SACRAMENTO – The whole tent grew quiet at the California State Fair livestock nursery as not one, but two calves were born on the fair’s opening day.
The first calf was born just hours before the gates opened July 12, but a few fair-goers were lucky enough to see the birth of a bull-calf that afternoon.
Dr. Eric Davis and his UC Davis team began delivering the 100-pound calf from its mother. After a few minutes, the new-born calf was transported to an open space where it would eventually learn how to walk.
Davis, a UCD veterinary staff member and the official State Fair veterinarian, was asked to assist with the bull calf because of its size as well as the irregular position in which it was being born — on its back.
After the birth, he was available to answer questions from awestruck fair-goers.
“A high percentage of dairy cows require assistance in delivering the calf because calf size is highly correlated with milk production,” Davis said. “The typical life of a dairy cow is that she has her first calf when she is 2 years old — this is so she can begin lactating.”
After delivering her first calf, the dairy cow will be bred within the first 40 days after birth. This produces a 310-day lactation period for milk production.
The State Fair’s livestock nursery, hosted and organized by the UCD School of Veterinary Medicine, has been one of the most popular and educational exhibits since it began more than 30 years ago.
Fair-goers have the opportunity to learn about milk production from UCD staff and students — involving hands-on interaction with the animals as well as a butter-making station.
All of the nursery’s animals — sheep, goats, pigs and cows — are donated by cooperating farmers and are cared for by a UCD veterinarian. Each animal’s station is marked with an expected birth date.
“So much of our public doesn’t really have the opportunity to see our agricultural animals — or to really witness the miracle of birth,” said Dr. Joan Rowe, faculty coordinator of the livestock nursery. “We are here to answer any questions that people may have about the animals and livestock health.”
Ten piglets were born just a few days before the fair opened. They can be seen at the nursery playing and toppling over each other — along with their big-mother sow.
UCD veterinary staff and students also continue to educate the public by answering the popular question: “Where does my food come from?”
“One can decide to eat meat or drink milk based on reality — this is the way these animals are cared for,” Davis said. “This is by far the most common management system in the United States — and I think people should see that.”
Bill Costa, a UCD alumnus, has been coming to the fair since he was 9 years old.
“I like to talk to the veterinary staff and students to zero-in on their knowledge about what goes on and how food production happens,” Costa said. “I come here every year and this is one thing I definitely come to see.”
The livestock nursery is next to the Livestock Pavilion, on the east side of the fairgrounds at Cal Expo, 1600 Exposition Blvd. in Sacramento. The fair runs through Sunday, July 29. This year’s theme is “Fun That Moves You.”
Fair hours are 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday and 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday through Sunday. The midway — with carnival games and rides — is open from 2 to 11 p.m. Monday and Thursday, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Tuesday, noon to 11 p.m. Wednesday and 11 a.m. to midnight Friday through Sunday.
Fair admission is $12 for adults, $10 for seniors, $8 for children ages 5 to 12, and free for children ages 4 and under. An unlimited ride wristband costs $35 on Saturdays and Sundays, $15 on Wednesdays and $30 all other days. Parking is $10. For more information, visit www.bigfun.org.
On Tuesdays, children 12 and under are admitted free and carnival rides are $1 for everyone. On Wells Fargo Wednesdays, admission is $6 for everyone age 5 and up and unlimited ride wristbands are $15.
General viewing of all concerts is free with fair admission, but reserved seats are available for an extra fee, online at www.bigfun.org.