‘Fluffy cows:’ Internet meme gone horribly awry?

Lautner's Texas Tornado

Lautner Farms’ Texas Tornado – the “fluffy cow” (bull) at the center of a social media sensation.

I have a confession to make: I used to own fluffy cows.

W e l l … That’s not exactly true. They weren’t actually cows, that is. They were steers, as it turns out, and maybe once or twice there were heifers, but never actually a fluffy cow.

Oh, and as it turns out, the fluffy cows at the heart of the latest internet meme gone viral aren’t actually cows either… they’re bulls. Totally different, but “fluffy bulls” doesn’t have quite the same ring to it. A little emasculating to the bull, too.

If you’ve been living in a cave for the past week, or if you’re among those in our society blissfully unaware of what a “hashtag” is, then perhaps you’ve missed the internet sensation known as “fluffy cows.” Honestly, I’m completely unsure of the actual origins of the meme, but it seems a picture of one of Lautner Farms many, many A.I. sires found its way to popular social site Reddit, and the rest is history.

Before you know it, photos of Lautner bulls and other “fluffy cows” were all over the web, and making their way into the mainstream press and consciousness of the average American.

The real question is, is this actually a good thing?

My friend Marlene, a brilliant agricultural mind and the wife of one of the best “fluffy cows” photographers in the known universe (he’s really, really amazing – you should totally hire him if you have fluffy cows to market), posed the question on Facebook and got me thinking.

Honestly, it took me right back to my radio days and interviewing kids at the county fair. If you’re reading this blog on a regular basis, there is a good chance you’ve been to a county fair, and probably a reasonable chance you’ve exhibited livestock at some level of competition or another. When I was in the radio biz, I probably visited more county fairs in a year than any member of the media going (other farm broadcasters know all about country fairs, and know exactly what those summers on the road are like), and consequently interviewed lots of young exhibitors.

Invariably, the “steer jocks” at the fair drove me up the wall, because the interview went something like this:

Me: So, tell me about your 4-H/FFA project.

Exhibitor: I show market steers.

Me: I showed steers, too, so I know it’s a lot of work. Share a little bit about that with the audience, please.

Exhibitor: Oh boy, is it ever. We rinse steers at least once, probably twice a day, and spend lots of time working on their hair. Dad even built us a cool room in the barn so we could be sure to get a great hair coat going in time for the fair.

And so on and so on. In 10 years of doing those interviews, I’m not sure I ever did get a beef kid to say something meaningful about learning to figure a proper feed ration, or talk about feed conversions and rate of gain, or even better, to talk about the great carcass quality he was hoping to achieve for the consumer…

Now I know there are lots of 4-H and FFA members out there who know this information, but hard-core steer kids really, really, really know their hair. As a kid who showed steers for years, and really, really, really wanted to get a good haircoat going in time for the fair (though we never did get a cool room), those interviews drove me crazy, because I was so hoping my fellow cattle enthusiasts could speak half as eloquently about why we show cattle in the first place as they did about the art of the hair.

So here we are, right back where I started interviewing kids at the country fair, and people are all a-Twitter over fluffy cows.

It’s worth noting that Phil Lautner is a bovine marketing genius. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen bulls marketed as successfully as this guy does – he’s written the book on the subject of running a show-bull biz. This internet meme is a whole new wrinkle, however, and to the farm’s credit, they’ve now started the follow up to the meme: “It’s so much more than fluffy cows.”

More than fluffy cows...Perhaps because Lautner read my mind at some point during those 10 years of interviewing beef kids at the fair, they’re trying to get folks in the “fluffy cows” business to take a crack at making a connection with normal folks this summer:

This summer, millions of Americans will visit state fairs across the country. Aside from the rides and the cotton candy, many people might not realize that the beef industry is celebrating a long-held tradition in the barns — cattle shows.

Behind the now “famous” #fluffycow phenomenon is families, who work together year-round to make these steer and heifer projects look their best for the chance to walk through the show ring. This requires the youth showmen to wash, comb and blow dry their animals’ hair daily — sometimes twice a day. 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. This is all in an effort to earn the attention of a judge, who evaluates the animals — not just for the presentation of their hair, but for other merits like carcass quality (for market animals) or breeding traits (for heifers and bulls).

At the end of the day, programs like 4-H, FFA and junior breed associations are not only teaching youth how to prepare for a big event and present their animals to the best of their abilities, but these kids also learn from a young age that these cattle will ultimately provide tender steaks, juicy burgers and beef by-products (like insulin for diabetics, for example, or simple things like makeup and deodorants) to feed and nourish families.

Columnist Troy Marshall, writing at Feedstuffs‘ sister publication Beef Magazine, asked a great question: should we fear fluffy cows? Pointing out that the animal rights activists are always waiting for food animal producers to stub their toes, proverbially speaking, he makes a tremendous point.

“A large majority of competitors do things absolutely the right way. But it’s also a well-known fact that certain practices, which wouldn’t be perceived well at all by the average consumer, are considered almost acceptable, especially at the highest levels of competition,” Marshall explains. “The fact is these practices wouldn’t be well received by the typical cattlemen either. Still, we continue to avoid confronting the issue, hoping it will go away. If nothing else, we should recognize that the enemies of our industry are working diligently to discredit us. Anything we do to give them ammunition is extremely poor judgment on our part.”

So if you jump on the Fluffy Cows bandwagon, fellow beef producers, be aware of how your actions reflect on the broader industry. At the end of the day, we aren’t producing hair. In theory, at least, we’re producing a safe, tasty eating experience for the American consumer.

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About Andy Vance

Grains and Biofuels Editor at Feedstuffs, the weekly newspaper for agribusiness, and resident blogger at BeefProducer.com. If the pen is truly mightier than the sword, I may be the most dangerous man I know...

6 Responses to “‘Fluffy cows:’ Internet meme gone horribly awry?”

  1. Andy, I think we are over-thinking this issue (pun intended) much like the Dodge Superbowl commercial. This is a fun, feel good thing that the average person watching the Today Show will look at for 20-30 seconds and say “Awww, how cute!” then go about their day.
    How many times in the last 12 months have you seen a story about the beef business that had that kind of response from the public???

    • You’re actually probably right on the money, Nate. You’ve been around the beef biz long enough to know that commercial beef folks have always looked a little sideways at the show folks, but you and Matt Lautner both make a good case for why the exposure is a good thing – or at least, how the industry can use the phenomenon to its best advantage. Matt and I are working on a blog post at BeefProducer.com that I think will really speak to that point. Stay tuned, as they say!

    • Oh, and the Dodge Ram analogy is actually a really, really good one!

  2. That’s nicely said Andy. It’s difficult for exhibitors to think beyond the cooler and the comb when they’re put in a bit of the spotlight. It continually frustrates me to know that even a few junior exhibitors (I know it’s much more than a few) don’t tell you a thing about the production side of the beef animal at their lead. I’ve found that most of them know the information. You just have to drag it out of them.


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