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Australia

Holy cow! Australia’s beastly bovine makes headlines across the world

  • Knickers, a steer in Western Australia, has been spared from the abattoir due to his enormous size
PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 28 November, 2018, 2:59pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 28 November, 2018, 10:49pm

First, the news, such as it is: there is a giant cow named Knickers in Western Australia and people have gone crazy.

Technically he is not a cow, but a steer (a neutered male). But he is giant, standing at 1.94 metres (6ft 4in) to his withers (the shoulder). This is just shy of the world record-holding steer, Bellino, who lives in Italy and stands at 2.02 metres. Knickers, a Holstein Friesian, weighs in at 1,400kg (220 stone) and is believed to be the biggest steer in Australia.

And, for some reason, Knickers and his sizeable existence are the talk of the internet, making news all over the world.

“It’s out of control,” says Geoff Pearson, Knickers’ owner, over the phone from his property in Myalup, south of Perth. “I didn’t expect it to go as far as it has. I’ve been called every 10 minutes since four o’clock this morning.”

It is, perhaps, no surprise that a country obsessed with building giant things to line its motorways – the Big Watermelon has just joined the Big Banana, the Big Prawn and the Big Potato – would be fascinated by an oversized animal.

But it is not only Australians who have taken to Knickers. Pearson says he has spent the day fielding calls from the UK, the US, Canada and New Zealand, and the story has been picked up by the BBC, CNN, USA Today and the British newspaper the Daily Mirror.

The US model and social media genius Chrissy Teigen tweeted to say that she pays for wifi on flights precisely so she doesn’t miss out on news like this.

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But why exactly are we fascinated by a large steer?

Pearson believes it’s just a matter of novelty. “I suppose it’s just a different topic,” he says. “It doesn’t happen every day, you don’t get a steer of that size in normal production systems, and people like animal stories.”

This – the baffling reality of Knickers’ unreal size – is certainly part of it, raising questions: was he bred to be this size? Pumped full of hormones? Does this mark a dawning era of bovine megafauna? How did Knickers get so large?

“We don’t know that ourselves,” Pearson says. “It’s just a freaky thing.”

Partly it’s because Knickers was given the chance to grow to his full height. Steers are usually sold to processing plants at the age of two or three years.

“They probably don’t have the opportunity to grow to their full potential,” Pearson says. “There could be other animals that could grow to this size but didn’t get the chance.”

But Pearson is adamant that Knickers, who is seven, is a “stand-out”. “You could go through thousands and thousands of animals and try to find one of this size and you wouldn’t be able to.”

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Plus, Knickers’ story is one of hope and reprieve. Pearson tried to offload him last month, only to be told by the meat processors said the steer was just too large for the abattoir.

“He’s too big for the chain, he’s out of spec, he’d be too heavy for the machines and he’d probably actually be hanging on the floor, so there would be contamination issues, and his cuts of meat would be too large,” Pearson says.

Which means Knickers can live out his days on the 3,000-acre property, home to 4,000 head of cattle, for whom he acts as a “coach” – showing them where to roam.

“He just hangs around, he’s part of the furniture,” Pearson says. “Obviously he’s gained some stardom – that’s changed his identity a little bit.

“We’ll have to see what happens with that.”