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Hands-on display brings calving to life

Giving birth 10 to 12 times a day can’t be easy on a cow, but Canadian Western Agnes did just that for a whole week during Agribition.

Agnes is the calving simulator owned by Canadian Western Agribition and the Western College of Veterinary Medicine.

She is a life-size, anatomically correct two-year-old Hereford heifer with her own pedigree: her sire is Canadian Western Alastair and her dam is West Ceilidh Victoria Mae.

She debuted at Agribition after arriving from the manufacturer just days before the show began and immediately became a hit.

Young and old watched as vet college staff demonstrated how people sometimes have to help calves into the world.

Volunteers from the audience were allowed to pull the calf, wipe it off and milk Agnes, since she also has a working udder.

“The calf is a silicone based rubber type structure,” said Carolyn Cartwright, a registered veterinary technologist who manages the college’s BJ Hughes Centre for Clinical Learning.

“The calf is weighted so it’s not just a Jello bag. It has reinforcement in the legs so that we can pull the calf without injuring it.

“It’s very naturally weighted. This calf is weighing about 50 pounds. The normal calf would weigh a little more, but also the cow would help us.”

Cartwright said there are misconceptions about the use of chains during calving, and she and others spent a lot of time at Agribition talking about why and when they are used.

She said it was a valuable opportunity to teach the public.

Most importantly, Agnes will be used at the veterinary college to educate students.

“She will live with us for most of the year except for the week of Agribition,” Cartwright said.

“She will be used by first to fourth year veterinary students, as well we may use her for some of the interns and residents for malpresentation on the calving training.”

Students will learn what to do when calves are backward or have legs in the wrong positions. They can practice without fear of being challenged by a stressed mother.

Agnes isn’t the only simulation model used at the vet college. There are also suture calves and an equine colic model.

“We have SynDaver, which is a new technology,” Cartwright said.

“We’re the first in Canada, and we just received those 10 dogs last week.”

SynDaver surgical dogs allow students to repeatedly operate. They are so realistic they even bleed and breathe.

Cartwright said the models help the students gain confidence before they progress to live animals.

Live animals are required for some procedures, but she said the college is trying to perform fewer invasive procedures on its teaching animals through the use of models.

Agribition wanted to partner with the vet college to bring more education to the show, and Agnes was born as a result. She cost about $50,000.

“She is a pricey heifer, but compared to some of the heifers at the show here at Agribition, she’s not really all that high,” Cartwright said with a smile.

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