Butter Cow 2010 Iowa State Fair

One of the great parts of my job at Iowa Public Television is I get paid to go to the Iowa State Fair.

Shhhh, don’t tell anyone here, but I’d probably go for free if I had to.

This year, I’ve got a few fair stories to work up for our IPTV Fair 2010 Coverage.

I’ve met the Goodman family near Rose Hill and gotten a tour of the Jacobson Exhibition Center this summer ahead of the Fair. Then during the fair, I’ll be giving you a snapshot of what happens in the 4-H building, the pie eating contest and the wood chopping event.

The traditional view of the Butter Cow.

But nothing compares to the Butter Cow.
This year, I get my turn doing the annual piece on the butter bow.

I’m trying something a bit different with the feature and giving you a look at the cow in transition, or in progress and not just the final day before the fair opens.

I’ve tried to get into the Ag building a couple of times this summer. The first time, I was inside before anything was happening. The second time was when Sarah Pratt got started on the 2010 Iowa State Fair Butter Cow.

Steve Carns gets a close up of Sarah Pratt beginning work on the Butter Cow. For the record, the sculpture is not solid butter. The backside is not created, just wood and wire mesh.

Steve Carns and I visited her on the second day of on-site work the last week of July. You may have seen the pictures recently of the creation, here’s the whole post.

Speaking of pictures, be sure to get your picture with the butter cow and send it to us here at IPTV. We want to see your pictures of you enjoying the fair. Double points if you get a picture with a IPTV crew person.

And speaking of pictures, like the talking ones, the Butter Cow is headed to the big screen in a new movie called “Butter” starring Jennifer Garner among other big names. Thanks to KCCI’s Eric Hanson for the story.

Behind the wire mesh of the Butter Cow.

Work on the butter cow starts before the first glob of butter is applied to the wire mesh frame. There’s planning and design of the frame, the actual picking of the cow and additional creation and scouting of cows to find the perfect one. This year’s choice, a jersey.

The frame that Pratt is using is the same one used for years, but this is the first time she’s modified the mesh dramatically since taking over from legendary Iowan Norma “Duffy” Lyon. This year, Pratt wants to make the cow look a little lower and not in the “show” position of years past and more of a cow in a pasture pose.

Pratt is originally from Toledo, Iowa, but now lives in West Des Moines. She grew up knowing the Lyon family and 20 years ago, she got her first assistant experience with Duffy Lyon. Pratt first was assigned to melt the frozen butter. The second year she was allowed to rinse out the butter buckets and was then trained a bit more each year on the sculpting side of the cow.

Bucket of Butter. Sweet corn sold separately.

By the way, that’s a bucket of butter right there.

Over a 15-year period, her experiences intensified to finishing the butter creation by polishing the sculpture.

Pratt officially became the Fair’s 4th Butter Cow Lady in 2006. The 2011 Iowa State Fair will be the 100th anniversary of the first butter cow at the Iowa State Fair. There’s not been 100 butter cows, as the sculpting took a hiatus during a few years of World War II. Pratt is already thinking about what to create for next year’s event, by the way.

Sarah likes the first few days of the building process because it is a chance to start in the quiet of the Ag building and see how the exhibits start to appear and the building comes to life before the fair, then the actual fair.

During that time, Pratt will apply 600 pounds of butter out of buckets and onto the wire mesh. She has to keep the room cold, 42 degrees is ideal. If any warmer, the butter will start to pull away, almost melt, off the mesh. The most trouble spots is underneath the cow. Last year, Pratt had a little repair job to do. She said one year during Duffy’s years, repairs had to be made in the middle of the fair.

Here’s a few fun facts about the butter cow we learned last week:

  • The butter will be recycled from year to year.
  • The average length of butter is good for 10 years.
  • Each year the butter is stored in cold storage. Any mold spots will be picked out and replaced.
  • If you took a knife to the cow for your bread, you’d have 19,200 slices of toast.
  • Pratt uses low-moisture, Iowa produced butter.
  • Betty White was considered for a sculpture after several requests were made.
  • Sarah hurt her hand the first day of sculpting, but the cold butter has made it feel better.

Thanks to all of you asked questions last week for me to ask Sarah via Twitter and Facebook. That was pretty cool of all of you.

Sophia Ahmad dared me to eat the butter. No dice. I did touch it though.

Connie Jones wanted to know “if they recycle the butter into next year’s sculpture?” That is true. This year, the average age of the butter is 6 years.

Michael Graham wanted to know: “Salted or unsalted butter?” Salted, Michael.

Alan Campbell had a revealing statement: “I know it’s a “duh” moment…but never realized that thing was on a wood/wire frame. Interesting how they get it to “stick.” The butter really just goes on in layers and sticks a little at a time, with the wire mesh being the biggest help.

This question from Shannon Miller made Sarah Pratt laugh, but it wasn’t the first time she’d been asked, “Does she EVEN like butter…I wouldn’t after all that. :)”
Shannon, Sarah said she does like butter. She prefers it over margarine.

Kel Anne Davis had her questions answered early. Thanks for “How does one train to sculpt butter? Do you have to be in a refrigerator as you work?”

Susan Thomsen how long is the butter good for sculpting with? can you recycle it for other cows?

This year’s second sculpture will feature Dr. Seuss and some creations from his books.

Again, if you go see the butter cow, get your picture in front of the cow and post it on the IPTV Facebook page or send it to our Twitter account at http://www.twitter.com/IowaPublicTV

You can see this story soon.

IPTV’s Fair coverage will air August 16-21 at 9:00 p.m. and repeat nightly at 10:30 p.m. On August 22 each of the six programs will air preceding the State Fair Talent Search at 8:00 p.m.


2 thoughts on “Butter Cow 2010 Iowa State Fair

  1. Hollywood didn’t bother to ask Duffy or Sarah about butter sculpting? That’s an outrage! I have a bad feeling about that movie. It’s going to poke fun more about the popularity of the butter cow and Sarah creating it.

    I hope I’m wrong, but Hollywood does take liberties at stretching the accurate picture.


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