It's a rancid act of violence to attack the Butter Cow.

What? You didn't hear the tragic news from the nation's heartland last weekend? It seems extreme animal-rights activists churned up trouble for the Iowa State Fair's world-famous Butter Cow sculpture, pouring blood-red paint over the poor, defenseless, sweet-creamery beast and scrawling "Freedom for all" on the glass of its protective refrigerated case.

Fortunately the cow's sculptor, Sarah Pratt, was alerted to the crime in the middle of the night and rushed in at 4 a.m. to scrape off the paint before the fair opened for the day, according to the fair's marketing director, Lori Chappell, in numerous national reports.

Visitors to the Dairy Barn at the Illinois State Fair enjoy the Butter Cow exhibit Tuesday, Aug. 13, 2013, in Springfield, Ill. The Illinois State Fair
Visitors to the Dairy Barn at the Illinois State Fair enjoy the Butter Cow exhibit Tuesday, Aug. 13, 2013, in Springfield, Ill. The Illinois State Fair will run through Aug. 18. The butter cow has been an unofficial icon of the fair since the 1920's. 800 pounds of unsalted butter are used to sculpt the life size figure by hand over a wire and wood frame. The process takes about two days. After the fair, the butter will be removed and reused in another sculpture. (AP Photo/Seth Perlman) ( Seth Perlman )

"The important thing is, no one was hurt, no one was injured," Chappell said. "The Butter Cow is fine."

What? You've not heard of the bodacious bovine? Heavens to Bessie. Well, it is a cow. Made of butter. Which is made of milk. Which comes from a cow. Ah, circle of life.

It's actually a life-size sculpture made of 600 pounds of butter -- enough of the unctuous, ungulate product to ooze over 19,200 slices of toast -- slathered over a metal frame and meticulously formed into a cow likeness, about the size of a Smart car. It's kept refrigerated at a steady 40 degrees Fahrenheit while on display in the Agriculture Building for the length of the festivities.


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It's been a tradition since 1911, the first one carved by J.K. Daniels. The longest tour of dairy designing duty was served by Norma "Duffy" Lyon, who was the official sculptor for 46 years. Lyon passed away in 2011 at the age of 81, a butter lover to the end.

You butter believe it

The Butter Cow is dear to me because I am an Iowan by marriage, and though I have not seen it in person/cow -- chiefly because the fair runs in August and it's so horribly hot that I might melt to a spreadable consistency -- I know all about the malleable mammal thanks to my in-laws touting it for many years. My sister-in-law even sent us a mug bearing the cow's image, but the mug has since disappeared. Perhaps extreme animal activists have been rifling through my kitchen cabinets.

The hallowed heifer is usually displayed with a "companion" butter sculpture. In recent years, there has been a butter version of Elvis, the Last Supper, Tiger Woods, Harry Potter and even a buttery tribute to the 40th anniversary of Neil Armstrong's walk on the moon. This year, it's Abraham Lincoln alongside the Lincoln Highway Bridge, a landmark in Tama, Iowa. Abe and his namesake bridge were not harmed in the anti-Butter Cow attack.

In this photo provided by Iowans for Animal Liberation is the 2013 butter cow at the Iowa State Fair in Des Moines, Iowa. Authorities confirmed Monday,
In this photo provided by Iowans for Animal Liberation is the 2013 butter cow at the Iowa State Fair in Des Moines, Iowa. Authorities confirmed Monday, Aug. 12, 2013, that people had gained access to the display, poured red paint over the butter sculpture and scrawled, Freedom for all, on a display window. Police said the damage was cleaned up quickly Sunday morning and the display opened as usual. (AP Photo/Iowans for Animal Liberation)

Don't have a cow, man

The cow has not hurt anybody. In fact, the cow does not do anything at all. It just sits there, like a lump o' lard, long-suffering and silent as it's viewed by thousands of fairgoers.

So it's perplexing why members of the Iowans for Animal Liberation -- who claimed responsibility for the act -- would think it helpful to their cause to deface the innocent cow. "Freedom for all" means what? Freedom for whom? The Butter Cow? It can't exactly run wild in the pastures. A matter of minutes in the summer sun and passers-by would be getting out their 19,200 pieces of toast.

Perhaps the activists would prefer a margarine cow. But that wouldn't be the same. Besides, margarine is made from plant oils, which come from plants, which are vegetation, and then you'd have anti-vegan activists attacking it by mutilating carrots and tomatoes into a nice sauteed puree. Ah, circle of life. Plus, fairgoers would be shouting out, "I can't believe it's not butter!" and that would get annoying.

Fun butter factoids: Did you know there was a 2011 movie called "Butter"? I must have missed it somehow. It starred Jennifer Garner and Ty Burrell involved in a "butter-carving contest of epic proportions."

And butter, as far as Wikipedia knows, can also be made from the milk of sheep, goats, buffalo and yaks. But as far as I know, sheep, goats, buffalo and yaks are rarely made of butter.

In one online video interview about the now-infamous cow attack, Chappell was asked whether the cow had ever been vandalized before. A couple of years ago, someone tried to stick some sort of a note on the cow, she said. "But it's butter. So it slipped off."

Contact Angela Hill at ahill@bayareanewsgroup.com, or follow her at Twitter.com/giveemhill.