Belle Sarcastic, circa 1900. Photo Credit: M.S.U. Archives, which has adopted her as an unofficial mascot.
Belle Sarcastic was a Holstein-Friesian cow owned by the Michigan Agricultural College in the 1890s. She was bred by H. P. Doane of Duffield in Genesee County, and calved on January 18, 1890. For a dairy cow, she garnered quite a bit of fame in her lifetime. In 1895 she gave milk for 738 pounds of butter, a feat that Professor Beal saw fit to include in his “College as a River” timeline, a foldout addendum to his History of the Michigan Agricultural College. Two years later Belle outdid herself, producing 23,190 pounds of milk and 722 pounds of fat—a world record that stood for eleven years. (Nowadays, with another hundred years of selective breeding and the introduction of such artificial production enhancers as bovine growth hormone, this level of output has become the norm.)
Surprisingly, in that record-setting year of 1897 Belle Sarcastic was quarantined from the herd when she was diagnosed with bovine tuberculosis, a frequently occurring ailment in that era. Given that the disease can cause loss of both appetite and weight, this makes her record all the more impressive. Clinton D. Smith, Experiment Station Director and Superintendent of the Farm, in his annual report to the Board of Agriculture blamed the inadequate design and poor condition of the old cattle barn (built in 1862) for the illness—a situation that was soon remedied with the construction of two new dairy barns. (This author wonders if Professor Smith made sure to emphasize that the College’s most famous cow was ill in order to improve the chances of securing funding for the new barns; Belle’s apparently swift recovery was omitted from later reports.)[36th AR, p. 31]
Belle Sarcastic’s greatest production, however, may have been her son: Sarcastic Lad, bred at the the College and calved on October 18, 1897. He was sold before birth to noted breeders W. J. Gillett & Son of Rosendale, Wisconsin. In 1904, Sarcastic Lad was exhibited by the “World’s Fair Holstein Association” at the Louisiana Purchase Exposition in St. Louis—better known as the St. Louis World’s Fair—where he won the grand champion title in his class (and a $75 prize). After the fair he was acquired by the University of Illinois at Urbana, where he headed that school’s herd. Sarcastic Lad would go on to become “one of the noted sires of the breed,” and today thousands of registered Holsteins worldwide can trace their bloodlines to Sarcastic Lad.
Sarcastic Lad, date unknown. Photo Credit: Hale, p. 190.