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On opening day of Florida State Fair, all eyes are on the Mooternity Ward

Published February 9, 2007


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, from 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.

At the third hour, No. 319 lies down. The crowd snaps pictures with 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.

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

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 one of the 2007 Florida State Fair is a boy. His name is 3384.

Helen Anne Travis can be reached at 661-2439 or

Fast Facts:


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 to the fair costs $10 for ages 12 and over, $5 for ages 6-11. Ride tickets cost $1, and rides take two to four tickets. Visit

[Last modified February 9, 2007, 01:15:15]

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