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Show and tell at the fair

The Royal Manitoba Winter Fair put on a real push to educate an urban audience on agriculture

Most people will never live a day in the life of a veterinarian.

But for a booth tucked into the most kid-focused corner of the Royal Manitoba Winter Fair the goal was to give attendees just a taste of it and provide a little practical ag education while they’re at it.

At one table, staff and veterinary students from the Western College of Veterinary Medicine demonstrate bandaging procedure. To the side, a fuzz-covered box with a hole at the end uses stuffed animals to simulate lambing. Across the aisle, a backlit X-ray reader is bedecked with old X-ray images of hooves and legs, while plastic models give a life-size look at what’s below the skin and a display of common parasites earns mixed reactions of fascination and disgust.

The booth is just one in the fair’s “Royal Farm Yard,” looking to connect with the public.

Why it matters: Most kids will never have to know how to bandage a horse’s leg in daily life, but booths like the one at the Royal Manitoba Winter Fair seek to get kids hands on and more knowledgeable about ag in general.

“It really makes a good fit for us because we can talk to the kids about animal health, which is a huge aspect of the agriculture industry, and it doesn’t matter if they’re from the city or from the country, we can kind of modify it to explain some of the things that happen,” said Myrna MacDonald, who works in communications for the college.

Myrna MacDonald (right), communications staff with the Western College of Veterinary Medicine, gives fair attendees a look at farm animals below the skin, their common injuries and how veterinarians treat them. The Royal Manitoba Winter Fair ran in Brandon March 25-30.
photo: Alexis Stockford

She says WCVM represents all three Prairie provinces, making the fair a prime opportunity to reach out to the public at large.

“It’s to do extension, public extension and ag awareness,” she said.

The fair’s efforts at ag awareness are hardly new, nor should it be surprising to anyone attending events put on by the Provincial Exhibition of Manitoba. The exhibition has built itself around bridging the gap between urban and rural populations, and ag education has long been a staple of events like the Royal Manitoba Winter Fair, Ag Ex and, although perhaps to a lesser degree, the Manitoba Summer Fair.

Those attending the Royal Manitoba Winter Fair can expect to get close to animals — an experience that ranges from watching draft horses getting kitted out with braids and shined harnesses to holding rabbits in the petting zoo.

Likewise, the Royal Farm Yard has become standard fare for Manitoba’s different agriculture groups. Producer groups from pork to chickens and dairy have long held displays at the venue, along with groups like the Western College of Veterinary Medicine.

It’s a far cry from a decade ago, when the exhibition first introduced things like the Ag Action Stage, an additional show ring devoted to agricultural outreach such as farrier demonstrations and cattle clinics.

Christine Gundrum (left) and her daughter Angela get a course in X-ray diagnoses, courtesy of the Western College of Veterinary Medicine. The veterinary college was one of several booths centred around ag education at Brandon’s Royal Manitoba Winter Fair March 25-30.
photo: Alexis Stockford

“When we started that area, it was a situation where we had to ask and beg people and groups to go on there and make presentations, not just to promote their own part in the industry but just to promote agriculture in general,” fair co-chair Wayne Buhr said. “I mean, our stands were partially full most of the time. We’re finding now that we’re turning down people who want to be on the Ag Action Stage, because they want to promote their part of the industry, and the stands are full.”

Public interest

For the students manning the veterinarian booth, the questions are wide ranging. Many, according to one student, Anna Henderson, have been interested in basic anatomy. The college raided its simulation lab for anatomic models, usually used as classroom teaching aids.

“Sometimes people are looking at the reproductive organs and they don’t realize that they’re reproductive organs, and they thought that was a stomach, so that’s kind of interesting. It’s like, no, it’s a uterus,” the second-year student from Winnipeg said.

In some cases, topics are deeper. The conversation might veer towards vaccination programs or deworming, the finer details of damage from specific parasites or details of the veterinary college itself.

“They’re just generally pretty curious about the program itself and the specifics of how you get in,” another second-year student, Heather Waddell of Shoal Lake, said.

“Mostly here we’re just getting kids curious about the specimens and wanting to get their hands on the bandaging,” she said.

Six-year-old Starlit Rystephanuk of Brandon gets hands on at the Western College of Veterinary Medicine booth at the 2019 Royal Manitoba Winter Fair.
photo: Alexis Stockford

And yes, some of those questions are about animal welfare, a topic that has emerged in producer groups and across the industry as discussions around public trust, consumer preference and social responsibility.

Their veterinary students may be called to talk about national codes of practice and the veterinarian’s role in making sure those codes are enforced, MacDonald said, although she noted that the Royal Manitoba Winter Fair does draw a more farm-oriented crowd than some events.

“Plus too, it’s a different atmosphere because you’ve got a lot of multi-generational groups coming,” she added. “You have the grandparents who farmed, you have the parents, maybe, who are in Winnipeg, but they’ve come home to come to the fair, and then you have the kids who have maybe grown up in the city, but they’ve gone out to their grandparents’ farm. So you’ve got that mix. And then you’ve got kids who are living on the farm. They’re 4-H or they’re involved with agriculture, so it’s a really great mix.”

The Royal Manitoba Winter Fair ran from March 25-30.

About the author

Reporter

Alexis Stockford is a journalist and photographer with the Manitoba Co-operator. She previously reported with the Morden Times and was news editor of  campus newspaper, The Omega, at Thompson Rivers University in Kamloops, BC. She grew up on a mixed farm near Miami, Man.

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