CROWN POINT — There’s just something magical about the way babies can connect with each other — even if they’re from two different species.
When Sophia Johnson’s wandering eyes caught Dexter’s in the Dairy Barn, the little 2-year-old immediately fell in love with the new-born calf.
“Baby cow! Hi baby!” the Crown Point toddler shouted, while pointing to the stall where the baby was being cared for by its mother. The bull was brand new to the world, having been born at 6 a.m. Monday.
Sophia’s been to the zoo before, but her mom, Leah Johnson, said coming to the fair for the first time was a whole new experience for the curious explorer.
“She’s old enough now to where she knows the animals names and the noises they make, so she gets excited when she gets to see them in person rather than inside of her books,” Leah said. “She really loves these animals.”
This year was the first time fair officials offered the “Mooternity Ward,” a livestock nursery in the Dairy Barn. Previously, piglets and lambs had been featured, but this year’s nursery also includes new-born cattle and sheep.
A family of dairy farmers from Winamac, Indiana, oversees the livestock nursery at the fair.
Tina Knebel spent Monday walking around the barn, welcoming fair-goers to the space while monitoring the animals and answering questions. She said her family travels around the country from Texas to New York to local fairs in an effort to “bridge the gap between the consumer and the producer.”
“We want to show them a little piece of the farm. It gives everyone an idea of what’s going on back there and gives them an opportunity to talk to the farmer, ask questions,” Knebel said. “And (the nursery) also shows where everything starts out at. With the birth of this calf, that’s what starts her milk production and that’s how you get that gallon of milk at the grocery store.”
Knebel said having an open space for fair-goers to come learn about the animals and their treatment first-hand also helps clear up some misconceptions and negative stereotypes some may have of the farming community.
After undercover investigators with Animal Recovery Mission released video footage of alleged animal abuse happening at Fair Oaks Farms in Newtown County, Knebel said many dairy farmers came under fire by consumers and “trust was broken.”
Fair Oaks employees were shown kicking, body slamming and striking calves with branding irons or steel rods, in what ARM officials billed as "the largest undercover dairy investigation of all time." Workers were seen abusing adult cows during the milking process, as well as using drugs and disposing of animals' dead bodies on company property.
“We’re not like that,” Knebel said. “People don’t just take anything for granted nowadays. They want information. That’s great! That’s what we are here for. Get your information from a farmer.”
The “Mooternity Ward” is open to explore every day until Saturday from noon to 10 p.m.
Visitors are encouraged to stop by the new nursery as there may be some opportunities to watch new calves being born, said Arlene Marcinek, the Lake County Fair secretary. Four cattle from E.J. Dairies of Crown Point are expecting this week.
“We are so urban so a lot of people in our area don’t normally see calves or even horses. Dogs and cats are about the only animals that they interact with,” Marcinek said in a previous Times report. “You don’t learn everything in school or from a book. This is life practices that are hands on where people can learn and see where their food comes from. You know, without farmers there is no food.”
Gates to the Lake County Fair, which run through Sunday, open at 9 a.m. daily.