Thursday, February 9, 2023

Live miracles wow fair crowds

September 4, 2001
A visitor pets a small duckling during the Miracle of Life exhibit at the Michigan State Fair on Saturday. Volunteers held the small ducklings and chicks, so people could feel the down of the just-born animals. —

Detroit - Screams from nearby carnival rides and smells of cotton candy gave way to wide-eyed youngsters witnessing more than 400 live animal births at the Miracle of Life exhibit at the Michigan State Fair during the last two weeks.

MSU’s College of Veterinary Medicine staffed and sponsored the Miracle of Life exhibit for the eighth year in a row.

Calves, lambs, piglets and poultry are born and spend the first days of their lives under the big white tent, just off the midway.

Kaylene Cipolla was one of roughly 500 people at the exhibit Monday, the fair’s final day. The 8-year-old said it was her first time seeing baby farm animals.

“I want to see all of them because they are all so cute,” she said.

Kaylene, who lives in Southgate, peered between bars to see several dozen piglets jockeying for a chance to suckle, while her friends and family members pointed out what the busy pigs were up to.

“The pigs are my favorite because they are small, and cute and eating,” Kaylene said.

Last year, a fair-wide survey picked the Miracle of Life exhibit as the favorite amongst fair-goers, said Dr. Dan Grooms, an MSU veterinarian who has directed the exhibit for the last four years.

“The exhibit is regarded as probably the most popular exhibit here at the State Fair,” he said. “Certainly it is the largest educational exhibit.”

Grooms said many people get their first experience with agriculture at the fair and MSU’s exhibit.

“This is a unique way to introduce them to agriculture and obviously the drawing card is having a chance to see a live birth occur,” he said.

He said parents like to use the exhibit as a way to introduce their children to pregnancy and the birthing process.

Kids flooded the exhibit, leaving smudges from fingertips and noses on the glass covering an enclosure where chicks were first cracking through their shells.

During the exhibit, 12 calves, 33 lambs, 54 piglets and more than 350 ducklings, quails and chicks were born.

Grooms said he has had to clarify more than once that a pair of brown-spotted calves will not grow up to produce chocolate milk.

“It never ceases to amaze me,” he said. “People come in and say ‘I never knew a cow gave milk,’ or they will say ‘I never knew that those calves were so big when they were born.’”

The exhibit also provides valuable experience to the 60 MSU students who volunteer to run the exhibit, Grooms said.

“Most of our students don’t have a lot of large animal experience,” he said. “Students get opportunity to interact with the public. As a veterinarian that is very important.”

Jason Rivas, a third-year veterinary medicine student, said he really enjoyed sharing with kids.

“I am a city kid too, and most of the time they are city kids, and they haven’t seen a little piglet up close or haven’t pet a little lamb,” he said. “It is just neat that they can come down there and we can show them things they never have seen before.”

Rivas said more than 800 people crowded the tent whenever there was a live birth of a calf.

Rivas said he was happy to put what he learned in the classroom to use. He said the only downside to the exhibit was how he smelled.

“You get kind of stinky,” he said. “At the end of my last shift I had flies around me.”

Detroit natives Felicia Miller and her friend Chante Smith, came to the exhibit to watch and learn.

“I’m watching the cow,” 6-year old Chante said. “It’s about to have a baby.”

When Chante couldn’t wait for nature to take its course, she ran to see some other animals after only a few minutes of watching Beauty, the expecting cow, pace around the pen.

Miller said she was glad to share the experience with some kids who may not get to see live animal births otherwise.

“When I was young I visited my grandparents who lived on a farm,” she said. “But little kids who live in the city, like my nieces and friends, don’t have that opportunity.”

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