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America Has A New Queen Of Milk Production. Meet Gigi, The ‘Diva’ Cow

Courtesy Bur-Wall Registered Holsteins
Gigi, a nine-year-old cow, reigns supreme as the top milk producer in the country, having churned out 74,650 pounds of milk in 365 consecutive days.

Once a generation, a diva is crowned. She earns a reputation for being independent, polished, fearless and of limitless talent, unreachable by us normal folk. After years of climbing the ladder, she claims her title.

Holsteins of the world have their new queen, and her name is Gigi.

A 9-year-old cow, who spends her days grazing at Bur-Wall Holsteins in Brooklyn, Wisconsin, Gigi has broken a U.S. record for milk production, churning out 74,650 pounds of milk in a 365-day period. The average American Holstein produces 24,953 pounds of milk in a given year.

Yes, Gigi nearly tripled the milk production of her fellow cows. She trampled the previous record set in 2010 of 72,170 pounds (each gallon of milk is about eight and a half pounds). That means Gigi produced roughly 288 gallons more than the previous record holder.

Her production numbers only tell part of the story though. She’s a milk-producing beast with an insatiable appetite says her owner, Robert Behnke. He and his wife Denise run their small Wisconsin farm, where they milk 60 cows.

“She’s a diva. She knows she’s good and if you don’t realize that, she will let you know that.”

It’s a dangerous combination, Behnke says. Gigi does what she wants. She’s smart and driven. The barn where she resides had to be outfitted with locks because the cow learned to unlatch the gate. She has her eyes on the grassy patches that grow near the Behnke’s hay fields.

“She’s very long-bodied, with a long, wide rump,” Behnke says. “You can literally fit your head and shoulders between her front legs right now. She’s very wide.”

Her stature is only complemented by her face. Gigi’s mother and father, known as dams and sires in the dairy world, gave her a long head, strong jaw, big nostrils and wide muzzle. She’ll eat anything that they put in front of her, but it’s mostly dense grasses like alfalfa.

“You have to stand next to her for a minute or two just to realize the amount of mass she has,” Behnke says.

With his phone ringing off the hook with congratulations, Behnke has now been thrust into the world of dairy cattle genetics — boosted by Gigi’s prolific reputation. Before Gigi came along, he rarely sold off bulls for breeding purposes or parted with the cows’ embryos. Now, though, he’s looking into flushing some of Gigi’s embryos, to be sold worldwide and used in surrogates who will carry Gigi’s calves to term. He’s unsure how much he’ll charge for her fertilized eggs.

In the sometimes odd world of dairy cattle surrogacy though, this prima donna bovine will have some competition. Panda, a “freak of nature” cow whose calves become award-winning show cattle, rules that roost.

Gigi’s rise to fame didn’t happen overnight. She’d been slowly putting awards away. Third place and Best Udder in the 2011 Midwest Spring National Holstein Show. Eighth place as a 5-year-old cow in the 2012 International Holstein Show at the World Dairy Expo. Her four calves, Gina, Giggles, Ginger and Gorgeous, are now part of a record-breaking genetic line, meaning they’ll likely have sought after calves of their own some day.

But they’ll have to unseat their mother to fully ascend to diva status.

“You don’t have to tell her she’s a celebrity,” Behnke says. “She already thinks she is.”

Read More: America's Dairy Cows Are Churning Out More Milk Than Ever Before

Editor's note: This post originally incorrectly referred to Gigi as a heifer. Gigi has had four calves, which makes her a cow. A heifer refers to a younger animal that has yet to birth a calf.

As KUNC’s managing editor and reporter covering the Colorado River Basin, I dig into stories that show how water issues can both unite and divide communities throughout the Western U.S. I edit and produce feature stories for KUNC and a network of public media stations in Colorado, Utah, Wyoming, New Mexico, Arizona, California and Nevada.
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