All universities rightly tout eminent alumnae who bring them acclaim.
Colorado State University is no exception.
Their celebrity is College Ormsby Burke, better known as “Mama” — a CSU dairy cow, bred, born and raised at their farm.
The little spotted heifer, calved on September 29, 1950, was sired by Sir Valentine Hazelwood Burke and out of College Bessie Colanthy Ormsby.
Agriculture has historically been CSU’s primary focus. In earlier days, the school maintained its own riding program horses, a bull farm and a large dairy herd. Students from across the country and the world still consider CSU a frontrunner in animal science programs.
But Mama became something extra-special and proved it in 1966, when the big Holstein trampled the world, life-time milk production record, previously set in 1955 by a British bovine.
Mama’s yield achievement of 334,248 pounds of the luscious liquid held fast for nearly 10 years.
The Facebook page for Forgotten Fort Collins, which features historic topics about the area, made mention of Mama:
“Mama’s formal name was College Ormsby Burke ‘E’- 91 Gold Medal Dam. Her milk production record was surpassed in 1975 by Or-Win Masterpiece Riva of Adrian...”
According to an article in the June 2013 Holstein World Magazine, today’s high-yield milk producers are plentiful. Perhaps rapid online dissemination of information — a technology not yet invented in Mama’s heyday — more thoroughly reports such prolific production. Maybe modern methods or bloodline research actually produces more super producers.
Regardless, when Holstein World requested a list of cows that from Jan. 1, 2012, to March 30, 2013, had exceeded a lifetime production record of 200,000 pounds of milk, they were surprised it recorded more than 2,100 animals.
Only one individual on that long, stellar list, however, exceeded Mama’s record. Idee Lustre-Et owned by Ehrhardt Farms, Inc. in Maryland produced 359,879 pounds of milk.
All others were at 260,000 pounds or below.
The stats on CSU’s Mama cow are mind-boggling.
Tipping the scales at an impressive 1,700 pounds, she produced more than 66 pounds of milk daily, which, it was said, could supply all the dairy products required by a family of six for 76 years. Keep in mind that this was during the 1950 and 1960s, when large families regularly consumed large quantities of dairy products. Door-to-door milkmen filled porch-perched boxes with mouth watering cream, milk, butter and cottage cheese on a daily or weekly basis. Housewives actually whipped up whipped cream for freshly baked deserts. Ice cream was still frequently homemade from scratch, especially in rural areas. And what chicken dinner would have been complete without accompanying mashed potatoes streaming with cream-based white gravy, or corn-on-the-cob dripping with melted butter (and biscuits to mop up the excess)?
The care and attention Mama received obviously exceeded that bestowed on an average dairy cow.
Professor William Wailes, CSU Extension dairy specialist and former CSU Animal Sciences Department head, shared many interesting recollections about her.
As a new incoming student in May 1966, young Wailes was given the rare opportunity to work with Mama a bit.
Given preferential treatment, she was hand-milked the last five to six years of her life, and by just a select few.
Also, her meals were specially prepared and cooked to increase nutritional intake and keep her milk production up.
Mama gave birth to about 14 calves — each of the heifers probably hoping to assume control of the family dairy business when the champ retired. Three were eventually added to the college dairy herd. One particularly memorable bull calf was born to Mama on the Fourth of July, 1964. In a show of patriotic pride, the strapping fellow was named Colo. S.U. Firecracker.
Added Wailes, “Mama was extremely popular. Lots of people in Fort Collins came to visit her. A simple chain across her stall was dropped at milking time and she’d just stand there to be milked. She was a very friendly gal.”
Mama died Aug. 19, 1966, said Wailes.
The cherished cow was buried in the CSU dairy farm’s front yard and, when the farm moved, her monument went over to the main campus, where it remains near the livestock pavilion.
The Farm at Lee Martinez Park in Fort Collins profiles the famous cow in a continuous display. Posters and photos detail the beautiful, bountiful bovine’s high-yield accomplishments. Children can lead their parents through the fluid learning display– and maybe beg for an ice cream cone after.
Another tribute to Mama can be viewed at the Holstein Friesian Museum in Manning, Iowa. Displaying his extensive collection of Holstein Friesian memorabilia was the brain-child of Melvin Scholl, who had arrived in town in 1957 to work as a herdsman for the ManCryCo Farms. It was his hope to open a museum dedicated to “the most popular dairy animal in the world.”
With the blessing of and assistance from the Iowa Holstein Breeders Association, the Manning Chamber of Commerce, and the Development Corporation, the museum opened Jan. 1, 1968. With Scholl as curator, original displays were limited to his private collection of photos, historical records and other memorabilia. Among those first items was Mama’s “knock-down” milking stool, as well as a 20x30-inch original oil painting of Pietertje Maid Ormsby, a world champion producer born in 1904 in Wisconsin — and to whom Mama traces her maternal lineage. ❖