Milking It

02 18 guernsey cowOn this day in 1930, a Guernsey cow called Elm Farm Ollie became first cow to fly in an aeroplane. It was at the International Air Exposition in St. Louis, Missouri. Ostensibly, it was a scientific experiment to observe the effects of flight on animals and to illustrate the stability of modern aircraft. But really it was a publicity stunt. Ollie’s flight was some seventy-two miles, from her home in Bismark.

The two-year-old cow, who was also known as Nellie Jay, was a particularly placid animal and also a good milker. So good that she needed to be milked three times a day, producing two gallons at each milking. Hence, she also became the first cow to be milked in mid-air. She was also fed whilst she was being milked. And that’s not all. The milk was then sealed into paper cartons which had little parachutes attached to them. They were thrown out of the plane as it circled the arena and they drifted down to the spectators below. We are told that Nellie produced twenty-four quarts of milk during her ground-breaking flight. A quick calculation tells me that twenty-four quarts of milk equals six gallons. That’s three times as much milk as she would normally produce. So I rather suspect subterfuge.

Nellie lived a long and happy life back on her home farm and was given yet another name: ‘Sky Queen’. Oddly, her historic journey is celebrated every year at the National Mustard Museum in Mount Horeb, Wisconsin. The curator of the museum, Barry Levenson, loves Elm Farm Ollie. He has written a ballad for her and produces a special commemorative mustard. You might wonder what the connection is between cows and mustard, and my answer is, it doesn’t really matter. Why not celebrate a Missouri cow at a mustard museum in Wisconsin? I am celebrating her here from the depths of rural North Yorkshire. Happy Elm Farm Ollie Day Barry, I hope you’re having a great day.

In Missouri, she is not so well remembered. Any records connected with her have been lost, though the one time Mayor of Bismark does claim to own the fan that was used to keep her cool during the flight. You might think that it would be quite cold in a plane, but cows are actually pretty hot animals. Back in 2014, a plane carrying 390 cows across the Irish Sea was forced to make an emergency landing after they produced so much heat that they set off the fire alarm.

Details of Nellie’s flight are scant, but in my research I turned up another aeroplane/dairy related fact, so I thought I’d share that too. During World War II, American airmen found out that they could make ice cream for themselves by filling a five gallon drum with ice-cream mixture and fitting a spinner that was attached to a paddle inside. They fixed them either to the tail of the plane or under the wings. Then they just flew around for a bit. The mixture was frozen because they were flying at high altitude. When they got back they had perfect ice cream.

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