How a ton of dairy takes shape

In past years, the sculptors who fashion the butter statues at the Ohio State Fair have rendered local celebrities such as Dave Thomas, Urban Meyer, Jack Nicklaus and John Glenn. But in this pantheon, the butter cow and calf outshine them all.

The cattle have inspired great public curiosity since their creation in 1903. The annual display expanded sometime in the 1960s to include famous likenesses and other themed designs, says Jenny Hubble, spokesperson for the American Dairy Association Mideast, which manages the exhibit. As Hubble describes, creating this buttery menagerie is quite the undertaking.

The Inception

The butter cow team has conversations throughout winter and spring about the annual theme, which is set by the ADA. Past displays have featured statues of the All-Ohio State Fair Youth Choir, a bald eagle and a Furby. Sculptors plan to create six or seven statues this year, including the cow and calf, and the theme will be unveiled July 24, the day before the fair opens.

The Artists

There are five sculptors, including a dairy farmer and two professional toy sculptors who have been working on the butter cow for 15 to 20 years, says Hubble.

A Ton of Butter

This year's exhibit will use about 2,100 pounds of butter, Hubble says. The product comes from a creamery in Texas because none in Ohio can offer the 55-pound blocks of expired butter that sculptors require.

A Ton of Time

The team spends about 500 hours completing the display, including 100 hours of planning, sketching and logistics. They spend a week in the 45-degree cooler in the fair's Dairy Products Building sculpting for eight to 10 hours a day.

The Demise

After the fair, the cow and calf are put out to pasture. Workers scrape the butter from the underlying armatures and send it to the building's food service company, which recycles it for use in biodiesel, animal feed and cosmetics.

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