Local animal group asks state fair to end live animal birthing | TheUnion.com

Local animal group asks state fair to end live animal birthing

California State Fair officials are reviewing their policy on having live birth exhibits after a Nevada County animal welfare group brought pressure to eliminate the 37-year practice.

Nevada County does not have such exhibits, and the much-loved display of nursing sows and their piglets will continue, local fair officials said.

Police fatally shot a pregnant cow at the state fair in July. The cow, expected to give birth at the fair, escaped while on its way to the nursery barn – an area where animal births are showcased to the public in an enclosed ring.

She charged a number of people and eventually was shot after rescuers made several attempts to recapture the animal. Security personnel did not have tranquilizer guns available at the scene.

Officials at Animal Place, a Grass Valley-area farm animal rescue group, are calling for the fair to end its tradition of displaying live animal births.

“What they do is take heavily pregnant animals, put them in an arena and have them give birth where people can come and gawk,” said Marji Beach, education manager at the 600-acre McCourtney Road facility. “We think it’s a huge animal welfare issue. The animals are very agitated. … The dangers to the animals far outweigh any small educational value.”

Fair officials are considering changes. Though they see the live birthing exhibit as an important educational tool, eliminating it is one option, May said.

“A lot of people say it’s one of their favorite exhibits each year,” said Brian May, Deputy General Manager of Cal Expo, the Sacramento event center which hosts the fair. “They see it as an opportunity to show their children animal birthing, and how it fits into California’s agriculture industry.”

Officials met “last Monday to review matters regarding animal welfare,” May added. “We’re committed to evaluating the live birthing exhibit and are considering options from reducing the live birthing exhibit to eliminating it.”

The fair consults with officials from the University of California, Davis, veterinary teaching program in regard to the live birthing exhibit, May said. Pregnant animals are brought in daily by UC Davis students for the birthing exhibits.

Live births aren’t a planned part of the Nevada County Fair, said CEO Sandy Woods.

“On occasion it happens,” Woods said. “Every year, though, we’ll bring in a sow with piglets.”

Sows – female pigs – are housed in tight pens which restrict them from turning around, a practice Beach views as inhumane, she said.

But the pens serve a very important purpose, said Grass Valley swine farmer Eldon Cyrus. Cyrus provides a sow and piglets from his farm each year for an exhibit at the Nevada County Fair, though the piglets are birthed at his home farm.

“It’s very tight quarters for the mom, but it actually keeps her from crushing her babies,” Cyrus said. “If she can get to a place where she can lean against a wall, she’ll crush the baby pigs. … Farmers have been doing this for a long time. We know what we’re doing.”

To contact Staff Writer Kyle Magin, e-mail kmagin@theunion.com or call (530) 477-4239.

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