Our last cow in the study finally calved on June 25th. We rejoiced when we heard the news given that we had expected all our calves to be born before June 11th. However late, we are glad the little bugger arrived alive and healthy. I’m amazed at how big and strong some of our first calves have become. Taking the girth and height measurements on these calves have become quite a rodeo show!
One of the most enjoyable parts of returning to the farms each week is visiting with the farmers. One of our farmers, Grace, calls Jen and I her adopted children. When we were there last she invited us into her home and as we shared a cup of tea she showed us pictures of her children and told us all about her family. She insisted we return on a Saturday when they come to visit her so we could meet them. I certainly think that would be a pleasant experience.
This last week we have also started introducing a topic such as lameness, proper milking technique, parasite control, etc… with each farm visit we do. We present each farmer with some basic information, address any question they may have on the topic and then leave them with a fact sheet summarizing what we have discussed. This week we decided to discuss lameness with our farmers because one of our cows is currently lame due to cracked rear hooves and at least 2/3 of all our other cows have very long toes. When the cows hooves become overgrown it shifts the cow’s weight onto the heel and makes it very uncomfortable for the cow to stand and walk. As a result they tend to eat less and their milk yield decreases. Long toes also lead to more rapid erosion of the heel area, causing lameness. On a number of our farms the cows also stand
in very wet and mucky conditions all day long and this can cause the hoof to become soft and easier for bacteria to penetrate into, causing infectious lameness. Many of the farmers were very interested in the topic and eager to learn of ways to prevent lameness in their cows.
Of course we’ve encountered a few more hurdles in the last two weeks as well. First off, due to some communication error it seems that all the blood samples we collected and spun from our calves ended up being moved from the freezer to the fridge last week. In consequence all the sample dethawed and have now been refrozen. We are hoping that this did not damage our samples and that the parameters we wish to analyse will be not be affected.
Aside from the lab complications we’ve also had a few more car troubles (poor Fredrick!). On Monday of last week it seems that Fredrick’s car yet again had a few difficulties climbing some hills, resulting in a good deal of exercise for the day. On last Tuesday Fredrick’s car managed to survive the roads but when I emerged from the third farm of the day I found three men huddled around the driver’s door with a wire rod jammed through the window trying to fish the keys from inside the car. I must say I was quite impressed with their dexterity and how
efficiently they manuvered the keys out and up through the window to unlock the car for us. Wednesday made it three days in a row. Everything was going well until we came across a patch of road construction. For a half kilometre stretch men along the side of the road were spreading huge piles of broken rocks onto the road. I was concerned as soon as we started making our way through- we bounced every which way and Fredrick was vigorously jostling the steering wheel back and forth to find the best path. We made it ¾ of the way through and I was beginning to think there had been no reason to worry but then two cars starting coming up the road from the opposite side. The roads are
quite narrow to begin with and with the larger rocks accumulating on the borders of the road the only safe area to drive was down the middle. However rather waiting for us to make it through the last bit of the construction they motored their way up to where we were and then could not get by. They tried to pass and could not so they insisted we back up and move further over to the side. Good natured Fredrick decided to try it their way and instead we ended up in the ditch. Meanwhile the two cars we moved for passed by and continued on their way. When Fredrick tried to drive the car back onto the road there was a horrible grinding and clanking noise and instead we ended up stuck on the pile of rock. Fredrick got out of the car and bent down to assess the situation. He called to all the construction workers and they dropped their shovels, came over and literally lifted the back end and the front end of the car back into the middle of the road! Since then we have had no further roadside adventures so maybe we have reached our quota for now.
With the project running smoothly Jen and I have also taken the opportunity to explore a bit of the country. We took a weekend trip to Lake Naivasha where we climbed Mt. Longonot, toured the gorge in Hell’s Gate national Park, took a boat ride along the lakeshore, saw hippos
and walked amongst the animals on crescent island (and almost got kicked by a zebra we were so close!)! It was a phenomenal trip!
We also ventured into the capital city of Nairobi and bartered our way through Masi market. The market was vast and colourful. We spent the better part of day there and I’m sure we only made it though half of the stalls. We also made it out to the Sheldrick Elepahnt orphanage and the Giraffe center. I can now truthfully say that I have touched a baby elephant and kissed a giraffe!
That’s all for now!
