How Did That Big Cow Get So Huge?

A big steer.
(Image credit: Shutterstock)

The internet literally had a cow yesterday when news of a giant steer in Australia spread across the interwebs like a fire set by a cow kicking over a lantern.

The famous steer (a male cattle that's been neutered) is named Knickers. He's 7 years old, weighs more than 3,000 lbs. (1,400 kilograms) and stands an incredible 6 feet, 4 inches (194 centimeters) tall at the shoulders. But nobody — not even Knickers' owner in Western Australia — knows how he got so big, according to The Guardian.

And while it's impossible to give a diagnosis without examining the animal itself, there's a good chance that the culprit is an out-of-control growth hormone, said Min Du, a professor of growth biology at Washington State University, who has never met Knickers. [Photos: These Animals Used to Be Giant]

When asked for possible reasons why Knickers became such an awe-inspiring absolute unit, Du said it could be any one of a range of conditions. "But the most likely reason is due to some sort of mutation or something that occurred in the growth hormone or the growth-hormone receptors," Du told Live Science.

But he'd put his money on the growth hormone hypothesis, Du said. It's possible Knickers secreted too much growth hormone before 2 or 3 years of age, when cattle reach adulthood, which could explain why he's as tall as an SUV — for instance, the Mercedes-Benz G-Class, as Twitter user Lanre Aliyu pointed out.

An SUV-size steer certainly isn't normal. Any other Holstein Friesian (Knickers' cattle breed) would likely be half to two-thirds his height, Du said.

But Knickers isn't the largest steer on the books. That honor goes to another Holstein Friesian named Bellino, a steer with a height of 6 feet, 7 inches (2.02 meters) who lives in Italy but weighs about the same as Knickers, according to The Guardian.

Amazingly, Knickers' girth saved him from the butcher. Meat processors told his owner, Geoff Pearson, that he was too enormous for the slaughterhouse equipment. "He’s too big for the chain, he’s out of spec," Pearson told The Guardian. "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."

So, Knickers is spending the rest of his days on the ranch in Western Australia, where he coaches other cattle on where to hang out, Pearson told The Guardian.

But the true reason behind Knickers' tremendous height won't be solved until a blood test is done — meaning we'll be wondering about this bovine mystery until the cows come home.

Originally published on Live Science.

Laura Geggel

Laura is the archaeology and Life's Little Mysteries editor at Live Science. She also reports on general science, including paleontology. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, Scholastic, Popular Science and Spectrum, a site on autism research. She has won multiple awards from the Society of Professional Journalists and the Washington Newspaper Publishers Association for her reporting at a weekly newspaper near Seattle. Laura holds a bachelor's degree in English literature and psychology from Washington University in St. Louis and a master's degree in science writing from NYU.