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Davis Journal

Butter cows are milking the slopes at the Utah State Fair

Sep 09, 2022 10:00AM ● By Becky Ginos

SALT LAKE CITY—Imagine slapping 700 pounds of butter onto a metal frame in a 40 degree refrigerator then sculpting a cow skiing down a slope. That’s what sculptors Debbie Brown and Matt McNaughtan have been doing for the past week in preparation for the Utah State Fair. 

“Because we work in a fridge it’s like creating a monumental masterpiece of artwork in a bathroom,” said McNaughtan. “It’s so close to your face. We like this piece because of all the motion and diagonal lines. The action is more dynamic. Nothing is holding still. So many lines are converging in the cow’s face to the mouse on his ski.”

The fair’s theme is “Agventure,” and the butter cow scene is called “Milking the Slopes,” he said. “It’s hard to believe it’s the same butter as we buy for $4 in the store and spread on toast.”

Brown has been sculpting cows since 1998 when the Dairy Farmers of Utah saw one at the Iowa State Fair, she said. “Norma ‘Duffy’ Lyon, known as the butter cow lady, taught me how to sculpt. Back then it was more of a show cow but we wanted to make it more fun, something people would enjoy.”

The butter is stored each year, she said. “It’s usually replaced every five years or when the butter doesn’t look as clean as it should they pull it and replace it.”

It takes 30 five gallon buckets to create the cow, said Brown. “It’s about 700-800 pounds of butter.”

Brown is a trained wood carver and sculptor which is how she got started. McNaughton is also  a sculptor and joined her about 15 years ago. “I knew Debbie’s daughter and I thought it sounded like a riot. I told her if she ever needs a sculptor give me a call.”

“I needed someone about two weeks before the fair,” said Brown. “Matt came and has been doing it ever since.”

“Whimsical and animated animals are more my style,” said McNaughtan. “We went from a more realistic cow to cows in a kick line.”

Some of their favorites are UFOs, the royal wedding, Pokemon, a magician and a day at the beach, Brown said. “It’s fun to think of something that stretches the imagination.” 

She said they use ceramic or dental tools for the fine details. “Things like the eyes, shape of the teeth, little bird feathers and whatnot. It’s fun, Dairy West has given us free rein.”

“It’s so much fun,” McNaughtan said. “It’s like being a kid playing with food or playing in the mud.”

The Utah State Fair runs now through Sept. 18. Fair hours are 10 a.m. – 10 p.m. most weekdays and 10 a.m. – 11 p.m. on weekends. It is located at the Fair Park, 155 N. 1000 West in Salt Lake City. For more information visit [email protected] λ