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An eternity for mooternity

After four hours of labor, a cow gives birth to a healthy calf to help kick off the State Fair.

By HELEN ANNE TRAVIS
Published February 9, 2007


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photo
[Times photo: Skip O'Rourke]
Bunky Boger checks on a male calf just seconds after its birth at 3:23 p.m. Thursday on the opening day of the Florida State Fair. Fairgoers could watch calves, goats and chickens being born in the barn, with the calf being the most popular.

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TAMPA

The shouts of game vendors give way to rooster's crows. The aroma of fried onions is overpowered by the smell of hay and manure.

Signs in English and Spanish welcome guests to the 2007 Florida State Fair's petting zoo. It's opening day.

A cow kicks and wobbles in a raised pen at the rear of the exposition. The tags in her ears read 319, and she is ready to give birth.

Richard and Jane Meredith of Davenport sit on the cold bleachers Thursday morning watching the cow. Richard gave up farming 15 years ago, he's watched this happen many times. But Jane has never seen a calf born. The couple has been waiting for an hour.

No. 319 stares at the families admiring the yak and baby chicks. She rubs her haunch against the metal wires of her pen's fence. The contractions are coming closer together.

Children on field trips, their polo shirts all matching, sip on soda and watch the Holstein's black and cream sides heave. They lose interest, pet some goats and leave for the midway.

It's been two hours for the Merediths.

At the third hour, No. 319 lies down. Her breathing is heavy and there's a layer of foam at her mouth. Spectators with cotton candy join the Merediths, slipping into the empty spaces around the couple. The crowd snaps pictures with their cell phones of the hoof that has appeared out of the cow's backside.

It's No. 319's first calf. This could take a while.

More than 100 people now stand in the bleachers, the crowd stretches back as far as the water buffalo pen. Richard Meredith, 63, slips his arm around his wife's waist. All eyes are on 319.

Joe and Danny Aprile swish their boots through the piles of hay behind the pen. The Apriles own a diary farm in Riverview and No. 319 belongs to them.

At one point, the Apriles owned the largest dairy farm in Hillsborough County. If they had a dollar for every time they saw a calf born, they'd be rich men. They have five pregnant cows in the fair's Mooternity Ward.

The farmers talk about all that could go wrong. The calf could be upside down or stillborn. Once Joe saw a two-headed calf.

But this baby seems fine. By now two feet are poking out. No. 319 gets up and lies back down. She is on her right side. Her left front and back legs poke straight in the air. Her eyes are wide.

Push, a sympathetic woman from the audience calls.

Ordinarily 319 would give birth in a pasture, alone.

"This is probably better," said Roland Ripley, who oversees the fair's animals. "You can watch and assist if needed."

No. 319 needs the assistance, she's taking too long.

Her moos draw sighs and grimaces from the audience. Chains are wrapped around the calf's feet and in seconds a baby cow the size of a large dog is lying on the hay. Its white and black sides are wet.

The crowd cheers. Cameras flash. Jane Meredith smiles. She's been waiting for this for four hours.

The first calf born on Day 1 of the 2007 Florida State Fair is a boy. His name is 3384.

Helen Anne Travis can be reached at 813 661-2439 or htravis@sptimes.com.

If you go

The 2007 Florida State Fair runs through Feb. 19. Gates open at 9 a.m. The midway opens at 11 a.m. on weekdays, noon on weekends. Gates are scheduled to close at 9 p.m., but may stay open as late as 11 p.m. on weekdays, midnight on weekends. Entry costs $10 for ages 12 and older, $5 for ages 6-11. Ride tickets cost $1; rides take two to four tickets. Visit www. floridastatefair.com.

[Last modified February 9, 2007, 06:11:18]


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