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Photographing A Bovine Diva

Photographing A Bovine Diva
UW-Madison Badger Dairy Club members help set up a photo shoot.

Note: Dairy cattle aren't all that eager to sit, or rather stand, for a portrait. Professional livestock photographers know that, and now, so do University of Wisconsin-Madison photographer Bryce Richter and writer John Allen, who were charged with getting a cover shot for a story on the UW dairy program for On Wisconsin magazine. What follows is Allen's first-hand report.

Brown Swiss are divas.

They're lovely cows, but as dairy breeds go, they're high-maintenance and kind of temperamental.

UW Badger Dairy Club members help coax a reluctant cover girl. From left: Elizabeth Binversie, Anuj Modi, UW Wonderment Taylor, instructor Ted Halbach, Kathryn Ruh, Sarah Witt, and photographer Bryce Richter. Photo by Jeff Miller, UW-Madison.

"Brown Swiss do what they want, when they want," says Sarah Witt, a member of the Badger Dairy Club who helped stage the cover shoot for the winter 2014 issue of On Wisconsin, the UW-Madison alumni magazine. And we needed a lot of help.

Although the UW is the flagship university of America's Dairyland, we haven't covered milk studies in a feature-length article in many years, so we wanted to give cows their due. We held a cattle call to select the best cover girl, which led us to UW Wonderment Taylor, the 1,500-pound, three-year-old beauty you see here.

But choosing the right cow is the easy part. Getting her photo? Now, that's hard.

Ted Halbach, who teaches dairy cattle evaluation, was there to assist. Whenever UW cattle make a public appearance — which they were doing a bit of in October; it was World Dairy Expo — Halbach's the guy to see. He can get our mooing models ready for a runway show or photo shoot. And he assembled the entourage that prepped and managed Taylor.

First Witt and a few fellow students — Kathryn Ruh, Elizabeth Binversie, and Anuj Modi — had to get Taylor primped and polished. They washed her, brushed her coat, combed out her tail, and brightened up her hooves. Normally this last task is done with a product called Black Magic — or with shoe polish or even spray paint if Black Magic isn't available. On our day, the team had none of the above, so instead they shined up her tootsies with spray oil. Then they brought Taylor — a very skeptical Taylor — into the Stock Pavilion, where we'd set up a makeshift photo studio.

Ruh and Binversie coaxed her into position, while Witt convinced her to look in the right direction by hooting like a howler monkey. As for Modi, he was on bucket duty. Don't ask.

And Taylor? We eventually got her picture, but she made it clear that she didn't like clicking cameras. She liked popping flashes even less. She threw a tantrum, threatened to kick over a few thousand dollars' worth of lights, and generally huffed and sulked.

Source: UW-Madison CALS
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