Ohio innovators highlighted in 2023 butter cow display

On behalf of Ohio’s dairy farmers, the 2023 butter cow display at the Ohio State Fair honors several notable Ohioans whose inventions improved lives around the world.

“Ohio has been home to many pioneers in science and technology over the last 200 years, and this year’s butter display celebrates that rich history of innovation by paying tribute to four inventors and their groundbreaking inventions,” said Jenny Crabtree, senior vice president of communications, American Dairy Association Mideast. 

Along with the traditional butter cow and calf, the display features butter sculptures of Thomas Edison with a light bulb and a phonograph, Garrett Morgan with a three-position traffic signal, Josephine Cochrane with a hand-powered dishwasher and James Spangler with a portable vacuum cleaner.  

This year’s buttery masterpieces were crafted from 2,000 pounds of butter, donated in part by Dairy Farmers of America, by a team of Ohio-based technical sculptors led by Paul Brooke of Cincinnati. His team consists of Tammy Buerk of West Chester, Erin Birum of Columbus, dairy farmer Matt Davidson of Sidney and Joe Metzler of Auburn. The team spent approximately 450 hours to complete the display, with 360 hours dedicated to sculpting inside the 46-degree cooler.

Sculptors layer butter onto steel and wooden armatures and gradually refine their shape before chiseling in the fine details. Drawing inspiration from the theme, the sculptors used their own ingenuity to enhance this year’s butter display with innovative touches.

“The dishwasher sculpture actually has a transparent door on it so you can see inside, something we’ve never tried before,” said lead sculptor Paul Brooke. “And we incorporated electricity into the display to illuminate the light bulb and the traffic signal.”

Presented by the American Dairy Association Mideast, this year’s butter cow display is also a nod to the innovative spirit of Ohio’s dairy farmers, who are increasingly leveraging technology to make farms more efficient and sustainable. 

“Dairy farmers are working harder to go greener to reduce greenhouse gases, optimize water use and increase soil health,” Crabtree said. “New technologies on dairy farms help turn cow manure into valuable resources, such as clean renewable energy, natural fertilizer and soft bedding for cows.”

Other examples of innovative additions to dairy farms include robotic feed pushers that ensure easy access to nutritious food, robotic milking systems to offer flexibility to farmers’ busy schedules and activity trackers to help farmers digitally evaluate cow comfort and health.

The butter cow display attracts more than 500,000 visitors at the Ohio State Fair, often gaining nationwide recognition and media attention. A long-standing tradition for Ohio’s more than 1,450 dairy farm families, the American Dairy Association Mideast chooses an icon or theme to feature in butter that is non-political, non-controversial and reflects optimism and broad audience appeal. Each year, the theme of the butter cow display is one of the best-kept secrets leading up to the fair. 

Twenty years ago, the butter cow display honored two of Ohio’s most famous innovators, Orville and Wilbur Wright, in sculptures that featured the birth of aviation, and this year’s display continues to celebrate Ohio innovators that changed the world.

The Ohio State Fair is scheduled to run from July 26 through August 6, 2023 at The Ohio State Expo Center.  While visiting the Dairy Products Building, fair visitors can learn how Ohio’s dairy farmers care for their cows, land and communities. Visitors can also experience a variety of Ohio-produced dairy foods including ice cream, milkshakes, cheese sandwiches and milk. 

The butter display and the Dairy Products Building are sponsored by the American Dairy Association Mideast, Ohio’s dairy farmer-funded marketing and promotion program. The display will be open to visitors daily at the fairgrounds July 26 through Aug. 6. For more information, visit www.drink-milk.com.

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