Most visitors to the N.C. State Fair need a ticket to get in. For animals, their ticket in to the fair is a visit with Dr. Carol Woodlief and her team of veterinary medical officers.
Woodlief works for the N.C. Department of Agriculture, and for most of the year she monitors livestock markets and horse sales in 20 counties in central North Carolina as a visiting field veterinarian.
But when the N.C. State Fair is in town, Woodlief’s responsibilities shift to the animals who are being shown each day by farmers and ranchers from throughout the state. Each animal brought to the fair must first be checked by Woodlief or a member of her team to make sure they don’t have any health issues that could spread to other animals or to people. This Friday, for example, Woodlief and her team will inspect roughly 1,000 dairy goats being brought to the fair.
“We’re looking for big, obvious conditions,” Woodlief said last week as she prepared for the opening of the fair. “It’s kind of like an assembly line. Everybody knows to come see us.”
If they detect a problem, such as signs of ringworm, Woodlief’s team will place the animal in isolation until the problem is resolved. They also do periodic checks through the stalls, pens and trailers in case animals develop any problems once they are at the fair. Woodlief says it’s like taking a child to day care, and that the animal’s immune system can be weakened by the stress of movement and being in new surroundings.
“If a problem comes up, we’re here to assist,” she says.
Woodlief, who graduated from the College of Veterinary Medicine in 1994, has been working at the fair since 1995. Having grown up on a small family farm herself, Woodlief enjoys spending time with the families who show animals at the fair. She particularly enjoys seeing the kids who take part, noting that many of them are carrying on longtime family traditions of participating at the fair.
Which brings us to one of Woodlief’s other duties at the fair. She collects urine samples from all the market champions (as well as a random selection of animals) to check for drugs. One year, that meant that Woodlief had to wait for eight hours by a pig’s side — along with the 7-year-old girl who had shown the champion pig — to collect a sample of urine to be tested. Woodlief was eventually successful, but she continues to be the subject of some good-natured ribbing about her efforts to collect pee from a pig.
Despite all the talk about pigs and their pee, we still asked Woodlief if she had any favorite fair foods after all her years there. She mentioned two — deep fried cookie dough and a calzone from a concessions stand run by “John the Greek.”
But she tries to wait until the fair is almost over to indulge.
“That way,” she says, “I’m not tempted to go back.”