Since my last post Jen and I did manage to enrol all the remaining farms before the end of June for a total of 36 farms. It was a very busy and exciting week. Oftentimes we found ourselves driving from one corner of the region to another as we visited new farms, returned to farms that had calved and revisited farms that had already calved previously. We certainly gained a great deal of clinical experience performing yet more physical exams and withdrawing jugular blood samples from all the newborn calves. Since neither Jen nor I have had much experience with the technique before it was awkward and frustrating at first to hold off the vein while manuveering the needle into a comfortable position to hit he vein. However, with patience, and help from the farmers to restrain the calf, we became very proficient and for the last few calves it took us only one attempt. Once I even had an audience of 15 children peering over my shoulder as we collected the sample. That time there were a number of gasps when the needle was inserted and the vacuum container filled with blood. Eventually these blood samples will be sent off to a lab and tested for plasma protein and selenium concentration. It is theorised that failure of passive transfer of immunoglobulins is a large contributing factor to high pre-weaning calf mortality rates here. Unfortunately we experienced a couple such mortalities in our study. We sadly have lost four of our calves despite our best efforts – two perished within hours of birth while the remaining two were weak from the beginning, one being a month premature and the other having a very sick mother during gestation. While it represents a complication for the project I feel the greater concern here is the loss to the farmer. As for many of them these animals make up their livelihood I can only imagine the disappointment they must feel. Hopefully, we will not encounter any more deaths over the course of the project.
Fortunately there have been some successes to balance out the misfortunes. For a number of our farms the milk production is increasing up to 20L (for Kenyans cows this is a very good yield). In addition a number of the farmers have taken our recommendations regarding cow comfort and housing to heart and have made improvements to their structures- cleaning them out, providing dry bedding and adjusting stall parameters to match the cow’s requirements. It is rewarding to see such efforts being made towards improvement and I commend these farmers for their hard work and dedication.
In more cheerful news Jen and I have now been joined by Silvia and Pauline from the University of UPEI. Pauline is a third year student enrolled in the veterinary program and Silvia is a graduate student who will in fact be using the data we collect for her master’s project. It seems that the University of Nairobi has the only veterinary program in Kenya, although that could change in the next couple of years. We are curious to hear more about how their veterinary program compares to our own and to share experiences with them in the field. We are glad to have them both as part of the project and as roommates at the house. They provide wonderful company and their skill and knowledge has been invaluable thus far both on the farm and in terms of getting around and getting to know Kenya.
So far we have had quite a few little adventures on the farms and in between. For instance just this week we encountered a bit of car trouble on the way to one of our farms. One of the taxi drivers we have been using, Fredrick, is perhaps the sweetest and most content individual I know but his car is quite the character; it must be at least 30-40 years old and looks like it’s had a few rough times. Furthermore it is a standard. Given the uneven and bumpy roads here I am amazed the car has survived this long. Anyways one of the farms Pauline and I visited this week was at the bottom of a big hill. Once we finished we climbed into the vehicle and Fredrick made a gentle attempt to climb the hill. We made it only about halfway and at that point the car puttered to a stop. We put it in neutral and slid back down. Then Fredrick shifted up a couple gears, revved the engine, floored the gas pedal and we tore up the hill for the second time. This time we made it about 2/3 of the way before we lost momentum and all upwards progress. Again we put the car in neutral and backed down the hill. I was sure the third time would do it as we backed an extra 100m to gain more speed but yet again after a mad dash the car just couldn’t manage the ascent. Pauline and I climbed out of the car to try and push it up the remaining 200m but the car would not budge! Five strangers walking along the road noticed our struggle and put down their bundles to throw their weight against the car as well. Still it would not move! Fredrick decided to try one more time climbing up the hill without us in it. So we watched him back up yet again, heard the roar of the engine and watched his poor car bump and bounce up the slope. This time he made it! However as Pauline and I approached the car to get back in we could not help but notice that the exhaust pipe was hanging little lose from the rear end. When we finished at the next farm Fredrick was closing the hood of his car and wouldn’t you know it, but the exhaust can was sitting in the back! Poor car…
Another of our farms is also located at the bottom of a hill bordered by a school yard. Don’t worry Fredrick’s car did not suffer any further abuse on this hill. Rather Jen and I had a rather unique experience. This last week as we finished our work and climbed the hill back to the car the children from the school were at recess. Whenever Jen and I go out we are often the subjects of curious looks from children who often giggle and whisper as we pass by or shout “muzungo” and wave energetically. Anyways as we climbed the hill, I waved to a group of children and shouted a greeting before turning to take a picture nearby. I heard shouting behind me and when I turned back around suddenly I was swarmed by a hundred children, smiling from ear to ear with hands extended and whispering “how are you”. I must have shaken at least 50 hands (some more than once) and exchanged many more greetings before we finally waved goodbye and ventured onto the next farm. Never before (and maybe never again) have I seen so many individuals so excited to meet me.
