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Is The #FluffyCow Trend Good For The Industry?

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Primped-up show cattle, described as “fluffy cows” are all the popular rage this week.

When someone posted a photograph last week of a club calf bull owned by Lautner Farms on Reddit – a popular online forum – the media storm that followed was immediate and wide-reaching. From Yahoo, to TODAY, journalists wanted to know more about these “fluffy cows,” and what it takes to get that glossy coat of hair on those animals.

At first read, I had to chuckle. Who knew that the show ring part of the industry – such a celebrated but small segment of the beef business – would drum up so much attention? For those of us who have shown cattle, it seems like a normal, after-school and summer hobby to have as a kid. Washing, combing and blow-drying the hair on a 4-H heifer or steer was a fun responsibility, and going to the shows was the highlight of the year.

But, for consumers, exposure to the intense and extremely competitive world of cattle shows likely occurs only once each year – at fair time. Every summer, millions of Americans visit county and state fairs across the country, where they get their fill of cotton candy and carnival rides. After that, they might wander though the cattle barns (strollers, dogs, grandma, kids and all) to look at the “fluffy cows” and ask owners if they can pet one.

I’ve long said that fairs are a great platform for beef producers to interact with consumers, as it’s a public display of animal care and welfare. I think it’s crucial that we remind the young people showing – as well as their families, the judges and the hired guns who help fit these cattle for the show ring – that we’re in the business of raising beef to feed and nourish consumers. End of story.

While I think it’s great that the “fluffy cow” has made 4-H, FFA and junior shows “cool” and “sexy” in consumers’ eyes, I worry that we may unintentionally cause a “Disney effect” on our beef industry. After all, aren’t we popularizing a food animal into a “fluffy cow” that looks much like a cute and cuddly stuffed animal?

 

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Look what has happened to the equine industry and horse slaughter. Americans are outraged and disgusted at the idea of eating horses -- even though many parts of the world enjoy this protein. Why? Because their idea of a horse is formed from media – think “Seabiscuit” or “Black Beauty.”

Of course, PETA is getting in on the action, asking readers online how they could ever eat that cute, fluffy cow. And, many consumers are commenting how “cuddly” they find the fluffy cow. One Hollywood blogger, Perez Hilton, wrote about “fluffy cows” on his site saying, “If you were to combine a cow and a teddy bear, we're pretty sure you would get these guys. We wanna hug them like a teddy bear! Where can we find these cows? We want a fluffy cow to ride around and hug and just play with all day! Too cute!”

In my opinion, we’re doing ourselves a huge disservice by referring to our show stock as “cute,” “fluffy” or any other affectionate tag you might use to describe a kitten, puppy or baby.  However, I do believe this is an opportunity to speak to our consumers now that we’ve got their attention. Let’s seize this chance to direct the conversation where we want it to go.

We need to refocus the message on the online forums and news stories reporting about “fluffy cows.” We need to introduce ourselves as the ranchers behind the beef consumers love and put the spotlight on the farm families in this industry.

Realizing that consumers might get the wrong idea about “fluffy cows,” forgetting that they are beef animals not pets, Lautners are already working to reframe the conversation. They have created an infographic that reads, “It’s so much more than fluffy cows -- hard work, dedication, discipline, leadership, passion, youth development, respect for life and the land, family, friendship, trust, love for the industry, and it’s our way of life.”

Phil Lautner tells BEEF Daily, “We are very vigilant that anti-animal agriculture groups try to turn conversations negative. With the #FluffyCow phenomenon it is our mission to keep the conversation about youth, family involvement and production. We feel it's necessary to try and educate others about our way of life and what animal production is.”

So, how can you help refocus the chatter online? I challenge all of you to go to these articles (links are listed below) and leave testimonies about what you learned by raising and showing cattle in 4-H and FFA (aside from growing hair, that is). Did you learn to balance a feed ration? Did you learn how to drive a truck and trailer? Did you learn how to calculate your inputs and your profits? Did you learn how to market those quarters of beef at the end of the summer? Did you learn showmanship, responsibility, hard work, integrity, the circle of life?

This summer, as we head to cattle shows with our families, let’s be sure to remind our kids of these important messages. Sure, it’s fun to win, and having a hairy calf sure makes that animal look better in the show ring. But, folks, we’re raising beef, not hair. And, I certainly want our kids -- the next generation of beef producers -- and our consumers -- who enjoy the steaks that we raise -- to remember it.

What do you think? Is the “fluffy cow” story in the news harmless? Is it a good opportunity to share our story? How do you think consumers respond to seeing a “fluffy cow?” How do you think it might impact their purchasing decisions down the road? Leave your thoughts in the comments section below.

Further reading on this topic:

For a different perspective on this topic, click here.

