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The Deer-Cow

Vintage photo: property of Psyche Skinner

Vintage photo: property of Psyche Skinner

The Photograph

The vintage picture shown above is of an unusual calf from Edinburg, Indiana (USA). The calf is nine months old, and out of an Angus cow. It has unusually small, fine legs and a sparse hair coat.

The farmer suggested the sire might be a wild deer. This explanation is obviously not plausible as these two species are two genetically different, and unable to breed and produce offspring.

Deer and cattel often mix in pastures, but they cannot inter-breed.

Deer and cattel often mix in pastures, but they cannot inter-breed.

The Condition

To be honest, at this point, I am not sure what the cause of this calf's condition is. Here are some possibilities, and I would welcome any input or other suggestions:

Fawn Calf Syndrome: this is a genetic abnormality in Angus cattle also known as contractural arachnodactyly. It was first recognized in 2001, which would be long after this photograph was taken. It produces calves that are behaviorally normal but have long, skinny legs with poor muscle tone.

The name of the condition suggests a general similarity of appearance and 'deer-like' legs. For comparison you can see some pictures fawn calf syndrome calves here, which shows that their appearance is somewhat variable. Generally fawn calves become more outwardly normal and "fill out" as they age.

Acorn Calves: Another possibility might be chondrodysplasia (also known as Acorn calves) which produces calves with shortened front legs. However calves with this condition are generally not as mobile and vigorous as the calf shown above.

Neither of these conditions would explain why the calf seems to be partially hairless.

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  • Cave JG., McLaren PJ. Whittaker SJ, Rast L, Stephens A and Parker EM. 2008. An extended outbreak of congenital chondrodysplasia in calves in Southeast Australia. AVJ Vol 86
  • Deholm, L. Congeital contractural arachnodactyly in Angus cattle. NSW Industry and Government PrimeFact Periodical 1-4, 2010.
  • Whitlock BK. Heritable Birth Defects in Cattle. Applied Reproductive Strategies Conference Proceedings. Nashville, TN 2010. 146-151.
  • Whitlock BK, Kaiser L, and Maxwell HS. Heritable bovine fetal abnormalities. Theriogenology 2008;70:535-549.


My conclusion is that this calf most likely had fawn calf syndrome, which is interesting as this condition was not formally recognized until thirty years after this picture was taken.


lilskeet on March 22, 2015:

I think it has something to do with all the growth additives given to cattle now a days !!!!

Penny Skinner (author) on January 20, 2012:

Yeah, I think it mist be fawn calf although the pic is from the 70s or earlier. but the hairlessness is odd.

WildRoseBeef from Alberta, Canada on January 20, 2012:

I think that's a calf that's got Fawn Calf Syndrome. He may also have really bad mange as well, as most of his legs, face and ears have lost hair.

Tracy B from Canada on December 11, 2011:

Oh wow! That is weird! I have never seen anything like this before. Very interesting hub.

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