Last week Jen and I also ventured into the market of Murkurweini for the first time accompanied by Sylvia and Pauline. I thoroughly enjoyed the fresh air and exertion of the leisurely45 minute walk along the side of the road although I must say the cars oftentimes drive a little closer to the shoulder than I’d like. In fact it seems to be common practice here to drive wherever is most convenient on the road- whether that be on the opposite side or halfway into the shoulder! Anyways, we made it to town intact and strolled through the market, admiring the fresh fruit displays and sorting through piles of fabric and clothing. I think a good deal of the clothing is imported as I saw more than one familiar label such as Old Navy and Columbiana. I was very surprised to encountered winter jackets and toques amongst the mounds of clothing. They claim this 20-25 ᵒC weather is their cool season. Jen and I find are quite comfortable in t-shirts and capris but we cannot help but note the large number of children walking to school with wool toques and men on motorcycles in huge heavy jackets. How ironic would that be to buy my winter jacket and toque in Kenya!
We have also ventured into Karatina by local transport (matatu) for market day. One of our taxi drivers was telling me it is one of the largest outdoor markets in all of Africa (not sure how accurate that is). Pauline is form around Karatina so she was able to find us the best stores to gather supplies for the following week and then she took us through the market area. There certainly was a vast array of stalls displaying everything from clothing, to shoes, to electronics. Jen and I both bought a couple brightly coloured head scarves to wear on the farms. I think I’ll have to work on my bartering skills and my kukuyu before we return again though. When we grew tired of shopping and wandering around Pauline took us to visit a restaurant run by her brother. He warmly greeted us and welcomed us in. At first I was a little hesitant to order simply because I didn’t know how it was prepared and I feared that I might get sick afterwards. However the restaurant seemed very clean and respectable so Jen and I both ordered a meat pie. I must say it was delicious (for the record I did not get sick either!) and the the service was excellent. We will definitely be returning there before the summer is finished.
I think that about wraps it up for now,
Sorry I have been lacking from the site! Morgan and I have had topsy-turvy and very expensive internet access, so with more than one blog to maintain we’ve been trying to each post something to them but this site wasn’t giving me much luck, until, maybe, now? Hopefully you’ll here more from me in the future, here is my blog from a few weeks ago, so many blogs to post saved on my desktop but such little time!
After a few days of solid work, Morgan and I are beginning to feel much more like we can play the role we were sent here to fulfill vet-wise. Many of the things we do on a farm in the course of the day would not be skills we would even come close to mastering until 3rd or even 4th year, let alone get the chance to perform on an almost daily basis. Maureen and Jeff have been truly endless in their aid, wisdom and beyond anything else, way of making us feel as though we are not only capable of being quick studies but are also peers who simply need a refresher course. Quickly things are becoming second nature which were before the kind of thing you would have to kind of wing for a bit. For example, when an instructor would ask, “So you can here the heart beat?” and you would nod in agreement, even though you had tried every possible way of hearing it and were coming up with nothing, simply to not feel like a fool. Now we can not only hear the heart beat (well, except for the times when the cow is so covered in layers of mud or manure that no tool could chisel its way through, let alone amplify sound), but capable of performing a RUMBA as Maureen calls it, an exam where we focus on the most important features of a cow’s unique anatomy that are liable to fail or give need for veterinary care.
