Animal Learning Center brings life to the Iowa State Fair

AMES, Iowa -- One of the Iowa State Fair's most popular exhibits is returning this year with even more to see.

The Animal Learning Center managed by Iowa State University's College of Veterinary Medicine plans to have live animal births every day at the fair. The center will also feature a new surgical suite where veterinarians will perform spaying procedures twice each day throughout the fair.

People can watch the procedures on television screens outside the sterile operating room.

"This is a chance for us to educate people on what veterinarians do," said Dr. Jim West, manager of the Animal Learning Center and director of Food Supply Veterinary Medicine.

For many, this will a rare chance to see an event that was once common for everyone in Iowa, said West.

"We're a farm state but 90 percent of our people - especially kids - haven't seen live births," he said.

If last year's numbers are any indication, Iowans are eager to see live births. More than 300,000 people visited the exhibit last year, according to West.

When a birth is about to occur, West said members of last year's audience would wait up to three hours to see it.

For the animals, veterinarians and students, the process takes months.

"It takes a lot of prior planning," said West. "You've got to breed the cattle nine months ahead, and the sheep five months ahead, and the goats five months ahead so they'll be born when you want them."

West thinks they've timed it well enough this year that there will be at least one baby goat, sheep and piglet born every day at the fair.

Calves are harder to predict, but there should be several born during the fair, West said.

"I've been in veterinary practice since 1971," he said. "I couldn't count the number of foals (baby horses) and lambs and calves I've delivered. And yet, every time it's still exciting to me, so I know it's exciting to others."

The new surgical area also gives veterinarians a chance to educate the audience.

"With the new surgical suite, it gives us a chance to talk about controlling the pet population and how important that is," he said.

Members of the Iowa Veterinary Medical Association will volunteer at the center and explain to the audience what they are seeing.

The Paul R. Knapp Animal Learning Center building is just east of the midway.