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Opinion: Knickers, The Giant Steer That Stole The Internet

Holstein Friesian are a breed of dairy cattle and this week, one of those cattle made big news for its size. Not pictured here.
Mike Kemp
Getty Images
Holstein Friesian are a breed of dairy cattle and this week, one of those cattle made big news for its size. Not pictured here.

Knickers is a behemoth among bovines, a colossus among steers. He is a Holstein Friesian steer who stands as tall as Abraham Lincoln - 6 feet, 4 inches - and is heavier than a four-door Mini Cooper hard-top at 2,800 pounds.

Knickers was saved by his size.

Geoff Pearson, a rancher in Myalup, Western Australia, told news organizations around the world this week that Knickers is just too enormous to fit into the abattoir in which cattle are slaughtered.

"He's too big for the chain, he's out of spec, he'd be too heavy for the machines," Mr. Pearson told The Guardian.

Knickers became an international story when Jacqueline Lynch of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation heard about this Goliath among castrati bull calves and went to see him.

"Photos cannot do the giant steer justice," she reported.

In photos seen around the world, Knickers lolling in a field of ordinary-sized cattle looks like a battleship surrounded by tug boats.

Livestock experts from around the world have ventured guesses about why Knickers is so huge. It may simply be because Knickers is seven years old. Most steers are slaughtered for food by the time they're two or three.

"They probably don't have the opportunity to grow to their full potential," Pearson says. "There could be other animals that could grow to this size but didn't get the chance."

Mr. Pearson told the ABC that Knickers has, "always stood out from the crowd, from the mob. We started to separate him and use him a coach for other cattle ... He's a likable steer, he's very inquisitive."

When a rancher calls a steer he has raised for slaughter "likable" and "inquisitive," questions may be raised for the rest of us, too.

What people eat is intensely personal, rife with moral compromise and contradictions. There are people who love animals, but still eat meat and poultry. A phrase like "humanely-raised" may soothe humans, but kind of conceals the sorry end for the animal. There are vegetarians who believe the lives of animals are precious, but will eat lettuce, spinach or strawberries picked by humans who have been paid little and are vulnerable to being exploited.

But, you don't have to be a vegetarian to believe it might be wiser in all ways for people to eat less meat. It would be healthier and less expensive, and - to be utterly blunt - send less gas into the atmosphere. It might be good to see a few, even many more Knickers in our future, standing tall in their fields.

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Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.