Throughout this book, all measurements in the diagrams that are not specified are in mm.
Bovid horn is an abundant raw material in many developing countries. Artisans usually obtain their supplies from slaughterhouses or from the countryside where many animals are slaughtered by their owners. In many instances, too, unused horns may be seen lying in the streets and squares and on waste land in large numbers.
The collection of horn could be very easily organised by designating one person in each village to be responsible for the purchase of horns from the slaughterhouse and their storage in a damp, dark place before they are despatched to horners. A small-scale intermediate market would thus be created that would generate employment but would have little effect on the price of manufactured objects, as the cost of untreated horn accounts for a very small proportion of the total price of a finished object.
The two horns of a particular animal are virtually identical. Quality, size and colour may vary, however, from one animal to another. The largest horns measure approximately 10 cm in diameter at the base and 50 cm in length (figure I.1).
Figure I.1: Bovid horn
Artisans usually prefer to use horns with a base diameter of over 6 cm and a length of more than 17 cm. These may be of a uniform colour: black, white, yellow or red; or mottled and veined, white or yellow, with black or red markings, which give the horn a tortoiseshell appearance.
After the animals are slaughtered, horn cores are sawn off flush with the forehead. Figure I.2 shows a section of horn after slaughter, as it is supplied to the horner. The first operation consists in extracting the core after having destroyed the ligaments which attach it firmly to the horn.
There are two extraction techniques: one is extremely simple, slow and somewhat unhygienic but economical. It consists of allowing the ligaments to rot by storing the horn in a damp, dark place for a long period of time.
The other technique is much quicker and consists of soaking the horns in cold water for two to three days in a vertical position, with the tip pointing downwards (figure I.3) to allow the gases that form between the core and the hollow horn to escape.
Figure I.2: Cross-section of a horn
Figure I.3: Soaking of horns
After being removed from the water, the horn is boiled for one hour in a vertical position, tip downwards, as shown in figure I.4. The core may then be removed by hand. If necessary, it can be more easily detached by lightly tapping the external surface of the horn with a wooden mallet (figure I.5).
The core can be sold to producers of animal feed or fertiliser.
To prepare horns for processing, their external surface simply needs to be washed in cold water containing a little detergent. The remains of ligaments adhering to the inside of the horn may be removed by swabbing with a long-handled brush or mop while keeping the inside full of soapy water (figures I.6 and I.7). Horns should not be washed in hot water as this dissolves the keratin and reduces the lustre of the horn when polished.
Figure I.4: Boiling of horns
Figure I.5: Removal of the core
Figure I.6: Cleaning the inside of a horn
Figure I.7: Cleaning equipment - Long-handled brush
Figure I.7: Cleaning equipment - Long-handled mop