First you do the rumen, you press down hard on the left back end of the cow over the rumen with your stethoscope and try to hear three full rumen rotations, which sounds something like a thunderstorm as it fills and an ocean tide receding as it empties. Next the uterus, of course this involves a rectal exam, often in our case to confirm pregnancy, but here in Kenya we have the luxury of being able to feel quite a bit, given the lower than normal packing of the insides of the animal with fat. Most cows we have dealt with so far are not cycling, meaning their ovaries are very tiny, so if we can manage to first identify some landmarks like these, we can slowly begin to feel our way around and negotiate the rest. Children, who are often the inevitable onlookers to our visits, get a real kick out of this, especially upon entry, as to be fair to the cow you really need to lubricate your glove, which outside of the clinic, far from vet supply stores, means covering your glove in the the most fresh, moist manure you can find on the bottom of the pen. After this is complete, you move onto the next big anatomical site of concern, the mammary gland. As I am learning every cow’s udder feels different. Some have hard quarters and they all feel swollen and lumped together while others are soft and fairly supple. We are reassured that if one of the quarters were “hot” (a hallmark of Mastitis, a common sometimes subclinical but often in these kind of regions clinical to acute case of bacterial infection) we would be able to tell, but I will have just have to believe them on this one. One of the big struggles we face with this organ here in Kenya and really many places in the world is focused on the debate of how best to milk a cow. While stripping it roughly between your fingers seems to be the method most commonly used, it can cause serious and long term trauma to the teat canal within each teat, which can cause the teat to become compromised, allowing bacteria to invade easily and colonize. We (Farmers Helping Farmers) have produced various fact sheets addressing this issue, with small little drawings to demonstrate the method we recommend, but every cow seems to react differently to this stripping method. Some seem to suffer at its harshness while others are resigned to a more complacent attitude towards it. We try to lead by example the best we can, first pinching of the very end of the teat closet to the body with your thumb and forefinger, than slowly compressing the milk down the teat canal by systematically applying pressure with each finger until you draw with your pinky, although we cannot change everything, some compromises need to be made. The next thing to check is the bronchial tree, using your stethoscope and visually checking for signs of heaving or heavy breathing. You begin listening directly behind the scapula region and then move back in a line towards the end of the lungs, constantly going back to your first point of listening to have a means of comparison. As the lungs are pretty long in the cow, this is one of the longest parts of the exam really, and in my opinion, the most likely part for you to miss something. Every cow breathing sounds quite different, but the major thing to watch for is weird background noises (swishy water sounds) or being able to physically hear expiration (as it should be passive, hence, soundless). Last is the all allusive abomasum, a funny little organ that can become displaced and can be detected using the ping method. Literally listening with your stethoscope while you ping around it with your thumb and forefinger, listening for a higher pitched ping in return. The higher pitch is obtained by the abomasum being displaced, presenting an area of gas to fluid interphase, which resonates when you ping it. We have yet to hear anything of this nature yet but Maureen is dead set that if it was there, and we were able to hear it, it would be the kind of diagnostic tool (in this case, noise) you would never need to be taught again. It must be quite the sound to hear, so we hope (but also of course being animal lovers), hope not to hear. Of course we do a lot of other things before we let the cow off the hook and call it within normal limits, but enough of that for now.
Thursday came very quickly and all of the sudden we found ourselves being all too kindly invited to join our CIDA (one more time, Canadian International Development Agency) representative here at the Canadian High Commission in Nairobi, Melaine Boyd and her husband, along for a tour of some of the establishments and various organizations CIDA fully, or in part, helps support. While our travels for the next few days were many, I think it best for my counterparts who are posted in some of these organizations for the summer to speak to the nature of the programs much more deeply, so I have decided instead to present some poems and images with a bit of background which I wrote during this time. I will post them in the next blog along with an author’s note explaining the nature of the subject or what drove me to write it. I have decided to take some creative license with my poems, so they will be of various non-formal and formal forms, but for all those reading keep in mind I will sometimes be dealing with somewhat sensitive subject matters and because of the nature of my writing style, I will be sure to follow certain words choices etc. up with explanation to avoid any offence or confusion over my meaning. All writers kind of need this disclaimer, especially as I represent a few organizations and wouldn’t want there to be any mistakes understanding wise. Before I go for today, one story to recount from our travels at the end of this week.
