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Source: April 1984 Volume 22 Number 2, Pages 67–71

The Champion Cow of the World

Bob Goshorn

Page 67

Her name was May Rilma. She was bred and born on the famous Chesterbrook Farm of Alexander J. Cassatt, located between Howellville and New Centerville on the north side of Swedesford Road.

Hailed as "The Champion Dairy Cow of All Breeds" and "The Champion Cow of the World", in the year ending April 30, 1914 she produced a total of 19,673 pounds of milk, with 1073.41 pounds of butter fat. Her butter fat production also marked the first time on record that a cow of any breed had produced more than one thousand pounds in one year. Her accomplishments were described as "a matter of not only national, but international interest" and "a source of pride not only to lovers of the breed to which she belongs, but to all dairy cattle interests, regardless of breed affiliation".

The famous Chesterbrook herd of Guernsey dairy cattle was started by A. J. Cassatt shortly after the beginning of the twentieth century, with the purchase in 1904 by Cassatt of three daughters of the prize-winning Rutila's Sheet Anchor, who had won first prize for progeny of a bull at the World's Fair in St. Louis earlier that year.

Following the death of A. J. Cassatt in 1908, the Chesterbrook Farm was operated by his son, Edward Buchanan Cassatt, and then by his son's widow, Elinor, who later became Mrs. J. Packard Laird. Beginning in 1910 the herd was under the care and development of Peter J. Boland.

Page 68

Chesterbrook Farm's May Rilma

May Rilma was born on December 15, 1906. Her sire was Mars of Woodcrest, a son of Mr. Dooley of Mapleton out of Charity of Mapleton. Her dam was Rilma of Paxtang, the daughter of Sheet Anchor II out of Princess Bonnie of Paxtang,

The big seven-year old Guernsey was described as "a strong, rugged cow, rather larger than the average of the breed". At the end of her record producing year, in May 1914, she weighed 1355 pounds. Her color was mainly red, with a long white mark on her left shoulder and side, fawn spots on the right side of her back and on each stifle and ankle, and with several white stripes over her hips.

She was considered "very notional" in her eating habits. She would not eat ground oats or ground beets, but preferred other grains and beet pulp. She also ate molasses, hay, ensilage, and, during the winter months, carrots. Unlike many cows, whose diets are varied and changed often during the year to improve their appetites, May Rilma was kept on much the same grain ration the year round. And while several producers of mixed stock feeds sought (in part, perhaps, for promotional purposes) to have their products introduced into her diet, her caretakers turned them all down in favor of the diet for which she had already shown a preference. During her record production year she consumed 18 pounds of grain and three pounds of molasses and beet pulp each day, in addition to hay and ensilage.

Her production record was conducted under the advanced registry program, in which a record was kept of the production of selected cows in a herd rather than of the herd as a whole. It was recorded under the close supervision of the Pennsylvania Agricultural Experiment Station. The Dairy Division of the U.S. Department of Agriculture in Washington also sent one of its experts to observe the program, while representatives from the State Experiment Stations of seven other leading dairy states were also employed to make special observations and tests. "It is safe to say," a representative of Chesterbrook Farm observed, "that no yearly record was ever conducted under more careful supervision."

Page 69

Page 70

May Rilma's milk production, month by month, ranged from a low of 1431.2 pounds in February 1914 to a high of 1839.9 pounds in June 1913. In that one month she also produced more than 100 pounds of butter fat. Her production each month during the year was

Milk Butter Fat Butter Fat
Month Pounds Per Cent Pounds
May 1913 1761.2 4.49 79.08
June 1839.9 5.60 103.03
July 1690.6 5.04 97.20
August 1773.8 5.48 85.21
September 1687.5 5.59 94.33
October 1702.6 5.28 89.90
November 1656.2 5.29 87.61
December 1563.0 5.57 87.05
January 1914 1570.8 5.72 89.85
February 1431.2 5.97 85.44
March 1538.8 6.04 92.94
April 1457.4 6.51 81.76
Total 19,673.0 (avg) 5.46 1,073.41

Although her feed costs for the year were $270.83, her net profit was estimated at $331.82, even allowing for other "extraordinary expenses" in her care.

May Rilma's feat naturally received comment and congratulations from the farm and dairy press.

"If not too late." Charles F, Jenkins, of The Farm Journal, for example, wrote, "we would like to extend our congratulations of the wonderful performing of May Rilma, and we would like to get a photograph of her for illustration purposes", offering to pay to have one made if none was available. "We are running her picture and a short story of her record in THE FIELD," Alf Morrell, its dairy editor, similarly reported.

Attention to her record was also given by the news services. The American Press Association, for example, asked for a picture of the "champion Guernsey cow, May Rilmer [sic] for publication in our news service", while the H. Winslow Fegley News Bureau in Reading asked for photographs and literature not only about May Rilma, but also about the Chesterbrook Farm, assuring the Cassatts that it would "write a most dignified article".

Page 71

Manufacturers of dairy equipment also requested her picture for use in their advertising.

Other dairy farms also sent their congratulations, as did agricultural schools. "I am in receipt of the splendid photograph of May Rilma with her record to date," A. J. Davis, in the Department of Dairy Husbandry in the School of Agriculture of the Pennsylvania State College wrote, adding, "I shall have it framed and hung in the classroom here at the College."

Her reputation was international. A letter was received from the Commissioner from New Zealand to the Panama-Pacific Exposition that was to be held in San Francisco the following year, in which he noted, "In New Zealand there is great interest in the development of the Milk yield of the dairy stock", and requested "any further particulars of the cow May Rilma that I may be in a position to interest New Zealand, with a description more extended than can be gathered from the short newspaper report" which had appeared in the San Francisco Call.

More immediately, inquiries were also received about May Rilma's prospects of a bull calf. "I have some fifty or sixty head of Guernseys," S. C. Courteen, of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, wrote, "and would like to get a bull with some notoriety back of him to head the herd. Would you mind stating when MAY RILMA is due to calve, and if she has a bull calf, would you care to price it at this time, with the understanding that we will take whatever comes, delivery to be made at three months of age?" (He was notified that it was the owner's "intention to reserve the first bull calf May Rilma has for himself; succeeding calves $5,000 each"! By comparison, the previous fall Cassatt had offered a registered bull calf, sired by Primal out of Dolly Barmouth, to a prospective purchaser for $50.)

Among May Rilma's earlier offspring, incidentally, were the bull Bob Rilma, a junior champion at the National Dairy Show in 1911, and Bessie Rilma, who also was in an advanced registry program.

Taking advantage of the publicity afforded by May Rilma's production record, in the late summer of 1914 E. B. Gassatt decided to sell a part of his herd at auction, including the champion May Rilma herself. Other cows included in the sale were Bessie Rilma, a daughter of May Rilma; a full sister, Nellie Rilma; and a half-sister, Miss Rilma, out of the same dam. May Rilma, incidentally, brought only a disappointing $5,500.

It was not until 1938 that May Rilma's record of more than 1000 pounds of butter fat production in one year was matched by any cow in the state of Pennsylvania, according to records kept under the Pennsylvania Dairy Herd Improvement Program. It was a truly remarkable production record that was set in the year ending April 30,1914 by May Rilma, of Chesterbrook Farm.


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