5 Strange Kinds of Cattle

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I’ve always had an interest in domesticated animals as examples of the power of genetics. Darwin himself, saw the ability of breeders to create changes in pigeons and other domestic animals as a mechanism for the changes that take place in nature. Just as humans mold animals via controlled breeding, so, too, could circumstances in nature effect which animals were able to breed and with whom. Of course, selection isn’t only driven by strict practicality whether it be by the randomness of nature or the whims of man, which leads us to these five oddballs of the cattle kingdom.

5. The Belgian Blue aka The Muscles from Brussels

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When it’s not starring with itself in Time Cop movies, the Belgian Blue is a breed of cattle from, of all places, Belgium that takes it’s workout routine very seriously. This breed has a mutation in gene that codes for the protein myostatin which regulates muscle growth and fat retention. Specifically, myostatin tells the body to stop piling on more muscle and if it’s not doing it’s job things get a little out of control. Myostatin mutations are also known in other animals such as whippet dogs and in people.

Chicks dig it.
Chicks dig it.

Now, while they’re really impressive to look at, being that huge does have it’s drawbacks. Their calves are also huge necessitating many more c-sections than your standard cattle and they require a specialized, protein rich diet. They also have an annoying tendency to refer to everyone as “Bro” and they rarely wipe down the equipment when they’re done.

4. Hitler’s Death Cow

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The natural enemy of the super-heroic Belgian Blue would be the Nazi-inspired Heck cattle.  If you’re fortunate enough to get the NatGeo Channel they have a show about these beasts called Hitler’s Jurassic Monsters, which is worth watching other than the patently ridiculous title.

Typical Jurassic cow
Typical Jurassic cow

The Nazis had a whole mythology built around the idea that back in prehistory there was a race of giant, blonde supermen gallivanting around the forests of Germany stabbing giant, probably not blonde animals with sharp objects. One of the people caught up in these dreams of ancient Germany was Lutz Heck. He and his brother, Heinz, were enamored with the idea of recreating this primeval Germany and, in particular, the ancestor of domestic cattle, the extinct aurochs.

So, the Heck brothers went about trying to back-cross cattle to bring out their primitive traits. The approach was fundamentally flawed, not just because of the whole Nazi part, but because science did not yet understand DNA and it’s role. So, they created cattle that looked somewhat like the aurochs, though they are still a great deal smaller, but genetically they’re not similar at all.

As the NatGeo show points out, Lutz Heck was a full on Nazi, and a pal of Goering and Himler. Numerous atrocities were committed in Poland to further the project of recreating the primeval forest where Germans would again pit themselves against giant animals. That has left a stain on the idea of de-extinction that lingered for decades.

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Lutz is at the left, Goering on the right.

Of course, the cattle themselves are just innocent bystanders in all this and somehow they still survive. They’re too surly and dangerous to be that useful, though, which is likely why our ancestors killed off the aurochs to begin with. So, at least they have that much in common.

3. The Cow With A Hole In It

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Sir, are you aware there is a hole in your cow?

But enough Nazi mad science and back to modern mad science. If you click here, you’ll see a short video of Mike Rowe from Dirty Jobs being introduced to a cannulated cow. The idea is that you put this porthole, or cannula if you want to be fancy, in the side of a cow and then any time you feel like it you can reach in there and take things out of it’s stomach to see how it’s being digested. They use it to see how well cows digest various and sundry things. And if you’re wondering, yes, they do let them roam about.

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Now you just need the beanbags for a truly challenging game of cornhole.

If you’re one of those nutty young people, you’re probably wondering if you could get one of these for yourself. How keen it would be to install such a radical and extreme piercing in your own self so you could go down to the malt shop and thrill all the other hep cats by eating a cheeseburger and french fried potatoes then opening a porthole in your stomach and pulling out your bolus?  And you totally can! This whole notion originally came from a man named Alexis St. Martin who had an unfortunate musket accident back in 1822. He survived but he was left with a hole, or fistula, in his belly. A doctor by the name of William Beaumont spent the next few years lowering various and sundry things through the hole to see what would happen to them. And St. Martin would go on to live another 58 years apparently not too much worse for wear after the accident.

The hip trend of the future.
The hip trend of the future.

2. Ankole-Watusi

lurch-watusix-topper-mediumAt some point long ago, a member of the Tutsi tribe in central Africa said “Oh yeah? You call those horns? I’ll show you some horns!” and so began a competition that has come down through the ages and resulted in these magnificent beasts.

The Ankole-Watusi have the largest horns of any breed of cattle. Longhorns can be just as long but their horns aren’t nearly as massive. Traditionally, the Watusi preferred a nicely shaped horn, like the fellows below, but American breeders have steadily worked to create the kind of massive horns seen on Lurch up above there, the Guinness record holder for size of horns in a steer.

The more traditional look.
The more traditional look.

The Ankole-Watusi is well suited to its tropical homeland. The horns actually act as radiators with blood flowing inside them to disperse heat. For the most part, these are dairy cows as they are too valuable to eat the meat. They’re still quite common in their part of Africa, but Westerners are trying to cross breed them with Holsteins to create a more productive dairy cow. So, they may eventually be supplanted by a new breed that retains their ability to thrive on the local forage and withstand the heat but is more productive.

If you’d like to see some of these cattle for yourself, they have a small herd up at the Toronto Zoo.

1. The long and short of it.

People usually enjoy things that are the wrong size. We all have an idea in our minds of what size something is supposed to be and when something comes along and breaks that notion it will create either awe or awww.

Ohmahgerd! Teeny tiny cows! They is adorbs! And probably delicious!

As shown in the video, there are several kinds of mini cattle, 26 recognized breeds in all, but the grandmomma of the line are a tiny breed originally from Ireland called the Dexter.

No, not that one.
No, not that one.

Miniature cows are enjoying a surge in popularity since they are much easier on the land than big Holsteins and offer an organic alternative for people interested in that kind of thing.

On the other end of the spectrum you have Blosom, the tallest cow ever. And, yes, it’s spelled with just one ‘s’.

Blosom, who recently passed away, stood 6′ 4″. The tallest bull is a fellow named Chilli who stands two inches taller.

bigcowBNS_468x341You’ll notice that these are just regular old Holsteins, rather than being from a breed of giants. It doesn’t appear that breeders are necessarily trying to make Holsteins larger, rather since there are so many Holsteins it’s more likely that the occasional sport is a Holstein than some other breed.