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The Daily Vet by petMD

The Daily Vet is a blog featuring veterinarians from all walks of life. Every week they will tackle entertaining, interesting, and sometimes difficult topics in the world of animal medicine – all in the hopes that their unique insights and personal experiences will help you to understand your pets.

See You at the Fair: Part 2

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

Image: Girod-B. Lorelei / via Shutterstock

Comments  2

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  • Junk Food!
    08/31/2012 07:18am

    My kind of woman if she's out there enjoying funnel cakes, fried Oreos and corn dogs.

    However, I've got to wonder how much patience it takes to answer questions from the public. Geez. Do girl cows give birth to girl babies? You gotta be kidding.

    More than that, how stressful is it for a pregnant critter to be carted to the fair and be in unfamiliar surroundings? Surely it cannot be an optimal situation.

  • 08/31/2012 10:23pm

    Patience? Yes, but I'm usually mostly amused by such questions. Luckily, the really off-the-wall ones are few and far between, but when I get one, I sure do remember it!

    Regarding birthing animals in a crowded location: the animals are brought in a few days before they are due in order to allow for at least a little acclimatization. The animals that participate are either 4-H animals that have been to the fairgrounds before, or dairy cows from busy farms who rarely get quiet time at home, either. When one is in the process of giving birth, we make sure to remind spectators to keep quiet, no running around, and not gather too closely to the pen. Even though this is a learning experience for the public, the animal's health and well-being is still a priority.

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