Photo: Courtesy of Lautner Farms Facebook page
DES MOINES -- Texas Tornado has become an Internet sensation as a "fluffy cow." Never mind that he's a bull.
Someone posted a photo of Texas Tornado, owned by father and son cattlemen Phil and Matt Lautner of Adel, Iowa, on the social media site Reddit in late May. Redditors let out a collective "aaaww!" That and other photos of thickly coated, elaborately coiffed show cattle went viral, and the hashtag #fluffycow trended on Twitter.
Matt Lautner, 31, discovered that his bulls were getting attention, so he jumped aboard the wave. He started the Fluffy Cows R Us Facebook page June 5, and as of Monday afternoon, it had 15,930 likes. Today.com, Buzzfeed and other websites fed the craze.
Lautner said the phenomenon is "a great platform to talk about the great people and cattle in the beef industry."
"I decided to have a question and answer session on Reddit where folks could ask me questions about the beef cattle industry," he said. "I'm really enjoying answering questions on everything from feed and nutrition of cattle, to grooming the hair for shows, to the families who manage these animals, to the beef that we enjoy on the grill during these summer months."
Others in the beef industry worry that the focus on "fluffy cows" could backfire. Indeed, some Reddit and Twitter followers responded to photos with comments like, "That's too cute to kill" and "That almost makes me want to become a vegetarian."
"I'll admit, I cringe a little bit when I hear someone comparing these cattle to teddy bears. I do worry that folks will get the wrong idea that these cattle are pets, not livestock," Lautner said.
But Lautner is taking the opportunity to educate the public. He posted a graphic showing the cuts of beef that would come from a "fluffy cow," and it, too, is getting shared across the Internet.
Lautner is selling "fluffy cow" T-shirts, but it's doubtful whether the craze will produce much revenue. The Lautners sell semen from Texas Tornado - which is a cross of angus, chianina, Maine-Anjou and shorthorn breeds - and other bulls to breeders across the U.S.
"I imagine there will be more interest in this bull as cattlemen are making breeding decisions. But, really this isn't about making a few extra bucks; it's about highlighting this industry that I love and answering questions that folks might have," Lautner said. "Hopefully, there's a lot more folks who attend county and state fairs this year to check out the 'fluffy cows' and meet the people who are there exhibiting them."
The Lautners have explained how cattle exhibitors wash, comb and blow-dry hair sometimes twice a day to get the coveted fluffy look. "Before the show, these animals are treated to a day at the 'salon,' where they use hair sprays, oils, and clippers to cut, style and fluff up the hair," according to Lautnerfarms.com.
Those hoping to get a glimpse of a live "fluffy cow" might be disappointed. The cattle have long hair in winter, but shed this time of year. "They're not so pretty in summer," said Phil Lautner.
Lynn Hicks, The Des Moines Register