
No they aren’t plastic, they are made of horn. The horn may feel as such, especially when they are polished, but they are a natural material called keratin. Keratin is the same substance that makes our finger nails and hair. When keratin forms to make a horn, it is obviously denser and much thicker than our finger nails. It also is the same material that the hooves of cows and horse are made from.
It definitely is a plastic like substance and can be molded into different shapes with heat. Spoons have been commonly molded from horn and if you’ve ever heard of horned rimmed glasses, this is where this material came from.
2. Do they kill/hunt the animals to get the horns?
These questions mostly likely came from vegans/vegetarians/animal activists, not that I have a problem with these sorts. It’s again probably due to a lack of knowledge. But I myself admittedly am very much of a carnivore so never really thought about this sort of thing.
They most certainly did come from dead cattle, but weren’t killed exclusively for the horn. They are part of cattle industry. It may be hard to believe that even in this century, that when cattle are processed for consumption, a great deal of the animal’s parts is utilized. The hides for leather, the bones for collagen, hooves for dog chews, meat that we may not consume for dog food, the list goes on. In my case, horns are for drinking out of.
3. What do you use these for??
Well they are called drinking horns, should be a sufficient clue as to their use. To the general population, this obviously isn’t something familiar to them, and apparently haven’t watched Vikings or Game of Thrones.
Many cultures over time have utilized these for this very purpose, which I hope to write about this at a later date. In the grand scheme of things, it wasn’t just the Norse/Vikings that used such vessels. Anywhere there was cattle, there were probably drinking horns.
Again a lot of it goes back to our ancestors utilizing as much of a resources as possible that are readily available to them. Items that we use today such as dishes, drink wear, cooking vessels, even clothing, were once pretty costly. This was due to time, resources, and just plain staying alive.
4. Not so much a question, but many people seem to use the terms horn and antler almost interchangeably, so what’s the difference?
There is a huge difference between horn and antler. I won’t go too far in depth, but here it goes.
Horns contain two pieces essentially, the horn core and the horn sheath. The horn sheath is that keratin that serves as protection to the bone core. The bone core of the horn is a protuberance that is attached to the skull itself. It grows as the animal grows over time. The horn can be separated from the core and utilized for things like drinking horns. Again cattle as well as antelope, sheep, goats have horns as part of their anatomy.
Antlers are essentially bony constructions that protrude from the skull of an animal. They grow on an annual basis and fall off once the breeding season is over. If you look at a cross section of an antler, the center contains a sponge like core that you would see in other bones. There is no keratin covering.
5. So where do the horns come from?
I must admit that I do have to import these. Many people have seen cows as they drive along the countryside. Did you ever notice if they have horns? Most don’t, other than some heritage breeds, like the Highland Cattle, or the Texas Longhorn. Here in the U.S. though most cattle don’t have them. There are one of two things going on here, either the horn trait has been bred out, or when they are young, the bud where the horn would grow is taken off. The later is not the nicest of processes, but usually done for the safety for those handling the animals.
Essentially it is very difficult to find a source of horns here in the U.S.
Thanks for having a read!