We were asked to visit one of the smaller cooperative dairies we work with, Exlewa, and host an informational meeting/afternoon with some of the farmers who are members of the dairy. It was scheduled for eleven, a time I knew before we even left in the morning we would have no chance of meeting, and I was quite right. By the time we had finished with the Muchui Women’s group, visited a few schools, greenhouse operations and some other smaller venues, it was well past one o’clock before we rolled into the sleepy little town of Exlewa. Of course we were greeted with a lot of thanks, even though shortly after arriving we realized we had been keeping around thirty farmers waiting out in a field in the hot midday sun for over two hours. Even worse, somewhere along the line they had been lead to believe that we would be treating any sick animals, which of course we had not prepared for, so as we drove up to meet the farmers the street was lined with cows tied up or running lose, all waiting for hypothetical treatment even though we didn’t even have any medications on us. Sadly things proceeded to get worse both in regards to our feelings of guilt and also I imagine in the farmer’s feelings towards us (which of course was never outright displayed) as about ten minutes after we had opened up the floor for questions, a torrential downpour of rain began, sending everything living into hiding. No other venue could be arranged (one which could shield us all from the weather) so we were told, again pleasantly, to call it a day. Our drivers were extremely eager to get the heck out of this place, given that the roads are liable to flooding, although even referring to what happens to the roads here as flooding is a rather foolish understatement. Really what becomes of the road is more like a river and sure enough, we became caught up in it. Our car very slowly began to turn sideways and all of the sudden, regardless of how calm of driver Dominic was, our safari van was half flipped in the ditch. Quickly enough a little white car (presumably a 4-wheel drive) came rolling down the hill to rescue us, which subsequently ended up also sideways half flipped over in the ditch across from us. Shortly after, yet another vehicle came flying down the hill, which somehow managed to come to a halt in the middle of the road and as soon as it had stopped, about eight men poured out of it. Another 10-20 farmers were following the vehicle on foot and yet another dozen or more seemed to appear out of nowhere. They then attached a rope to the front of our car, which about a dozen or so men positioned themselves to haul on, while the rest of our rescuers got on the upside of the ditch hill and all at once, began to rock our van upwards. Rather quickly we were back upright and on the road, spinning down the hill, trying to swerve out of the way of other vehicles stuck. Finally we managed to get out of the town’s roadways and back onto the main road and all had a good laugh at how within one week in country we had already experienced one of what is considered the true Kenyan moments, which is being stuck in the mud exactly as we were. Who knows how many more “Kenyan moments” we will cross off of the potential list by the end of our time here, hopefully, many.
Back on the road, we stopped to confirm with Mrs. Boyd and her driver, who had been wiser than us, in addition to the fact that we had let them leave first, as they needed to be back to the embassy by dark ( a common thing here) which I highly doubt they were able to do. She had stopped on the side of the road to wait for us and seemed quite concerned, oddly, she was really the only one out of the entire party, both us and drivers, to be truly concerned, so we thanked her again for the trip and parted ways. We stayed on an additional night in Meru, a kind of crowded, dirty city really, but still alive with a lot of people. Meru is listed as one of the priority areas for the government aid wise, as it suffers from intense dry spells, which furthers the difficulty and poverty found in the region imposing upon constant life. Jennifer, our Meru godmother (she has opened her extensive house to us as an organization about 3-4 times a year for the last decade or so) was relieved to see us pull into the driveway, all be in, covering in mud, and as we sat out and had a lovely drink in her lawn, speaking of politics and what the new constitution ( a document discussed for a long period of time here in Kenya, but only finally granted last year) would mean in the coming year and the election in December. Carolyn, an education coordinator from PEI is concerned of the time overlap between the election and her students arriving, Jennifer is confident things will be ok but also is not blind to how long and difficult change in government can be (in any part of the world). Let’s hope for our peers coming here, or back here next year, things go well, only time will tell.
I’m off for now, look for my next postings soon, as I add this sentence to a blog made nearly 3 weeks ago now!
has been much longer than that. Due to some initial difficulties with internet, travel to other regions and a busy start to our project we’ve been unable to post until now. It would be impossible to do justice to the entire experience of the last two weeks (as that would take at least 20 pages or more) but I will do my best to summarise and highlight the key events:
Jeff and Maureen Witchel, professors from UPEI, joined up with us in Nairobi to supervise for the first two weeks and help get the project up and rolling. We will also be joined later on in the project by two students from the university of Nairobi; Sylvia and Pauline.
I suppose our stay become official on May 15 when we settled into the chairman’s house in Ichamara.. The house is more than I was expecting in terms of comfort- it is quite cozy and well equipped with a flushing toilet (though no toilet seat), a hot shower (granted the power is on) and plenty of space. All in all I think we’ll have a pleasant stay here. In fact we have caught ourselves referring to it as home a few times now.
We have also begun work on our project and have made excellent progress so far.
To avoid confusion later on perhaps I will provide a brief summary here of what our project involves. This summer we will be conducting a nutritional survey focusing on both cow and calf health in an effort to find the ideal combinations of the feeds available to these farmers. Ideal in the sense that it yields both healthier calves and cows. Healthier calves, will theoretically give rise to stronger and higher producing milking cows or heavier bull calves to sell. Healthier cows will theoretically produce more and better quality milk. Overall the benefit to the farmer will be increased income from enhanced milk production and calf growth.
