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Iowa's fluffy cows explained

Texas Tornado, famous fluffy Iowa cow

Cute animals never go out of style. The internet seems to have been built on cat pictures, and despite the fact that it's been years since the popularity of Caturday, our curiosity about animals hasn't changed.

When I ran across pictures of fluffy cows on Twitter (#fluffycows), I wanted to find out all I could about these cows. Who wouldn’t, after seeing pictures of them looking like big, huggable teddy bears?

After a little online sleuthing, I traced the fluffy cows back to Iowa. Lautner Farms, based in Adel, is home to the original fluffy cow that started the social media sensation. Owner Matt Lautner specializes in genetics for club calves (baby fluffy cows), which 4-H kids raise to show at their county fairs and livestock shows.

The original “fluffy cow” photo was of a cross-bred bull named “Texas Tornado” taken at the National Western Stock Show in Denver. But why was Texas Tornado so fluffy?

Stephanie Steck, advertising specialist for Lautner Farms, explains that these furry cows don’t always look this way. Behind each one is a family working together year-round to make these animals look their best.

“This requires the youth showman to wash, comb and blow dry their animals’ long 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 presentation of hair, but for other merits like carcass quality (for market animals) or breeding traits (for heifers and bulls),” Steck said.

On top of all the care from families, “Those pictures were taken this winter, when it’s the coldest time of the year, so he was really hairy,” Steck said.

You might see extra fuzzy cows in the winter, but it takes more than stylish hair to keep animals warm. Farmers brave the elements to make sure their animals are healthy and happy, from keeping them cool in the heat of summer to keeping them warm in the bitter cold of winter. Rest assured, both blow-dried cows and more "regular" cows are raised with care.

farmer feeding a calf

While we get to look at fluffy cow pictures under a blanket from inside our warm homes, farmers are outside in the cold keeping their animals warm and happy. From plowing miles of roads to keep livestock fed to building windbreaks out of bales (not to mention checking on their animals hourly), you can be sure that cows of all shapes, sizes, and breeds (even the less fluffy ones) are the stars of the show on cattle farms.

Want proof? Look no further than dairy farmer Megan, who used this TikTok video to show how she keeps the cattle warm on her farm.

But what is the deal with these insanely fluffy cows? Can all cows be fluffy? It’s a combination of hard work from farm families every day, the right time of year, and the right genetics. So if you see Texas Tornado or another fluffy cow, you can be sure that he (or she) is getting treated like a model, with hair treatments, special diets, and all sorts of special training.

The name “fluffy cows” didn’t come from Lautner Farms. In fact, bulls are males, and cows are females, so Texas Tornado isn’t even a cow at all, technically speaking.

“I think we would be a little bit more responsible if we were going to name it,” Steck said. “But for those who don’t know, it’s a good entryway into real conversations about show cattle and beef production in general. We are hoping to embrace that part of it.”

Steck said Lautner Farms is using the “fluffy cows” trend to start a conversation with consumers about modern-day cattle farming and how cattle provide so much for our lifestyles, from steaks to beef byproducts like insulin for diabetics.

Iowans who are interested in taking part in that conversation can contact the Iowa Farm Animal Care (IFAC) Coalition, if they have any questions about animal care. IFAC's goal is ensuring that every Iowa farm animal receives proper, humane animal care – whether that's a fluffy show cow or a more normal (but still adorable) cow you see on the pasture.

To follow the latest fluffy cow photos and news from Lautner Farms, visit www.twitter.com/@fluffycowzz.

And while you (and I) might want to, please don’t pet or hug the fluffy cows.