In Summary
  • Many people think cow horns are only fit for the garbage.
  • You could be missing out on a life-changing opportunity if you still harbour such views, explains Christine Katende.

A cow provides a number of useful products such as beef, milk, dung, hide and skin and horns. Its horns have been traditionally used as décor in many places. But there is more you can do with the horns after the slaughtering process.

Apart from selling them off, one can add value to cow horns to get a number of valuable items, a trend that has been in existence in countries such as Kenya, Nigeria, and India. A great number of these horns are got from the western Uganda. While cattle keepers were unaware that the horns of their cattle were a valuable resource, the middlemen in the slaughterhouses sell to those who could add value to them.

In Uganda, the activity started in 1997, according to John Okumu, a cow horn technician at the Uganda Industrial Research Institute (UIRI) in Nakawa. He reveals that making crafts from cow horn was realised when the Ugandan government abolished the use of ivory in the 1980s.

“Many people did not know about the value concealed in cow horns until an Italian who visited Uganda offered a three-month training to a few people. I was among the lucky ones and since 1997 I started making crafts, and have never looked back,” Okumu discloses, adding that due to the low demand for the products then, he would produce seasonally, especially during Christmas and Easter holidays, since they were expected to register high sales.

Currently more farmers sell a whole cow, hence giving buyers more chances to gain from the animal since every part has unique uses. Thus, one can retain the horns add value to them. Raw horns are mostly purchased from meat packers or slaughter houses in Kampala at Shs40, 000, a pair and Shs5, 000 a pair from village abattoirs. But Okumu says only horns from mature animals are fit for value addition.

Other products
Other products produced from cow horn include, salt shakers that cost Shs 8,000, cereal bowls at Shs 12,000, key holders at Shs6,000, necklaces at Shs25,0000 and ladles at Shs80,000. Others include; fruit bowls that are sold between Shs15,000– Shs20,000, trays range between Shs8,000-Shs12,000, glasses Shs10,000 –Shs15,000among others. These products are supplied to supermarkets and craft shops.

However, nothing from cow horn goes to waste. All off cuts are used to make stretching bungles which are also produced in different designs. These products can as well be exported.
“I normally sell my products to craft villages in bulk. I get at least three orders in a week and it’s these people that export. I fetch up to Shs3m weekly,” he says adding: In case you have the machine and other equipment such as safety shoes, sawdust, eye glasses, mouth and noise mask, cooking oil, sanding paper, spindles, cotton cloth, axle blade, chisel, polishing wax readily available, you expect to get high profits with limited expenditure because most of the materials are reusable, implying that you buy once. Shs300,000 input can fetch a profit of more than Shs600,000.”

Using the machine
While most of the work can be done manually, it is the moulding process that requires a machine. You fix the hardened piece in a spindle and fix it into a lathe machine for moulding. As the lathe machine is moving, points are measured with a chisel depending on the size of bungles you are going to produce. After, get the axel blade, hold it firmly and start cutting. Then use the chisel to put the curves.

All you need is a charcoal stove, sawdust, eye glasses, mouth and noise mask, safety shoes, cooking oil, water, powder soap, spindle, cotton cloth, polishing wax and sanding paper. The other requirements include axle blade, chisel and a multipurpose machine to mould and sand the bangle to the fine stage.
Okumu says the multipurpose machine will set you back by Shs9m. However, he quickly adds that this is money you can recover because this is money that can easily be recovered in a month. He says, when he has many orders, he gets extra labour and pays each between Shs10,000 and Shs20,000 per day.

The process

Select horns from only mature cattle because it’s from such horns that you can be able to produce different products.
Since raw horns have bones in them, one needs to pile them and leave them for three days to allow the bones rot before pulling the bones out. Then, pile them and later set them on fire. The ash from burning the cow horns is used as poultry feed.

According to Samuel Sewagudde, a veterinary doctor at Genesis East Africa Limited, bones are a good source of calcium, which contributes towards the growth of poultry mostly layers. A kilo of the ash is sold to poultry farmers between Shs1, 000 to Shs1, 500. The horn tips too are profitable as a kilo costs Shs30, 000. They are used to produce colourful buttons.
Also from horns, one can get bungles, which Okumu says have a high demand. They are moulded in different shapes, colours and sizes. A six inch piece of a cow horn can produce 12 bungles of 0.5cm each and sold at Shs2, 000, nine bungles of one centimetre each cost Shs25, 000 and three bungles of 2.5cm each at Shs6, 000.