For the project we will be enrolling members of the Wakulima dairy cooperative due to calve within our critical time period. The cow and calf from the farm will be randomised to 1 of 9 different nutritional groups consisting of 9 possible variations of 4 feeds. One is a dairy grain ration, one a calf starter mix, one a vitamin supplement and one simply milk straight from the mother cow to the calf. All of the feed for the treatment plans will be supplied to the farmers by Bora feeds( Bora means excellent in Swahili and is literally located 200 meters from our home at the Chairman’s) free of charge. So phase one of our project involves visiting each farm, gathering information (extensive information!) about the history of the cow currently pregnant, diet, health complications; you name it, we record it. Once we have gathered this info, we then do a complete physical exam on every cow on the farm, treating disease as we find it or have the means to. Those cows which will ultimately qualify for phase two of our study, must be confirmed pregnant and be determined to be expecting within the next few weeks. Phase two of our project will begin once the calf has been born. Weekly we will visit each farm for the next 60 days, doing physical exams on those cows and calves selected for the study and recording more info on how the feeding plan is going (seeing if it is being implemented as we have asked or if their are any problems etc.) and then eventually compiling all this data together, to see which feeds are most cost effective in terms of growth and production. Next year, the study will be done on an even larger scale, hopefully following what we have found to be the best treatment plan (or, if need be a mixture of the plans if all foodstuffs are determined to be of equal benefit). Phew, so there it is! Not so brief but for those of you following this, I promise it won’t be repeated!
As of now we have enrolled 29 farms in the project and have had 12 cows calve. Jen and I are getting lots of clinical experience conducting physical exams, testing milk, doing rectal palpations and drawing blood samples.
Since we are both fresh from our first year of vet school much of the techniques are unfamiliar to us but Jeff and Maureen from UPEI have been great teachers. Their advice, support and their patience has been greatly appreciated!
The survey portion of the project has allowed us to also interact with the farmers. Some of the stories they have shared are astonishing. Despite the hardships they face these farmers are some of the friendliest, welcoming and generous people I have ever met. Just last week one women sent us home with a bag full of at least 50 passion fruits and another farmer collected a dozen eggs from his chickens for us. Another woman promised to name her calf Morgan or Maureen if it is female! I look forward to visiting with each farmer and hearing more about their lifestyle upon our weekly return visits to check the cow and calf.
From my observations so far Kenyan dairy farming is verydifferent from Canadian dairy farming. While in Canada a herd of 50 would be considered quite small most herds here consist of only two or three cows.
Most farmers here are limited in their growth by land availability. It is common for farmers here to own only 1-2 acres of land and rent another acre or two from a neighbour. This limitation causes a struggle for many
farmers to gather adequate amounts of forage for their cows. The weather further compounds the difficulties as the fluctuation of wet and dry season brings alternating periods of shortage and abundance. There are also stark contrasts in housing, cow comfort, milking techniques and farm management.
We have also had the opportunity in our first week to tour around some of the other projects going on in Kenya with Melanie Boyd, the representative for CIDA. Our tour began with the Wakulima dairy cooperative,
the organisation our project is closely associated with. The story behind Wakulima still astounds me. The organisation began as a self help group for farmers with an initial daily milk yield of 32 L Since that time the group has grown into a promising company now collecting 40 000L of milk daily at their peak. In addition
they have acquired milk cooling tanks and are in the process of expanding into milk processing. It is truly a success story. During our tour we also visited a number of greenhouses and a school cook house sponsored by CIDA. We also made a stop at the Muchuwi Women’s group where we were greeted by a welcoming song and dance! These women are quite the success story as well- they have become very proficient business women since the group started.
Other notable experiences thus far included experiencing our first torrential downpour (followed by many more since), our first power outage (also followed by many more since…) and getting stuck in the mud. The roads
here seems to shape around the land and are very rough and uneven. We had the misfortune to be driving through a very slick T-intersection during a heavy downpour. I was quite unprepared when the van dramatically slid and bashed into the bank along the road, tilting the vehicle to an awkward 45 degree angle. A number of rescues were attempted by at least two different vehicles, each of which ended up also stuck in the mud along with us and four other vehicles throughout the intersection. Luckily 20 or so farmers appeared out of no where and pushed us back onto the road. What an experience!
