Our State Fair

The Midway was shut down. You couldn’t get a porkchop on a stick. And even the world-famous Butter Cow was closed early Sunday morning.

In fact, the sun had barely peeked over the eastern horizon when a group of Iowa State University veterinary students arrived at Gate 8, an entrance to the Iowa State Fair.

Awaiting them, a pair of their professors and four veterinarians with the State of Iowa, were trailer after trailer filled with sheep. All wanted into the fair, but they had to first go through an inspection process.

“Farm animals shown at most county and the Iowa State Fair require inspection and health papers that are valid for 30 days prior to the fair,” said Dr. Troy Brick, assistant professor of veterinary diagnostic and production animal medicine and the state fair veterinarian. “But for sheep at the Iowa State Fair the health paper is only valid for 14 days, so every single sheep gets checked by the Iowa State Veterinarians with assistance from our students.”

Trailers had been lined up for hours before the veterinarians started their inspections. After a trailer would pull up to the inspection line, each sheep would be unloaded and then looked at by a veterinarian.

Earlier in the week, the FFA sheep check-in was held, but Sunday’s 4-H check-in is significantly larger with hundreds of animals running through the inspection process.

Four of the veterinary students are fourth year students who are completing a two-week rotation during which time they live and work at the fairgrounds. Sheep check-in is just one of the many activities they will be involved in throughout their stay in Des Moines.

“This is a great opportunity for me,” said Parker Robinson, one of the fourth-year students. “I love to work with the public and am interested in public health. This has given me an opportunity to see issues with public health that I haven’t seen previously.”

A vast majority of the sheep brought to the fair pass the inspection. But every now and again, an animal is not allowed into the fair for health reasons.

What has benefitted the fourth-year students the most was the need to write health papers for those animals that lack the necessary documentation.

“I’ve had to write a lot of health papers today,” said Dawson Laborde, another fourth-year student. “This is something I will have to do when I’m in practice and it’s an opportunity I haven’t had yet in my other rotations.

“What I’ve gained from learning how to write a good health paper is invaluable.”

Other days during the fair, the students spend in an office near the livestock buildings. Several times a day, they will get a call to visit a sick animal. Many are stressed by their environments and have stopped eating or drinking.

The student veterinarians and either Brick or Dr. Adam Copeland, food animal resident in veterinary field services at Iowa State, will make a “home visit” to diagnose and then suggest treatment for the animal.

“This is a good learning opportunity for our students,” Brick says. “One of the most important parts of being a veterinarian is interacting with people and at the fair we interact with a lot of different people.”

“I was heavily involved with 4-H growing up, so I can relate to what these kids and their parents are going through here,” said Holly Salzbrenner, another fourth-year veterinary student.

And as you can tell, for these veterinary students (Robinson, Laborde, Salzbrenner and Elizabeth Brehm), the Iowa State Fair isn’t going to the midway, trying the latest food on a stick or standing in line to view the Butter Cow.

“People think we’re just hanging out at the fair for two weeks,” Brick said. “But we’re going from one thing to another. We’re on duty here all the time.”