Texas Tornado, a 1,300-pound bull owned by Lautner Farms in Adel, Iowa, was one of two “fluffy cows” that appeared on Reddit.com, a social news and entertainment website, where viewers vote on favorite links and text. Photos of Texas Tornado and another Lautner bull, Johnny Football, groomed for the show ring, went viral and thrust “fluffy cows” into the media spotlight.
Texas Tornado, a 1,300-pound bull owned by Lautner Farms in Adel, Iowa, was one of two “fluffy cows” that appeared on Reddit.com, a social news and entertainment website, where viewers vote on favorite links and text. Photos of Texas Tornado and another Lautner bull, Johnny Football, groomed for the show ring, went viral and thrust “fluffy cows” into the media spotlight.

ADEL, Iowa — They’re fluffy, cute and adorable. And if you saw them in an Iowa pasture today, you wouldn’t recognize them for the Internet celebrities they are.

“It seems to be the fluffy cows,” said Matt Lautner of Breed Lautner and Lautner Farms.

Lautner, who farms with his family, including his father, Phil, who operates the corn and soybeans side of the family farming operation, is the owner of bulls Texas Tornado and Johnny Football, both acquired from Goretska Cattle Co. in Corydon.

What has thrust the two full-sized breeding bulls — Texas Tornado weighed in at 1,300 pounds on June 14 — and the show cattle world into the Internet spotlight may not be evident if you see the bulls in an Iowa pasture in mid-June.

“The cattle are bred for three main traits — we breed for soundness, to do well in the show ring, for muscle and for a little bit of extra hair because a nice coat helps us groom them. They’re combination cattle. They are hairy, but they are just hairy in winter when it’s cold. If you were to come out here now, those bulls look like any other bulls in the middle of summer,” Lautner said.

The sensation began in early May, when pictures of the two bulls, with their coats fluffed out and groomed for the show ring, appeared on Reddit.com.

Reddit.com bills itself as “the Internet’s front page.” The social media site allows users to post news and entertainment links and text.

Viewers then vote submissions up or down. The number of votes a submission receives determines its position on Reddit.com’s front page or inside pages.

“I guess it was on there for 24 hours and enough people voted for it that it made the front page of Reddit.com,” Lautner said. “If it makes the front page, then people see it.”

After the “fluffy cows” appeared on Reddit.com and the photos went viral on the Internet, Lautner was contacted by mainstream news outlets wanting more information. The Internet world was in thrall with “fluffy cows.”

That attention included a story on the cattle and a video on yahoo.com, as well as a segment on the “Today” show.

“We didn’t have any influence on the video, people were trying to make it interesting for people from a non-ag background,” Lautner said.

He has been showing cattle since he was 10. After graduating from Iowa State, he returned to the family farm.

Lautner focuses on the show cattle and purebred side of the farming operation. Lautner Farms has around 120 cow-calf pairs, and Lautner Farms offers genetics, bull leasing and AI services from its herd of breeding bulls.

The farm has had an active presence on social media such as Facebook and Twitter, so Lautner was no stranger to the Internet when the “fluffy cows” phenomenon broke.

“We use social media, Facebook, and we’re on Twitter. That’s how we connect with our customers,” said Lautner, who also has a blog, mattlautnercattle.com. “If you want to stay in contact, you better have some sort of Internet activity.”

Lautner has used the newfound fame of his “fluffy cows” to introduce the non-farming and non-livestock-handling public to the world of livestock farming and of show cattle. The world has responded.

“I have had Facebook entries and Twitter and email conversations with people from different countries — Australia and Romania, Canada, Mexico and South Africa are some that come to mind. It would be fair to describe it that because of the pictures, they had a heightened awareness or interest, so they reached out and tried to connect,” he said.

Lautner has tried to guide the conversation, whether through media interviews or through online interaction, always back to the reason for livestock farming — one post that he urged his followers and fans to share featured a diagram that outlined where each cut of beef is located on a cow, overlaid onto a picture of the fluffed-up Texas Tornado.

“It has heightened awareness about show cattle, and from that point, a guy needs to do what he can to put out positive information,” he said.

Lautner also has tried to correct the information that first went viral. The “cows” are, in fact, bulls.

“We’d like to call them fluffy bulls, but the people on Reddit.com and the ‘Today Show’ called them fluffy cows, so that’s what we have to call them,” he said.

Some of the cattle featured as “fluffy cows” are Highland cattle, originally bred in Scotland and with naturally shaggy, furry coats.

The bulls are regular-sized breeding bulls, and the photos of the “fluffy cows” were likely snapped around show time — December to February.

The “fluffy” component is the result of the time-consuming grooming process common to the show cattle sector. Lautner Farms shows cattle at shows and expos throughout Iowa and the U.S.

“All those pictures more than likely were taken from December to February. In the winter, there’s a jackpot show or an expo nearly every weekend,” Lautner noted.

He said he hopes the newfound fame and interest in the diligently-groomed bovines sparks interest in learning more about show cattle and the livestock industry.

“I’m pleased that people who might have had an average interest in show cattle are now showing an above-average interest in show cattle. I think it will lead to new faces in the show cattle and the beef industry, maybe just a few, but if a few people decide they’re interested and it leads them into the industry, I think that’s definitely a positive thing,” he said.