Where else would you expect to see country music group Lady Antebellum performing and live calves being born on the same grounds, both attended by huge and adoring crowds? At the Delaware State Fair, of course. Lady Antebellum was the musical headliner on Saturday, July 26. Over in the Birthing Center, a crowd of 100 packed into a tent, waiting for a cow to calve. The calving was attended by several veterinarians. In an exciting mixture of agriculture and technology, more than 8,000 people had downloaded an app from the fair website to their smartphones to be alerted when a birth was imminent.
After they received a push notification that a calf was about to be born, “People literally go running through the tent,” said Danny Aguilar, assistant general manager of the Harrington, DE fair for eight years, who sent out the notifications. Sometimes there’s standing room only. With fair attendance of 30,000 to 40,000 a day from July 17 to 26, there were many other potential viewers. In 2013, total fair attendance reached 228,000.
A popular fair mainstay in the past, the Birthing Center was discontinued a few years ago so organizers and managers could work out a new space concept to contain it and its viewers, according to Aguilar. In its first year back, the exhibition area now consists of a 100-foot-long by 60-foot -deep tent with bleacher seating on one side, opposite birthing cows contained in tall metal stalls. People were asked not to take pictures, so as not to disturb the laboring cow.
Ruthie Franczek, owner of Farm and Field Veterinary Service in Smyrna, DE, and resident veterinarian from 2000 until the Birthing Center closed, returned this year. Her daughter, Sarah Barczewski, assisted, staying in a trailer on site 24-7 and wide awake near the laboring cows. One bore a calf named Houdini, born at 3:45 a.m. on Saturday. “I heard her making a little bit of noise. She was giving birth. She did it all by herself, a really quick labor. Within 20 minutes, he was standing up,” said Barczewski. Devoted to the Birthing Center, Barczewski is very comfortable with cows as she has been around them all her life.
Her mother, Franczek, champions the center, “Because the mission statement of the fair is about promotion of agriculture and education of the public. The Birthing Center epitomizes both of those. They do this in Midwestern farms. It’s unusual for a small fair to push together to do this.” It is the direct result of cooperative efforts of a bunch of dairy farmers, vets and fair organizers, she said.
“We’ll have pigs next year,” she said. The pair beamed as the next cow’s labor neared its end, while Robert Dyer, V.M.D., associate professor of veterinary medicine at University of Delaware, explained the labor to viewers.
Aguilar videotaped the births to make a DVD available. He considered the response to the mobile app to be wonderful. Such technology was not envisioned by the original proponents who conceived the idea of the fair in 1919. Both the Birthing Center and entertainers like headliner Lady Antebellum meet and surpass their vision of “promoting and encouraging agriculture and of giving pleasures and diversions to the inhabitants of rural communities within the State of Delaware,” as quoted in their mission statement.
The first fair was held on 30 acres purchased for $6,000, on July 27, 1920, and featured seven categories of exhibits. Parking and children admission price was 25 cents, adult admission 50 cents. Their net profit was $43.90. Today’s fair garners a new name, and its grounds encompass 300 acres.