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In 1933, Four Cows Went to Antarctica

Admiral Richard E. Byrd loved milk and missed it during his expeditions to Antartica, so he dreamed up a scheme to bring dairy cows to the South Pole. Milk wasn't the only reason, though. Byrd surmised that a boring scientific expedition would get few headlines, especially since actual outposts had been established on Antartica by the 1930s. Shipping in cows would give the rest of the world something to talk about. And he was right.  

And so—for all these reasons, and perhaps more—in the fall of 1933, the team loaded a trio of Guernsey cows into the SS Jacob Ruppert. There was “Foremost Southern Girl,” from New York, “Deerfoot Guernsey Maid,” from Massachusetts, and “Klondike Gay Nira,” from North Carolina, who was pregnant. All were the same breed, thanks to a deal Byrd had struck up with the American Guernsey Cattle Club. The crew’s carpenter, Edward Cox, shouldered the caretaking responsibilities. A bevy of other sponsors provided the cows with some necessary accoutrements: 10 tons of feed, various farm equipment, and a Surge Milking Machine.

The cows took the three-month journey alongside their human companions, living first in a knocked-together stall on the deck, and later, after it was completed, in a larger barn below. There was hope that Klondike would give birth within the Antarctic Circle, giving her calf “a unique claim to immortality,” as Byrd put it in his memoir of the expedition. Instead, it happened about 250 miles too far north. Still, this proved more thrilling than the frozen surrounds: “Almost to a man the crew waited with breathless expectancy for an event which has been common in Nature since the world began,” Byrd recalled wryly. They named the calf Iceberg—only fair, given baby icebergs are called calves—and the birth announcement made the New York Times.

So that was three cows and a young bull that landed in Antarctica in January 1934. Their year on ice didn't show them much of nature, but they were pampered by the men around them. They returned as heroes, but the experiment was never repeated. Read about the world's southernmost dairy at Atlas Obscura. 

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