Well I think that about wraps up the first two weeks. Jeff and Maureen are departing today, leaving Jen and I to take charge of the project. We will miss them dearly and wish them safe travels home and abroad. Hopefully, next time you hear from us Sylvia and Pauline will have arrived and all 36 farms will be enrolled in the project!
Morgan and Jen
After a quick nap and a delicious lunch (pineapple has never tasted so good…) we took a quick stroll around Nairobi center. We were approached numerous times by a number of individuals curious about where we were from and whether we were enjoying Africa thus far. I must say everyone is very friendly and at least in the city language is not a barrier as English is widely spoken.
It looks like we will be spending another day or so in Nairobi and then heading into Ichamara on Tuesday. We are both looking forward to settling in and starting our project. I feel so privileged to be a part of this project and I am so grateful to everyone who provided support to make this trip possible. To all friends and family, I wish you a great summer and look forward to seeing you upon my return!
Our first days in Kenya were spent in Nairobi, where we were treated with a really nice hotel. It was great to eat raw vegetables again, especially tomatoes. We visitied the Nairobi Vet School, and also got a tour of the International Livestock Research Institute, ILRI, and stayed at the hostel there. We met a tonne of very hospitable people with enormous knowledge of the challenges facing some of Kenya’s poor.
From Nairobi we drove to Ischimara where we visited the Wakulima Dairy Co-op (Wakulima is Swahili for farmer). We stayed at the Chairman’s house, who we only ever knew as ‘the Chairman.’ We visited some farms in the area where we treated sick cows and John educated the farmers about the importance of stall construction and cleanliness to prevent mastitis. We also began taking blood from calves, which will be tested for immunoglobulins to find out about the success of passive transfer.
Soon we moved on to the Mchaka orphanage and the St. Theresa Mission Hospital where we watched in action the meal programs designed to feed toddlers in the area. We also fed and spent a day with the orphaned babies of the region.
Nearby in Meru we witnessed firsthand the effects of the 3rd drought in a row. We visited Kinyinjeri school where the garden and a sorry food store is all that feeds the communitie’s children. The principle told us that it is difficult to convince some of the children to return home at the end of the day, as often times there is no food there. They live dangerously close to the edge of starvation, and with no harvest until January it is difficult to imagine the challenges they will face in the near future.
We then travelled for a day to Ex-Lewa, so named because the man who named his farm Lewa (a muzungo- white person) had to vacate his land at the request of the government and took the name of his farm with him, leaving Ex-Lewa in its place. Here we visited some more farms, treating animals and taking blood. The co-op has a new relationship with Farmers Helping Farmers and they are very appreciative of the help and advice being offered. We were welcomed so warmly and were treated so well it was amazing.
Kenyans have given us such a warm welcome into there homes. Almost everywhere we have been we are offered something as we leave. We even recieved a bag of freshly picked avacados! mmmm.
Presently, Val and I are travelling to farms with Dr. Kimindi, a local Kenyan vet. We are learning a lot about challenges facing dairy farmers in the area, and about the veterinary profession here. What a great experience.
We have had a great time here in Ethiopia. Val and I have learned a lot about cattle and the way of the Ethiopian dairy farmer. We have learned what is required in terms of the basic changes needed here to improve the welfare of the cattle and improve milk production. Some of these include principles of cow comfort, such as trimming toes and adding bedding, to nutrition, and the necessity of concentrates and mineral on reproductive success. We saw a very wide range of farms and met many people, most of whom were happy to participate with our project. We have had fun with our drivers Safu and Jabir and our partner Dr. Tolosa.
Ethiopian people are far more affectionate than North Americans, there is more hand holding and a much warmer greeting is given upon encountering a friend. In this sense, I think it is a richer country despite its lack of wealth.
The next day we drove for around 8 hours on what was a very nice highway with a young man named Safu, pronounced c’est fou in French. It seemed a suitable name as we weaved in and out of people and animals. At one point, a donkey that was walking in the middle of the road made the wrong last minute decision to turn right and ended up in front of a bus full of people that was unable to stop. The donkey was struck, and we stopped to help, but some people in the crowd that gathered assumed it was us that had hit the donkey. Luckily there were enough witnesses to confirm that it was the bus. We left the donkey and all the people, and we were informed that the bus driver would have to compensate the woman for her donkey, and that it can take an individual up to 5 years to save the money to purchase a donkey. There is a saying in Ethiopia,”if you do not have a donkey, you are a donkey.”
