Fairs are for kids

Jessica Reitz

Photo By Chrisanne Beckner

Jessica Reitz has graduated from 4-H to veterinary school and now spends a couple of her summer weeks educating children at the California State Fair about the interrelationship between people and farm animals. We found her in a pen full of hay, scratching the chests of two exuberant 4-day-old baby goats while the big-bellied mother watched from nearby.

What kind of goats are these?

They’re bore goats, and they’re from South Africa, and they’re raised for meat.

You have the mother and the kids?

Yes, the doe and two kids. They were born August 16.

Were you here for the birth?

Yes, I was, actually. It was fine. Goats and sheep are great. They don’t need a whole lot of assistance a lot of the time. You just let it come. You check to make sure the kids are coming out feet first. They come out kind of in the Superman position [stretches arms forward]. And then [the doe] just has them, and she starts licking them off, cleaning them. They start standing within 20 minutes to an hour. And they actually just go and start nursing.

Are they born fully functional?

Yeah, they really are. They sometimes are a little thin. They’re born with their eyes and ears open. They have all their fur. The mom will lick them, and they’ll just sort of fluff up. They’re only 4 days old now, and they’re playing king of the mountain and kind of bouncing all over the place.

How does the mom feel about having them out here in public?

She gets a little nervous at times when I pick them up and they’re being handled. But she’s doing a really good job. She’s caring for them really well. She’s healthy. She’s bright and alert. The babies are both gaining weight and doing really well. So, it seems like everything’s going right.

Where does the doe live when she’s not at the fair?

She lives at the [UC Davis] goat facility right there on campus.

Was she raised specifically for breeding? Or for food?

I’m not sure exactly. I assume she was raised for breeding since she is here and she was bred to a nice buck. So, I believe she’s just kept in the herd as a breeding doe.

She looks very round.

It’s just her breed. The bore breed itself, since they are raised for meat, they’re shorter. They’re a little more muscular. But the goats, along with sheep and cows, are ruminant animals, which means they have a four-chambered stomach, basically. And what’s taking up most of all that space that you see is rumen. So, it’s going to be where all the liquid is and the food that starts getting digested there. It’s just a big sack part of the stomach.

Are you out here talking about the goats every day?

Yes. Sometimes we’re with the cows, the pigs, the sheep.

How did you become a representative at the fair?

I’m entering my second year as a vet student at UC Davis, and we have the option to come out here and work for the fair and help people realize what these farm animals do and how they’re raised and how they kind of play into our lives. … I grew up doing 4-H, so to get the opportunity to work with kids again, and to do what I saw adults doing when I was a little kid, I thought would be a really fun way to contribute back to society.

And what do the children think?

Everybody seems to love them. Everybody wants to pet the little babies. You hear little kids go, “Oh, doggies!” So, it’s really fun. I don’t think a lot of people are exposed to goats and sheep and cows on a regular basis, or the piglets, which are so popular.

Do you want to work with farm animals?

Yeah, I want to do food animals.

Why did you decide to go to vet school?

I like the interaction with the producers and the farmers and the workers who are working on all the farms or working on the dairies. It’s a very fulfilling feeling, and I like feeling like I’m a part of food welfare: keeping food safe, keeping the animals safe, because vets play a whole role in that.