July 18, 2011
Visitors to the 2011 State Fair Livestock Nursery, one of the fair’s most popular exhibits, are finding the piglets and lambs animals in a different location at Cal Expo this year, but familes are experiencing many of the same “ah ha” moments of earlier years as they learn about farm animals and how they are born.
The exhibit is located near the main livestock area, where fairgoers can view the nursery activities, hand-milking, butter-making and, nearby, the show-animal exhibits.
The nursery’s redesigned layout emphasizes animal comfort and safety as well as ease of use by the veterinary students and veterinarians caring for the animals. While in past years animals were brought to a stage area so people could observe the birth, this year the animals will remain in their own pens throughout their stay. Video monitors provide visual access to the activities and, if a birth is not imminent, visitors can watch a recorded video of a calf being born.
A trained crew of 25 veterinary and animal science students gains plenty of experience while tending to the nursery animals around the clock. Students receive supervision from veterinary faculty and veterinary technicians. Up to eight crew members at a time rotate tasks of animal care, milking, butter-making and animal examinations.
Dr. Joan Dean Rowe, a professor based at the Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital, coordinates the nursery team and instructs students about livestock reproduction, obstetrics and herd health. She has more than 30 years of veterinary experience specializing in the preventive health care and reproduction of cattle, goats, sheep and pigs. This year, Rowe is working alongside the new state fair veterinarian, Dr. Eric Davis, and other vets who take turns with exams and other health care responsibilities.
Dr. Rowe says that the many state fair tasks enrich student education and build experience in animal handling, examination, testing procedures and livestock obstetrics.
Students also learn important communications skills on the job as they reach out to the public. Students make public presentations about what’s happening in the nursery and answer individual questions about animal breeds, reproduction and related topics.
Crew members spend considerable time talking with future veterinarians about how to prepare for veterinary school. Dr. Rowe notes that a bonus to this year’s location is that 4-H members tending their own animals can easily pop into the nursery to chat with veterinary students about their courses.
In addition to the livestock nursery program, Rowe and crew are charged to:
• Perform all health examinations of animals entering the fair
• Test animals for the drug residue program; samples go to a School of Veterinary Medicine laboratory for analysis
• Run the hand-milking parlor for people to learn how to milk a cow or goat
• Supervise butter-making, a hands-on demonstration for the public
• Offer “office hours” with the state fair veterinarian, Dr. Eric Davis, who can discuss exhibitors’ concerns about the health of their animals while at the fair. Dr. Davis has been a practitioner Monterey County and served on the faculty of the University of Tennessee College of Veterinary Medicine. He founded and for 10 years led Rural Area Veterinary Services, RAVS, a program of the Humane Society of the United States. Dr. Davis is a graduate of the School of Veterinary Medicine. He most recently participated with the school’s International Animal Welfare Training Institute to develop emergency response protocols related to animals, especially livestock.
The 2011 California State Fair continues through Sunday, July 31. www.bigfun.org
Find your way with the fairgrounds map