Salem Sue, World's Largest Holstein Cow
New Salem, North Dakota
According to local history, one of New Salem's early settlers was plowing the prairie in 1883 when two Sioux stopped to watch. The older one turned a piece of the newly-broken sod over so that its grass was back on top. "Wrong side up," the younger explained. The farmer thought about it, admitted that the ground really was better for grazing than breaking, and New Salem's dairy industry was born.
Today, New Salem is cow crazy. Its high school sports teams are named the Holsteins. And overlooking the interstate, on the only hill visible for many many miles, is New Salem's pride: Salem Sue, the World's Largest Cow.
She is the largest of North Dakota's large animals: bigger than the bull in Pettibone, the buffalo in Jamestown, the turtle in Bottineau, the other turtle in Dunseith, the walleye in Garrison. You can see her mighty silhouette from neighboring counties on a clear day: a goddess of dairy, ready to be worshipped. A steady stream of interstate pilgrims pull off of the highway and make the slow drive up the steep, narrow, twisting gravel road to the summit. A sign encourages everyone to drop a dollar into a milk can, thoughtfully provided, to help pay for Sue's maintenance.
Sue was built in 1974 for $40,000 put up by the New Salem Lions Club, and, thanks to dairy subsidies, by you (or your parents), too. Her stats are impressive: 38 feet high, 50 feet long, six tons of reinforced fiberglass, so big she had to be built in three sections to get her up the hill. The dollars from the milk can have been put to good use; Sue is taut and shiny, in excellent shape.
A free brochure available at the gas station explains that Sue's "primary purpose is to honor and advertise the dairyman of our area ... the hardworking, persistent, and informed dairyman who is an asset to his community, church, the economy, and his family." Also honored are New Salem's champion cows of year's past: "Indi Pens Suprize," who produced milk for 14 years, and "Aggie Wayne Segis Pontiac," who produced 1003 pounds of butterfat in a 12-month span. The brochure concludes with a brief ditty, the Ballad of the Holstein:
Her presence shows that New Salem grows
With milk-producers' yields;
We've got the cow, world's largest cow
That looks across our fields.
Sue stares north, over a flat quiltwork of grass, clover, and hay that stretches to the horizon, doing her job.