Lautners respond to the original post online here.

To join in the conversation, use the hashtag #fluffycow and/or #fluffycows on Twitter to see what folks are saying about this topic.

To read the TODAY Show article, click here. 

To read Matt Lautner's Q&A session about "fluffy cows" on Reddit, click here.

The Huffington Post says fluffy cows are the Honey Boo Boos of the bovine world. 

Yahoo: Fluffy Cows Sets Internet Hearts Aflutter

Metro compares fluffy cows to cute kittens here. 

 

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Discuss this Blog Entry 22

Anonymous (not verified)
on Jun 6, 2013

My "city" sister-in-law saw the "fluffy cow" pictures and asked me (jokingly) if we could do this to our cows. Told her it probably wasn't practical for our herd as they were all busy raising their babies! Gave the example of the garbage pick-up lady getting hair, nails, makeup done and a new outfit to go to work in the morning.....looks amazing but not for daily wear!! My sister in law's first experience with cows came this year on Easter when she went with us to feed cattle in the morning. We are walking through the herd (her in a pair of my old mud boots) and I spotted it...but waited for her to notice. She says "What is that stuff?" and she points at the backside of a cow who has only minutes before dropped a set of twins.....Our first new babies of the season!!! She stood back while we sledded the 2 new babies to a nice dry barn with momma following along and watched while the babies were checked over and waited with us while we made sure babies got up to suck. On the way to the house, she commented how we treated the babies and momma --with such 'loving care, almost as if they were pets'! I know she went away with a positive image of a livestock producer....even if our cows aren't fluffy!!!

SlowMoneyFarm (not verified)
on Jun 6, 2013

They may come for cute - but it's a huge opportunity to then teach they step on us, kick and ultimately are beef. It's an AWESOME opportunity to place beef recipes in the hands of consumers. Are you kidding?! We could spend millions of dollars and not get this opening to talk about what not just beef does but all of agriculture. TEACH those curious and they defend us and stand with us when animal rights vegan food dictators come knocking. Don't mess this up folks - it's a chance to reach millions and teach them about agriculture. Some are saying they're GMO crossed with sheep because of the word genetic. TEACH them. It's working...the response of positive conversation is working. People are saying they're going to go look up beef farms, find a fair. Let's get 'em off the midway and teach them. So Perez Hilton thinks they're cute? Who's going to invite him? Personally I don't care for the guy but he reaches a LOT of people!

Hidden Creek Cattle (not verified)
on Jun 6, 2013

I think these articles can go both ways and the wrong way in a hurry. I spent a lot of the day replying to peoples posts on yahoo because there are some questions that I could not believe were being asked. I also believe the media plays a big part in how people think about things and most of the time they are not in cattlemen's favor, so if cattlemen of any kind get a chance to do an interview they need to be well rehearsed and choose there words very carefully because you do not know how the general public will take what you say. I remember reading the article on yahoo and in the interview with one of Lautner Cattle's sales reps said they "genetically bred to compete in cattle shows" and people took that as these cattle are the same as gmo corn or soybeans and created in a lab somewhere. People are extremely far removed from the farm and the media is the same way. Unless it is being produced organically people thing it is poisen and they will trying and find any way to spin it to help them think that way. We do need to be advocates for the industry whether you show cattle or are a commercial cattlemen.
--AJ

Anonymous (not verified)
on Jun 7, 2013

I admit... as a club and seedstock producer i was excited for the "new" attention that the industry was getting and even made two posts about it. I realize now that i think on it the above article is spot on. Meaning that this "fluffy cow" title could be negative. I love the idea bringing new attention to the show side of the industry to help get the word out about genetics and in the long run better genetics could produce better product for the consumer.
As a parent to an enthusiastic show kid i tell her to be knowledgeable about what she is showing and polite to the unknowing public. I feel that we as producers of that style of cattle need to go beyond our children and promote beef for what it is more now than ever. If you have read my comment to this point thank you and i will try my hardest to help put a positive spin on this because at this time i feel this new craze could be very negative to the industry as a whole.

Anonymous (not verified)
on Jun 7, 2013

For those of us involved with kids and cattle ( or any other livestock) at fairs and expositions, it is of up most importance to teach our kids how to positively deal with the public! This is a huge opportunity for ag kids to share the positive side of agriculture. We as leader must give help prepare them to answer questions from the public and interact with their livestock and the public in a positive way. I make it a part of each years curriculum for just this reason. Yes the public can ask some pretty outrageous questions, but often, if patiently answered it can be a really positive interaction for the youth and fair goer. In my experience, most questions are the result of ignorance and if given factual info, the fair goer leaves with a positive view of ag. What better way to get the word out?