The next day we went to church and had our first opportunity to become culture shocked. We attended a church ceremony that happens only 3 times a year, and walked through a crowd of thousands of people. It was breathtaking and nerve-wracking, and quickly exposed us to the world we would be living in for our time in Ethiopia.
We then began our work on the farms. With Dr. Tadele Tolosa as our guide, we began our travels around the city of Jimma. Valerie and I quickly learned how to take blood from the underside of the base of a cows tail, as John and the farm workers restrained the animals manually. The cows are Holstein cross with local breeds and are therefore thankfully smaller than the Holsteins in Canada. The farms have around 15 cows each, sometimes more, sometimes less, and we have seen all types of arrangements of barns, from concrete barns that are very clean to dirt floors and mud walls, which is more common. We are testing for the prevalence of Johne’s disease in Ethiopia, which has yet to be studied, and each day we return to the lab and spin the clotted samples from the day before to extract the serum. The serum will then undergo an ELIZA test to determine the presence of paratuberculosis (Johne’s). It is very interesting work and an amazing experience.
On our day off, Valerie and I went to “the birthplace of Arabica coffee” where there was a plaque erected by the President of the region. We also saw a gene bank farm for coffee, which had over 500 different species of arabica coffee plant, and various other species of tuber and herb. It was a very nice trip. We then returned to our hotel room to watch Oprah interview Micheal Jackson’s mother.
Soon we will travel to Kenya, were we will go on Safari. Both Valerie and I are very excited about this. I will tell you more soon!!
It’s great to be in the field again with the cows after the week-long break we have had. I was running out of books to read and words to play in Scrabble, as we finished our work early in Ichamara. The company there was wonderful though, as some of the nursing team from Farmers Helping Farmers (FHF)/UPEI joined us for the week to help with Carolyn and Dr. Van Leeuwen’s biogas project. Their visit also presented the perfect opportunity to go to Meru to check out what the nursing and nutrition students were working on.
Meru is located in the northeastern region of Kenya, the closest city to the Somalian border (about 400 km away). Being northeast of Mount Kenya, the climate and landscape is very different from Ichamara. It is much drier and hotter, with a lot less hills. There are also elephants that live in the forest just outside of the city, of which we were lucky enough to encounter, as one was just crossing the road! The nurses work at the St. Theresa Missionary Hospital in Kiirua (a town just outside of Meru) and regularly visit their children’s home/school. Laura and I joined them at the children’s home, where we assisted in feeding the children. The work that the mission and its sisters do for these children is simply amazing. They raise abandoned or orphaned children between the ages of infancy and three, and operate a feeding program and school for kids aged five and under. By providing the basic necessities for these children during such a critical life stage, the sisters are attempting to build a solid foundation for a healthy future. It’s unbelievable how two women can care for more than ten babies while I can barely feed one! That’s probably why I am only handling cows in Kenya and not little children.
The nursing and nutrition teams will also be working with some women’s groups, running blood pressure clinics and helping to build a more well-balanced diet. We were lucky enough to join in on the first meeting of two women’s groups, who have been long-term pen pals. Though I couldn’t understand a word of their local language, Kimeru, the excitement of these women was evident through their facial expressions, gestures, and apparel. The language barrier also prevented any of us from enjoying a speech intended to empower women, but at least food is universal, and we were treated to fresh, locally grown fruits, and traditional Kenyan cuisine.
While in Meru, Laura and I almost caught President Kibaki in action! We saw his personal helicopter (compliments of the taxpayers) take off for Nairobi just as we were returning home! He and other government officials were campaigning for the new Kenyan constitution, which will be put to vote in a national referendum on August 4th. The streets were flooded with people wearing green shirts and hats, which represent the ‘Yes’ campaign. And of course, what’s a national referendum in a developing country without the vested interests of foreign countries? The ‘Yes’ campaign is fully supported by the US and the UK, while the opposition is backed by various Christian groups. I have been learning a lot about the upcoming referendum from our fellow Kenyans and the newspaper, so I’m excited for the outcome of the vote (hopefully a peaceful one!). Controversial issues include abortion, the kadhi Muslim courts, and the status of Somali refugees. Could it be a new beginning for the Kenyan people? Not that my opinions really matters, but I’ll let you know as I learn more about the constitution! Stay tuned!