The White River Valley Herald

Fair Bolsters Biosecurity Safeguards

The livestock check-in procedure was different at the Tunbridge World’s Fair this year. The animals arriving on trailers were checked on the trailers by a group of vet tech students from Vermont Technical College. The students experienced using RFID (radio frequency identification) readers on the cattle, oxen, steer, and comparing the ear tags to the paperwork, to confirm the animals vaccination status. The animal’s overall health was checked when the animal was off the trailer and prior to entering the stall.

This was Dr. Taylor Hull’s first year as veterinarian for the Tunbridge World’s Fair. Hull, who grew up in Royalton and was trained at The University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada, says the origin of the fair’s improved bio-safety procedures was “a group effort.” Hull and Amanda Williams, a long time fair exhibitor and the program technician at the vet tech department at VTC, along with the superintendents, were instrumental in “stepping up our game,” as Hull put it, in order to bring the best possible health safety for the animals staying at the fairgrounds.

Amanda Williams, who has been exhibiting Jersey cows at the fair since she was six or seven years old, is now a certified veterinary technician, and an alumna of VTC. She said she had the idea of providing a hands-on learning experience for students by doing health checks back in 2017, when she started her job at VTC.

VTC offers a two-year vet tech program leading to an associates degree, after which the students take the National Vet Tech exam. Twenty-two second year VTC students ranging in age from about 18 to their mid-20s, helped Hull, Williams, and the superintendents with the livestock health checks.

Williams noted the students enjoyed themselves learning and observing firsthand animals with a range of non-contagious conditions. For example, sheep with long tails that were not docked, or a steer that did not have ears due to a previous healed injury.

Jennifer Thygesen, dairy superintendent, admitted to being “a little nervous before the check-in day that a lot of trailers would arrive all at once and things might take more time to work through. But with exhibitors arriving at different times all throughout the day, the process went pretty quickly and smoothly.”

Thygesen also appreciated the “teachable moments” with the VTC students, connecting the educational aspect of this learning experience to the educational mission of the Tunbridge World’s Fair. Thygesen said the VTC students were quizzed on cattle breeds, exposed to conditions they had not seen before, and coincidentally, triplets were born on Thygesen’s farm the day before, and the students were made aware of what a rare occurrence that was.

Ingrid Van Steamburg, Tunbridge World’s Fair office worker, said, “It made sense. This way, checking the animals on the trailers, it’s a little safer. Not getting the animals in the barn and then checking them.”

Steamburg brought four Holstein dairy cows to exhibit at the fair, noting, “It did take a little longer, but not that much longer.”

Mark Whitney, superintendent of oxen and steers, said, “Before, the papers were checked after the animals arrived. Now, there is no interaction between animals from different farms prior to being checked.”

“It is a really great partnership with the Tunbridge World’s Fair and the Vermont Technical College program,” he added. “Without the VTC students, it would not have gone as smoothly. The students used this experience as a lab, where they got real world experience. It was really, really good.”

According to Scott Waterman, policy and communications director at the State of Vermont Agency of Agriculture Food and Markets, each fair operates a little bit differently, but all under state regulations.

Dr. Kate Levine, assistant state veterinarian, pointed out the document (on the agency website) “Animal Health Information for Vermont Fairs, Field Days, and Festivals” which outlines requirements and recommendations. The overall requirement is that each livestock animal have an official identification tag. Depending on what species of livestock (cattle, horse, sheep, pig, camelid), the requirements for vaccinations might be different.

When asked how the cows felt about the new check-in process, Thygesen replied, “Well, I’m not a cow, so I can’t speak for them. But from what I saw they seemed calm, but eager to get off the trailer and get something to eat!”