At the local county fair, in the barns in the middle of the fairgrounds, is a large white tent called the Birthing Center. Under this tent are a handful of pregnant dairy cows, a few ewes, and sometimes a sow. The purpose of this tent is to educate the general public about the birth of farm animals. And of course displaying cute calves and squeal-y piglets is always a crowd-pleaser.
Since the Birthing Center deals with things veterinary in nature, a vet is required to be at the tent during opening hours of the fair. We volunteer for four-hour shifts and basically stand around, fielding questions from the general public and narrating the events in the case of a birth — and helping, if needed.
I’ll be honest with you. This stresses me out.
The first time I volunteered, my mantra the entire four-hour shift was: do not have a baby, do not have a baby, do not have a baby. I had horrific visions of a breach birth with twins requiring a C-section. The combination of me, a bovine C-section, and an audience of about one hundred eagerly watching people is called Dr. Anna’s Nightmare Scenario #2 (of course, Nightmare Scenario #1 is Pigs Taking over the World, lest you forget, dear readers). Bovine C-sections are hard enough for a weakling like me, not to mention struggling in front of a captive audience that is also expecting to be walked through the process step-by-step. I have a feeling that if I ever landed in such dire straits, the monologue would go something like this:
"So … *grunt*… we make an incision into the … um … what’s it called … uterus … *wheeze* … then grab the … *curse word* … calf …. um … sorry …. nevermind …"
You get the idea.
Fielding questions from the general public is much less stressful and even a bit entertaining at times, since you never know what people are going to ask. Some common questions at the Birthing Center include:
- How long is a cow’s gestation? (9 months, like a human.)
- What’s that hanging out her back? (Her afterbirth, also called the placenta. It should pass soon after birth.)
- How long until the calf stands to nurse? (Calves normally stand soon after birth and generally should be up and nursing within about an hour.)
- Do girl cows only give birth to girl calves? (No.)
So far, the shifts I have spent volunteering at the Birthing Center have been quiet. No births, no sick animals, and minimal audience. I much prefer the peace of a quiet weekday morning at the fair than the hubbub of a Saturday evening. Luckily there are other vets in the area who lust for action and a captive audience.
With each passing year, I have developed a routine. After my four-hour shift is over and I hand over the stethoscope and muck boots to the next vet on the schedule, who usually gladly takes the microphone and begins a hearty welcome and introduction to the small crowd, I take my leave and reward myself with all the fried food the fair can offer. And if you know anything about county fairs, it’s that they offer a lot of fried food. So I take my fried Oreo and funnel cake, combine it with a corn dog and lemonade, throw in some nachos and some sort of candy apple-type thingy, and content myself with the fact that another year has been successfully completed sans Nightmare Scenario #2.
And if I feel that the pigs in the hog barn have been giving me the stink eye, I may treat myself to a ride on the Ferris wheel just for good measure.
Dr. Anna O’Brien