Farm Horizons, November 2009
Going behind the scenes at the Miracle of Birth Center
By Kristen Miller
Walking around the Miracle of Birth Center at the Minnesota State Fair, it’s hard not to have a feeling of compassion for the barnyard animals encountered there, especially the newborns.
Justin Crowley, a 2009 graduate of Howard Lake-Waverly-Winsted, has been a “barnie” (what they call barnyard attendants) at the center, working with the animals, veterinarians, and visitors there for two years now, and has enjoyed every minute of it.
“It’s a fun place to be. I enjoy it a lot,” said Crowley, a freshman at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities campus. Crowley also received the FFA Stars Over Minnesota award. He is working for a degree in agriculture and food business management.
He especially loves taking care of the calves that have been born at the center.
This year, Crowley became attached to Grandstand, a 110-pound Holstein born at the fair, who was bottle fed morning and night.
When calves are born at the center, audience members are able to choose three names, and then they clap for the best one, Crowley said.
It’s also about getting to work with the public and answering questions about the animals.
“You learn from them, as they learn from you,” Crowley said.
The Miracle of Birth Center tries to find animals cows, sheep, and pigs that are close to giving birth.
This year during the 12 days of the fair, there were 170 births including 12 calves, 125 piglets, and 33 lambs. In 2008, there were 184 births that took place during the fair.
Crowley has been asked the question, “When will it give birth?” He just tells them, “Miracles can’t be timed.”
Even if spectators aren’t at the right place at the right time to see a live birth take place, the Miracle of Birth Center gives them an opportunity to witness it after-the- fact with pre-recorded births on the television screens there.
Walking through the center, one can see first-hand the many piglets, lambs, and calves that are born at the fair.
Crowley is just one of the many FFA members who volunteer at the Miracle of Birth Center each year.
The CHS Miracle of Birth Center opened at the state fair in 2006, and works in conjunction with the Minnesota FFA, the University of Minnesota Veterinary College, and the Minnesota Veterinary Medical Association.
Three large animal veterinarians co-manage the center and oversee the volunteer vet students working with the animals there. Dr. Holly Neaton of Watertown is one of the three veterinarians. She helps prepare the animals and brings her own sheep to the center.
Jim Ertl, formerly of the New Germany/Mayer area, is the superintendent of the Miracle of Birth Center and executive secretary of the Minnesota FFA.
Before the Miracle of Birth Center was born nine years ago, it was formerly called the FFA Children’s Barnyard.
Ertl has been working with the Barnyard and the new Miracle of Birth Center for 27 years. He had a significant part in raising money for the new center.
Each year, Ertl comments how much he enjoys seeing the generations of families who have been a part of the barnyard and now have children in FFA, according to Minnesota FFA Leadership Development Coordinator Leah Addington.
Addington estimates there are 200 volunteers who help out at the Miracle of Birth Center each year, including veterinarians, veterinary students, and FFA members and officers. They are also there to answer any of the visitors’ questions.
“There are pockets of volunteers all over Minnesota,” Ertl said. Some of the area volunteers and veterinarians who have worked in the center in the past few years are Jackie Koch and Eric Sawatzke of Howard Lake and both former state FFA officers, Dr. Bill Fynboh of Winsted, and Dr. Katrina Gustafson from the Watertown Vet Clinic.
Since the center is located near two entrances which 60 percent of fairgoers pass through each day, the Miracle of Birth Center is quite a busy place.
“It’s because of out positioning on the fairgrounds and because it’s something you don’t see everyday,” Addington said.
Connected to the Miracle of Birth Center is the FFA Leadership Center, which highlights the opportunities youth can obtain through the organization.
For added entertainment among fairgoers, there is also the Christensen Farm stage, where FFA students can do such things as a quiz bowl, testing the contestants knowledge of FFA, and sharing the message about agriculture education.
Addington encourages everyone who hasn’t witnessed the Miracle of Birth Center, to visit next year, during the state fair.
“If you’ve never been there, you need to come. Especially if you didn’t grow up on a farm,” Addington said, who grew up on a farm herself.
“It gives you great insight, not only to see the miracle of birth, but also the day-to-day operation on a farm,” she said.