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Published Monday, September 11, 2006

Miracle of birth draws fair-goers

By Bill Blankenship
The Capital-Journal

HUTCHINSON -- At the Kansas State Fair, birth is a spectator sport.

The arrival of a calf Sunday morning at the fairground's Birthing Center drew a standing-room-only crowd who both oohed and eewed as the blessed event progressed.

Breanna Bohanan, 10, of Salina, and her 6-year-old sister, Alina, had a front-row seat.

"This is the first time I saw a baby cow being hatched," Breanna said.

The sisters crouched on the concrete floor to peer through the two bottom rails of a cattle pen in which the expectant cow mooed as her contractions got more severe.

People stood three or four deep around the pen as Kimanthi Choma, a Kansas State University senior veterinary medical student from Lincoln, Neb., described what was happening, sort of like a play-by-play announcer.

The K-State College of Veterinary Medicine and the Kansas Veterinary Medical Association co-sponsor and staff the Birthing Center.

Bill Blankenship/The Capital-Journal
Breeana Bohanan, 10, and her 6-year-old sister,
Alina, both of Salina, await the arrival of a calf
Sunday morning at the Birthing Center at the
Kansas State Fair.

When the cow, which had been lying on the straw-covered floor, got to her feet and started moving around, some in the audience backed away a bit as she pointed the calf-delivery part of her anatomy toward them.

When the cow laid back down, the audience moaned in disappointment, but in only a few minutes, the cow's water broke, and the calf's front hooves emerged to a mix of expressions of awe and disgust from the spectators.

Dr. Ken Burton, a 1981 K-State vet school alumnus who is in private practice in Lyons, and Michelle Lett, a senior veterinary medical student from St. Marys, handled the birth.

They had to assist the calf's arrival by first pulling on its front hooves until the head emerged. They cleaned its nasal passage to make sure it could breathe, then with a sterilized length of chain wrapped around the calf's front legs, Burton and Lett pulled the calf from its mother.

When Choma, the emcee, announced the calf was male, someone in the audience said, "It's a boy!" with proud parent bravado.

So what did Breanna think of the miracle of birth?

Bill Blankenship/The Capital-Journal
Michelle Lett, of St. Marys, left, a senior at the
Kansas State University College of Veterinary
Medicine, and Dr. Ken Burton, a Lyons
veterinarian and K-State alumnus, clear the eyes
and nose of a calf as it is born Sunday morning
before a crowd of onlookers at the Birthing
Center at the Kansas State Fair.
"It was kinda gross," she said, but added she was glad she watched.

Burton said the Birthing Center, where people also can see piglets being born and chicks hatched, is a good experience for the future veterinarians.

"They get a chance to get some hands-on experience, but the other thing that a lot of them really enjoy is the opportunity to visit with the general public and explain all the things they are learning," Burton said.

Dr. Phil Jones, a large-animal surgical resident at K-State, agreed.

"You can only learn so much in the classroom about how to deal with the public and answer questions," Jones said.

In other words, the future animal doctors can develop their people skills.

The Birthing Center is open from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily to spectators, but it also is staffed through the night in case that is when the cows and sows go into labor.

Whether visitors actually see a birth is a hit-and-miss proposition. Deliveries can't be scheduled and take some time.

As Breanna said Sunday after the birth, "You have to be patient."

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