As some people entered the Ag Star Miracle of Birth Center at the Olmsted County Fair in Rochester, the sounds of a brand new calf, ten-day-old goats, and just-born piglets fighting for the best positions near mom to nurse brought back a flood of memories from living on a farm.
However, most of the people entering the Center didn’t have an agricultural background to draw on so it was a completely new experience for some of them. That’s the reason Ag Star Financial and several local sponsors pooled their resources to bring the Center to life. The goal is a simple one: to educate the public about agriculture.
“We have a lot of education stations in here for kids and adults too,” said Tracy Nelson, Miracle of Birthing Center Manager. “People can get up close with hens that laid eggs and then watch the eggs hatch. We also have baby chicks and ducklings they can touch. We also have ten-day-old goat kids.”
Ed Kuisle of Rochester brought the goats, and he said it’s been one of the most popular exhibits in the Center for one reason: personality. The goats are a novelty for the kids, and he said they have a lot of personalities already at just ten days old so kids really enjoy interacting with them. The goats come from a big dairy farm down by Altura.
“The owner of the farm milks about 600 of them. These goats are billies (male),” said Kuisle, who grew up working on a dairy farm near Rochester. “The owner of the farm feeds them out to 50-60 pounds and then sells them. All the does stay on the farm for milking.”
Four sows were on display during the fair, and they were all expected to farrow. One of the sows farrowed on Thursday morning and had ten brand new piglets. The birthing didn’t stop there either. A brand new Holstein calf was born on Thursday afternoon. The bull took his first steps in front of an appreciative crowd shortly after 2:30.
“We actually announce that we have a birthing going on over the public address system of the fair and it fills up,” Nelson said. “There are a lot of people on the bleachers and standing around. We even put it up on the TV’s here in the building and do some play-by-play for people in the building.”
Nelson said people ask lots of questions. For example, they seem surprised at the size difference between a mother sow and her piglets. Another question they get is how the little chicks could actually fit inside the eggs they hatch from. They also think the size of the bigger animals is surprising. And those kinds of questions are the reason the Center is in existence.
“The biggest purpose of the Center is to educate the public about animal agriculture,” Nelson said. “It’s about giving people the experience of seeing live animals of different ages and sizes. Whether they actually get to see a live birth or just come and see the animals here, they’re learning about animal agriculture.”
Nelson said Kuisle is one of many volunteers that make the Center possible. Kuisle said with a smile on his face that he volunteers one week a year, and it’s at the county fair. But he was quick to add that a project like the Miracle of Birthing Center has been very successful.
“It’s gone very well,” Kuisle said. “It was slow the first couple of days but it’s really picked up. The goal is to expose young people to what happens on the farm. Most children today can’t come out to a farm anymore so this type of project works out well here.”
Kuisle said he gets a lot of questions too. Some of them include ‘are the animals born with teeth? Are they boy or girl?’ And the biggest question he gets is ‘can I pet them?’
Nelson also grew up on a dairy farm. She said she’s a little surprised at the disconnect between rural and urban folks, but not entirely surprised. She said a lot of people grew up with agriculture in the family, but those numbers are falling.
“It’s surprising how much some of the people know about agriculture,” she said, “and it’s surprising how little others may know about Ag. Most people really seem to want the information about where their food comes from”