Being tall certainly has its advantages – any tall person can tell you that. Being a tall bovine, however? For the sake of this Knickers the “Cow”, being big was a lifesaver. Knickers made headlines in 2018 for its size, but there’s one detail that many people got wrong. Knickers is not a cow. Rather, Knickers is a steer. (1)
Knickers The Giant Cow Isn’t A Cow
In 2018, Knickers the giant “cow” from Western Australia made headlines for its size. Photos surfaced of the massive animal towering over the rest of the herd. While yes, the bovine’s size is still impressive, there are a couple of important details to point out: Knickers is a steer, not a cow.
While we use the term “cow” liberally to address all types of cattle on a farm, technically cows are a females-only club. In the cattle world specifically, only females that have had at least one calf are referred to as cows. Knickers is a neutered male, making him a steer. To be specific, he is a male Holstein, which is typically a larger breed. That being said, he is still bigger than average.
Another aspect contributing to his size is his age. At the time when he went viral, he was seven years old. Most steers are sent to the slaughterhouse long before then – at three years old at the latest. At seven, he’s really been given the chance to grow to his full potential.
Just How Big Is Knickers?
Lucky for Knickers, he is too big for the meat processing plants – that’s how big. He stands at 6 feet and 4 inches (to his shoulders) and weighs in at about 2,800 pounds. That is still impressive even for his breed, sex, and age.
The viral photos, however, of him towering over the rest of the herd also need a bit of perspective. Knickers’ breed (male Holstein) usually come in at roughly just under 6 feet tall. The cattle he is surrounded by are wagyu, whose males already are much smaller – at about 4.5 feet. He is, as already mentioned, much older than the rest as well. The rest of the wagyu cattle in the photo are all around one year of age, so they also still have some growing to do.
Geoff Pearson, Knickers’ owner, says that they really aren’t sure how the steer grew to be such a stand-out, even amongst his breed. His parents were both normal-sized cattle and he wasn’t any different from the rest of the calves at birth. It’s just a fluke, weird anomaly-type thing.
Saved From The Slaughterhouse
As already mentioned, thanks to his size no slaughterhouses would accept Knickers. He was too big and too heavy for any of their machinery and processing lines. They just simply aren’t set up to process animals of that size.
“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 explained. (2)
For this reason, Knickers was permitted to continue living out his days on the farm. These extra years also allowed him some extra growth. That being said, Knickers still has a job to do. According to Pearson, Knickers does a great job at leading the herd and teaching them how things work around the farm.
“You’ll put him in a paddock and all the other cattle seem to get attracted to him,” Pearson said. “Whenever he wants to get up and start walking, there’s a trail of hundreds of cattle following him.” (3)
Other Tall Cattle
Knickers isn’t the only impressively large bovine out there. The world record holder is a 6 foot 7 Italian Chianina ox named Bellino. Another male Holstein in California was roughly the same size as Knickers. He died at the age of eight in 2017 from calcium deficiency. Alison Van Eenennaam, a professor at UC Davis’ Department of Animal Science and a leading researcher in animal genomics, says that Knickers isn’t a freak, just a tall Holstein. She says that there are other breeds out there that on average are just as big. (4)
“[For example, the] Chianina which is both the tallest and the heaviest breed of cattle,” she explained “Mature bulls stand up to 1.8 m (5 ft 11 in), and steers (castrated males) may reach 2 m (6 ft 7 in). It is not unusual for bulls to exceed 1,600 kg (3,500 lb) in weight – we just typically don’t keep Chianinas in Australia as maximum size is typically not optimum from a cost of production standpoint.”
Lucky for Knickers, he will continue living his life acting as “cow coach” for the rest of the herd.
- “Meet Knickers, the giant cow that is neither a cow nor a giant” The Washington Post. November 28th, 2018
- “Knickers the cow: why Australia’s giant steer is so fascinating” The Guardian. November 28th, 2018
- “Massive cow named Knickers has been deemed too large to eat” Global News. November 27th, 2018
- “Knickers, the extremely large cow, isn’t actually a cow” The Verge. Novvember 28th, 2018