Denise (not verified)
on Jun 9, 2013

Personally, I believe that every cow/bull/steer should be slick sheared when shown. I have always thought "fluffing" out a cow was just to hide imperfections anyway. Yes, it is an art. But an unnecessary art in my opinion. Is a "fluffy" cow going to taste better than a slick sheared one where you can actually see tone and muscle?? Why not show the animal for what it is and how it's built underneath all the hair? But I digress....

I think the previous poster had a fantastic idea about passing out recipes, remind the general public/consumer that there is a delicious/healthy product under all that fluff!

CKC1586 (not verified)
on Jun 10, 2013

Another reason the Piedmontese do not fluff and puff. The cattle are shown either body clipped or slick coated. There is no question that "HERE'S THE BEEF"!

Anonymous (not verified)
on Jun 10, 2013

who judges these fluff shows? university PhDs`?

Anonymous (not verified)
on Jun 10, 2013

You mean beef comes from a cow? Don't worry the city folk will get it as soon as the country folk stop selling "calves".

on Jun 10, 2013

Whatever. I'll have a "fluffy" NY strip, medium rare, please.

Jeff (not verified)
on Jun 10, 2013

I agree with Denise, show them slick. Showing cattle has it's positives, mostly involving the work that young people do to prepare their cattle and themselves. But the show industry has nothing to do with commercial beef production. Genetic choices made for the show ring are antithetical to choices that would be made for beef production. Because of the money involved, the system is rife with cheating (some of it perfectly legal). Too often it seems to be an ego trip for the parents instead of a practical education for the young people. The only cattle shows I enjoy are those market classes where cattle are clean, but not groomed, and where performance and carcass information are the deciding factors.

Anonymous (not verified)
on Jun 10, 2013

If the only place a fluffy cow is to be seen is at a fair, it would be a small thing for a nationwide change in fair rules to prohibit fluffing, and the backlashers would have little
to lash about.
And we could follow that up with a prize for the ugliest calf. Let's use a little imagination here, folks.

Anonymous (not verified)
on Jun 10, 2013

I completely agree with Jeff and Denise. I went to a stock show this weekend where the majority of the market animals were these "fluffy" cows. There is no way the judge can see what they actually look like under all that hair, plus they seemed to be bred in a way that they could hardly walk in the back end. No way was animal like that going to survive a summer turned out on the range. Any real commercial cattlemen that saw them laughed at the thought that the judge thought they represented the beef industry. Yet this is what people think "real" cows look like because that is what they see at the fair, on the internet, etc? I can only imagine what these kids are paying for these steers, how is that teaching them about the real world of raising beef? I believe that the "fluffy" cows should be sorted into their own "beauty pageant" classes, and let the kids with the real "ranch calves" compete separately!

Anonymous (not verified)
on Jun 10, 2013

Come on! Why don't we just agree that the show world really does not relate to the working world very well at all. My big fear is that someone will decide that all cattle should be in a environmentally controlled building standing in straw up to their belly. I totally agree that we should treat our animals humanely but livestock can live outside in conditions far removed from the conditions most of our city cousins see these animals in at shows. How long before we have these people out on our ranches claiming animal abuse because they are not in heated barn when we have a 2 inch snow. The good Lord put these animals on earth for the benefit of man. A good point is the situation with the horses. Why on earth can't you kill a horse for meat? It is the worst thing we have ever done for the welfare of the horses. How long before fluffy the calf has people thinking the same way about him as they feel about horses

Anonymous (not verified)
on Jun 10, 2013

These fluffy calves make me sick. They are a double edged sword. On the positive side the professional club calf industry brings a lot of attention and outside money from investors looking for a trophy on their mantel. On the flip side, why would honest cattle producers intentionally propagate such a poor product. From birth problems and genetic diseases, I have never seen so many dead and crippled calves in one location as our local club calf breeder. PETA would do a service in cleaning this up. FFA AND 4-H kids did fine for a lot of years without these freaks, and this industry teaches that the sacrifice of ethics is fine to win. I raise cattle, but there is no way I condone the club calf industry. It's a sham, and quite shameful.

