© 2023 University of Missouri - KBIA
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations
KBIA's Harvest Desk covers food and agriculture issues in Missouri and beyond. The desk is a collaboration between KBIA and Harvest Public Media, a reporting collaboration focused on issues of food, fuel and field. The desk is headed by reporter Kristofor Husted.

Gigi The Cow Didn't Just Break The Milk Production Record, She Crushed It

Courtesy Bur-Wall Registered Holsteins


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 crown.

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

Gigi, a nine-year-old Holstein cow, who spends her days grazing at Bur-Wall Holsteins in Brooklyn, Wisconsin, 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,” Behnke says. “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 Behnkes’ 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, Behnke says. She’ll eat anything that’s put in front of her, which is most often 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.

Behnke says his phone has been ringing off the hook with congratulations. He’s now been thrust into the world of dairy cattle genetics, now 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 says he’s looking into harvesting 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.

Harvest Public Media’s Abby Wendle reported on the sometimes odd world of dairy cattle surrogacy in May 2015, where she focused on Panda, a “freak of nature” cow whose calves become award-winning show cattle.

Gigi’s rise to fame didn’t happen overnight. She has been slowly putting awards away. She took third place and Best Udder in the 2011 Midwest Spring National Holstein Show. She placed eighth 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.

Of course, they’ll have to unseat their mother to fully ascend to diva status. And Gigi is no pushover.

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

As KUNC’s 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 produce feature stories for KUNC and a network of public media stations in Colorado, Utah, Wyoming, New Mexico, Arizona, California and Nevada.