Unless you grew up on a farm or are in the livestock business, chances are you have never seen a cow, goat, sheep or pig give birth. The California State Fair offered the opportunity to possibly see these miracles of birth every day at their livestock nursery.
In a tent next to the Livestock Pavilion an array of cows, goats, pigs and sheep with extended bellies that looked extremely uncomfortable in the summer heat waited for their babies to make their grand entrance. Signs by each pen stated the expected due date.
Students from the University of California Davis School of Veterinary Medicine oversaw the nursery and stood by the pens dispensing information about the animals. Unfortunately, the audio system was not the best so it was impossible to hear or understand what most of the students were saying. There was minimal signage so many people just looked quickly, saw a pig on its side, and left.
The livestock nursery has been a longstanding tradition at the state fair, and sadly, not a lot has changed even in this high tech world. For the large number of people that attend the Fair, relatively few can actually view the action when an animal is giving birth. People crowded up as close as they could get to the animal and often forgot that others behind them were trying to see as well. A mirror hung above the animal allowing for some people to see but it was not very large. You had to be standing at just the right angle to see the babies emerge.
On the day that I attended the fair, there was free admission for children, so there were lots of kids in attendance. A sow (female pig) had given birth to three piglets when I entered the tent and they were patiently awaiting the entrance of the rest of the litter. While the vet students were saying something into the microphones periodically, I could not hear or understand a word, even from less than 20 feet away. The vet students were doing their duty and standing by ready to catch the babies, but this also obscured the view of the people who had so patiently waited to watch a piglet emerge. When a piglet (and then another two) were finally born, there was no explanation given as to what the students were doing to the piglets. People quickly got bored and walked away.
The livestock nursery gives the vet school the perfect opportunity to reach out to the community and not only show the miracle of birth, but also to impress on youngsters what it is that veterinarians do on a daily basis. With a little creative planning and perhaps some help from the communications department, they could have a set up that would allow hundreds or thousands of people to witness the birth as opposed to dozens. They had a video screen and bleachers set up at one part of the tent, but they were not in use at all during the pigs farrowing.
Hopefully the vet school will come into the 21st century in 2014 and partner with and turn a great idea into a memorable and impactful exhibit.