Udder Miracles at The Great New York State Fair

If you haven’t yet made it to the Great New York State Fair this year, be sure to put the Dairy Cow Birthing Center on your list of exhibits to visit. If you’ve already made your trip to the fair and didn’t fit the Dairy Birthing Center in, there’s still time to go back!

The Dairy Birthing Center is an exhibit that is organized by the NY Animal Agriculture Coalition (NYAAC) and made possible through a variety of sponsors and volunteers. Jessica Ziehm and Eileen Jensen have put together an exhibit that not only allows fairgoers to witness the “udder miracle” of the birth of a calf, but also allows them to ask questions to farmers and others who work in the dairy industry.

Sarah Fessenden from Dairy One quizzing visitors on dairy facts

Of the dozens of people I spoke with at the Dairy Birthing Center on Monday, very few responded that they had no question to ask. Almost every visitor had a question on the tip of their tongue, if they weren’t already tapping on my shoulder to ask it. Some of these questions may seem silly to us- Where will the baby come out? How much does the cow weigh? Why is the cow moving her ears? – but for someone who has never been on a farm, much less around cows, these are things they really don’t understand.

You may be familiar with Simon Sinek’s TEDtalk, Start with Why  (if you haven’t watched it yet, I highly recommend taking the time to). In short, Sinek’s idea is that people don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it. I couldn’t help but think of this while answering questions on Monday evening. While fairgoers had many questions, the majority of their questions started with why.

Yes, people wanted to know what the bracelet on the cow’s ankle was (an activity tracker), but they really wanted to know why it was there. Why is the calf being taken away from its mom? Why do we induce labor for the cows at the fair? Why do we choose to artificially inseminate cows?

Explaining to people why we do things makes them far less scary and much more logical.  An activity tracker that allows the farmer to really zero in on the activity and movement of an individual cow shows that that farmer must really care about those cows. Taking a calf from mom to ensure he or she stays safe, can be closely monitored, and receives the proper nutrients makes the whole situation more sensible to the mom at the fair asking the question. Of course, people would rather we induce labor at the fair so the cow doesn’t have her baby on the trailer ride home. That makes so much sense! Artificially inseminating cows doesn’t seem so questionable when you describe the benefits it can bring to the herd and the cow being bred.

George the bull calf from El-Vi Farms

One of the other more popular questions people asked was “When will the next baby be born?”. Visitors could sign-up for text message alerts so they can enjoy the rest of the fair and receive an alert when the next cow goes into labor. When the alert went out that there was a baby on the way, you would have thought we told people we were handing out free ice cream. The tent instantly filled with people who spent the next almost hour and a half asking non-stop questions while the little bull calf from El-Vi Farms, LLC entered the world. It was abundantly clear that people wanted to learn and had a great appreciation for the work dairy farmers do.

Not only does the Dairy Birthing Center give consumers and fairgoers a chance to learn and explore the industry, but it also gives us in the industry an opportunity to see what we do through their eyes. Sometimes we take for granted our knowledge and experience. We assume others wouldn’t be interested in hearing about it. However, these are exactly the things fairgoers and consumers want to hear about. They want to understand why we do what we do, and we should be willing and excited to share that.

For more information about the Dairy Birthing Center visit NY Animal Ag Coalition and check out their live stream from the fair.