Fairgoers witness Miracle of Birth up close

Skye Stauffer

Work doesn’t get much more hands-on than veterinary senior Shana Owen’s Minnesota State Fair gig.

Owen is one of seven University veterinary students working at the Miracle of Birth Center at the fair. The students work at the center for the two-week duration of the fair, completing a full rotation of clinical experience required for their major.

So far at the fair, Owen has helped birth one litter of pigs or one calf every day.

“What’s great about this experience is that we get to participate and learn and get experience with natural, normal births,” Owen said.

One memorable experience at the center was holding a newborn lamb for visitors to see.

Normally, she said, children are the most enthusiastic, but in this case two teenage girls pulled their mother over to the lamb. Owen noted that the mother took an especially long time petting the lamb. She later realized the mother was blind.

“It just happened to strike a chord with me because it meant a lot to her and it’s something that she will take home and remember always,” Owen said.

The Miracle of Birth Center is designed to educate the public in a positive way of how food production plays a role in society, Owen said.

A partnership of the Minnesota Veterinary Medical Association, College of Veterinary Medicine and FFA (formerly known as Future Farmers of America) established the center in 2001.

The organizations founded the Miracle of Birth Center to improve public relations. As Minnesota’s population becomes more urban and less rural, fewer Minnesotans understand the agricultural industry.

Mary Olson, one of the three practicing veterinarians at the center, said the center builds bridges between the agricultural industry and the growing urban population.

“We have an opportunity at the state fair to help give that education to people visiting the birth center,” Olson said.

Students, volunteers and veterinarians answer questions about the condition of the animals and the births at the center’s various animal pens.

Kirsten Voigt, a University veterinary school alumna, said she enjoys introducing city people to livestock.

“It’s just kind of fun to see what people’s reactions are to seeing these farm animals that they’ve never been around,” Voigt said. “I had some people say, ‘Is this a cow?'”

The center is always bustling with activity. When a birthing happens, massive crowds gather to watch. Large screen monitors display live births so people unable to get a spot near the action can still witness the miracle of life.