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Traces of equine DNA were found in some Irish beef burgers this week ….

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Deep in the dark valleys of Country Leitrim, where the soil is flinty, the rain is gloomy and the farmers wear their cloth-caps at all times, including during dental visits, weekly baths and, er, it, a horse was once crossed with a cow.

This was not done intentionally. The How, as it was called, was a result of the wonders of evolution, the capriciousness of Mother Nature and the dangers of raising all your livestock in the one small field.

Two were born. The male had the head of a cow and the body of a horse, while the female had them the other way round. This was fortunate, had it been the other way there would have been problems with milking.

The farmer they belonged to, Mr Frank Enstein, pondered what he would do one evening while he was shearing his shickens (they laid wool-covered eggs, surely the most comfortable childbirth of any species, ever). He sent the male off to Spain where it ran with the bulls in Pamplona, finishing four furlongs ahead of the rest of them. The female he kept, and used her milk to develop a remarkable cheese which tasted vaguely of hay, carrots and lumps of sugar.

The How lasted only one generation. The male met a filly  and they produced a creature that was half horse, half horse. The female mated with a bull (it hadn’t been the bull’s idea, after all she had a face like a horse, but when he tried to run away he was astonished at the speed at which she chased him down) and produced a conventional cow. The river of evolution, having divided briefly around an island of aberration, resumed its normal flow.

But tiny traces of the crossed DNA remains, hidden deep inside the helix. Horses descended from the How appear normal, but have a neigh like the sound a small child makes if you ask them to describe a Formula 1 car driving by.

And if you ever see a cow jumping a hedge, bucking wildly while its farmer hangs on desperately by the udders, or pulling a milk-float full of its own milk, then you will know that you are in the prescence of a great-great-grandchild of Enstein’s herd.

And cowboys? Well, we don’t know where they came from, but it’s no wonder they called it the Wild West.

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