W.E. (not verified)
on Jun 10, 2013

As hot weather approaches every summer, we want our cows to lose their "fluffy" hair as quickly as possible, so they can tolerate our brutally humid southern delta summers. We would much prefer to see slick satiny coats than well-blocked misted fur. Making cattle cute and fluffy is not worth our time and effort, and it has nothing to do with the business of breeding better quality grassfed beef, which is now our goal. Out here in the real world, show cattle are for children, not grownups. Even our son couldn't see the point of fitting and showing by the time he reached the age of fourteen. Think about this: Why are cattle now blocked and fluffed to resemble sheep when they are shown? Originally, in the days when fat was highly marketable as tallow for candles and other items, the fatter cattle were the better their profitability. Of course, some people learned to fluff up their hair with blow dryers and as soon as those were available, and then to sculpt the hair to make the cattle appear to be fatter than they really were. Now it has become a goal for some people to breed for better and thicker hair. If fewer farmers were so deeply and easily fooled by the excessive marketing tricks that are directed our way, we might come to realize the true value of adaptable cattle that can survive extremes of weather and meanwhile metabolize forages efficiently. Well-adapted herds of cattle can save the world and fix our broken rural economies. We would be better off educating the adults who have learned to make their living showing cattle about how to make their cattle more functional, more sustainably profitable, and better able to do the vitally important jobs of grazing grass, deepening topsoil, stabilizing climates and economies and feeding the world with highly nutritious grassfed beef. It's a different kind of art from fluffing cattle, called holistic management. And it will make friends for cattlemen among the general population as the truth comes out. For more details about the basic concepts of holistic management and livestock grazing, seek out the website of the Savory Institute.

Anonymous (not verified)
on Jun 11, 2013

The fluffy cow will, in the end, be the down fall of the cattle industry. The general public will now think of all cattle as fluffy cows and the way this media explosion has humanized the industry. PeTA has already launched attacks on the 4H and FFA livestock auctions at the fair because they feel these animals are treated poorly, just wait till those animal rights activists get a big whiff of what some of the big names of the show circuit will do to win....hmmm, was that 10-40 wt or just air in the hide. At least at many of the fairs kids cannot have help with fitting their animals, not even a parent near or else they are disqualified. And the show cattle industry is worlds apart from the cattle producers that actually raise the beef consumers buy......buy the public doesn't know that! Time has come to think like a consumer so we can keep the beef cattle industry viable, give them the information and transparency they want and keep those activists who seek to destroy animal agriculture at bay. We will have no one to blame but ourselves, when in the not so distant future, all we have are banners and photos to remind us of a once thriving industry.

Anonymous (not verified)
on Jun 11, 2013

You're all fairly disgusting and you're talking about them as if they're money and not a sentient being. You're the kind of people who would cry if your parents got skinned and cut up and served but you kill the parents of non-human children and do that to them. If cows could speak plain English you'd regret your enslavement and mass murder of their breed, I assume. You just kill them because they can't ask for mercy. Have a wonderful time rotting in Hell, it's where the murderers go.

FIG (not verified)
on Jun 11, 2013

Your comment is interesting. Is it safe to assume that you are a vegetarian or vegan? Is it also safe to assume that you do not live in any type of dwelling, have electricity or use/have any mode of transportation- not to mention no close on your back? You see, while you condemn animal agriculture, I believe you don't understand the impacts it has on your everyday life, right down to your smartphone or computer you used to post your comment. But it's not your fault you don't know that, so your anger and ignorance on the topic is understandable. I wish you nothing but the best and hope that in time your anger subsides and gives way to a better understanding for what not just animal agriculture contributes, but all of agriculture contributes to your everyday life. Again, thank you for your comment, it just reinforces the fact that there is still much education that needs to be done.

Anonymous (not verified)
on Jun 11, 2013

appearance is 95% of what people base their opinion. this fluffy animal got people talking, good or bad...it got people to sit up and notice. this is an art, another division of the cattle industry. yes they arent very functional and most real cattle producers know that. i see these cattle kind of like a nice shiny racecar...cool looking, can alter to form extreme performance,not practical, fun to play with, most people would enjoy it...but wont be driving it to work. it can be very competitve and not much fun when $ gets involved. these cattle have their place and most wont be as productive beef producers like the suppose to be. we raise naturally fluffy cattle and i am afraid to tell most of the posting folks- but our cattle have much more than just hair....there is some REAL beef under there. most just cant see beyond the fluff!

Anonymous (not verified)
on Jun 11, 2013

I've been around cattle shows for over 65 years. Never has what wins steer shows been farther from the commercial industry. Years ago you could take the offspring from a champion cow and bull of a breed and have a good chance of winning a steer show. Not now. They'd be way too tall. Too much leg.

As a fellow I once knew said, "The relationship between cattle showing and cattle production is the same as between a tractor pulling contest and plowing a corn field. You use the same raw material, but from there it's a completely different story."

Anonymous (not verified)
on Jun 15, 2013

Without the beef industry there would be no such thing as fluffy show cattle. If you don't eat beef, you don't get to see cute fluffy AI bulls. Nobody would be breeding cattle if you couldn't eat them. Just as long as most of the articles are getting this across, then it should be harmless IMO. I like the picture of the cuts of beef they showed on a real picture of a club calf on the "Fluffy Cows" Facebook page. It was neat.
The thing that gets me is the people from the city that comment on the pictures. Most of them act like those cattle look like that on their own. It amuses me.

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