This week, photos and videos featuring a group of cattle became viral for one reason. Pretty much everyone who saw the pictures was fascinated by one of the "cows" who stood out in the photo.
However, despite standing out as a giant black and white cow amongst a group of other, regular-sized cows, experts are now saying that we have all been duped.
The animal in question is called Knickers, and he attracted a great deal of attention due to his large size, relative to the other members of the herd on a farm in Australia. And there really is no denying that he is absolutely huge!
At the shoulder, Knickers stands a whopping 6’4”, making him a whole two inches taller than Austrian bodybuilder-turned-actor, Arnold Schwarzenegger. He also weighs about 2,800 lbs which is about the same as 14-and-a-half Danny DeVitos. So essentially, while Knickers is undeniably massive, his huge size is only relative to what he is being compared to.
“This story needs some perspective,” said Aniek Bouwman, an expert in animal breeding and genomics at Wageningen University in the Netherlands.
For one thing, she noted, it's important to realize that Knickers is not a cow - contrary to popular belief - he's actually a steer. It's important because male cattle are usually a lot bigger than female cattle.
The steer's height, however, can also be attributed to his breed, Bouwman added. Male Holsteins tend to reach just under 6 feet in height, while other breeds, such as the wagyu cattle that are surrounding Knickers in the widely-shared photos of him, tend to top out at 4.5 feet. Knickers might be a very large specimen but he looks a lot larger than he normally would as he's standing amongst a herd of much shorter cows.
Age can also play a part. Knickers is seven years old, which is actually a pretty long life for a steer. The cattle he was pictured with, on the other hand, are all about a year old, his owner told the New York Times.
“Steers are usually destined for slaughter by the age of three,” said Craig Hickman, a dairy farmer in Ashburton, New Zealand, who added that nearly everyone he knows has been talking to him about Knickers. “So at seven he’s had time to pack on an awful lot of weight.”
In fact, Knickers' large proportions may have actually been a self-fulfilling prophecy as after some years of growth, the steer has become far too large to be admitted to a processing facility, according to his owner, Geoff Pearson.
Aside from his age and breed, Knickers does seem to have something else going for him. For one thing, according to Mr Pearson, his parents weren't particularly big and he wasn't particularly large as a newborn
“He was just a run-of-the-mill calf that’s turned into a giant,” said Mr Pearson, who owns a third-generation cattle farm in Myalup, a small town in Western Australia.
According to Bouwman, both giantism and dwarfism, have been documented in a number of different species. So could genes be responsible for Knicker's size? Well, Bouwman said a DNA test would be necessary in order to determine this for sure.
It may also be possible that Knickers’ pituitary gland, which regulates growth, has gone out of control. This has been noted in some tadpoles that continue to grow as tadpoles rather than undergo metamorphosis into frogs.
When asked about Knickers, Richard Wassersug, an honorary professor and herpetologist at the University of British Columbia who studies giantism in tadpoles, said he would refrain from commenting outside of his realm of expertise. But generally speaking, no growth can go on forever.
“There are clear limits on how large any terrestrial organism can be before its organ systems can no longer meet the collective needs of other organ systems and they start to fail,” he said.
Danniel, another sizable Holstein in California, roughly the same size as Knickers, died this year from a calcium deficiency. According to one report, Danniel consumed about 100 lbs of hay, 15 lbs of grain and 100 gallons of water a day. He died at the age of eight.
Neither Holsteins, though, hold the record for the world's tallest steer. That's held by an Italian chianina ox named Bellino. He’s six foot seven inches. As of yet, Knickers has shown no sign of health-related problems, but Mr Pearson said he won’t be surprised if carrying all that weight eventually became a burden to his overall health.
“Yeah, look, we run a reasonable cattle operation,” he added. “We like the exposure Knickers has gotten, but we’ve got a day-to-day operation to continue on with.”
So while Knickers is a bit of an anomaly as far as his size is concerned, there doesn't seem to much more to it than that.