Blog 3: Weeks 3 and 4…News From Kenya!

By VWB June 30, 2015 8:13 pm

We have been in Kenya for just over a month now. We have settled in quite nicely with our extended Kenyan family, including those with whom we stay in Ichamara and the local villagers and farmers with whom we are working with on a daily basis. I have even learned to love peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Lucky for me, I get to have them for lunch every day for the next 6 weeks!


Last Friday, we were invited to attend the Wakulima Dairy’s annual general meeting. This meeting was held on a soccer field, and all farmers of the dairy as well as the dairy’s board of directors were invited to attend. At the meeting, the board of directors updated the farmers regarding progress that was made by the association in the past year. They also commented on plans moving forward. At the end, farmers had an opportunity to ask the board questions they had regarding its plans and actions or regarding farming in general.


The dairy has done exceptionally well this year. Their product is in high demand, and they are planning on expanding the number of farmers contributing milk. They are also planning on producing yogurt in the coming years. They have been given a grant from the Nyeri county government, which will help to pay for the equipment needed to make yogurt. Sale of yogurt also has a higher return than milk – almost double! Thus, making yogurt will be a more profitable option for the dairy in addition to production of processed milk.


We visited Ruth’s farm over the weekend. Ruth is one of our Kenyan co-workers. Thus far, we have visited and worked with many smallholder dairy farmers, who typically own 1 to 2 cows that produce milk and generate income for the family. Ruth, on the other hand, grows crops for income. She showed us around her farm. She grows a variety of crops including beans, sweet potatoes, arrowroot, avocados, passion fruit, yams, pumpkin, cassava, peppers, guava, and sugar cane. She uses manure from her rabbit and goats as fertilizer for the crops. Once the crops have matured, she sells them at the market every Wednesday when people bring their crops as well as other items to sell. Luckily for us we got some passion fruits as a gift to enjoy over the remainder of the weekend.


As we were leaving for work Monday morning, we encountered several young people in white lab coats carrying coolers. We learned later on that there was an outbreak of Lumpy Skin Disease (LSD) in the Mukurweini area. LSD is endemic to this region. It is contagious and is most commonly spread by biting insects. LSD results in lumps throughout the skin, mucous membranes, and internal organs as the name suggests. It also causes emaciation, enlarged lymph nodes, edema of the skin, reduced production of milk, and can be fatal leading to huge economic losses for farmers. Due to the reported outbreak of LSD, the government was sending veterinarians and veterinary technicians to vaccinate all the cows in the affected areas. People here do not vaccinate their cows regularly as a preventative measure because it can be quite expensive. When an outbreak occurs, the government subsidizes vaccination of cows in the affected areas. Unfortunately, most people wait for an outbreak because that is the only time that they are able to afford to vaccinate their cows. This is not always in the cow’s best interest because without the vaccination, it is prone to infection. So far we have not seen a case of LSD. However, we did do a follow up visit with a farmer in our study who had lost both her cow and heifer calf to LSD last September. She was having difficulty since her cow and heifer were her main source of income.


We continued visiting farms and constructing stalls this past week despite the LSD outbreak. One farm especially stood out for us. On our first visit to this farm, we were told that the cows are very shaky. As we watched them move around their pen, we saw that they were very careful with each step they took. The floor seemed very slippery, and the stalls looked lumpy and hard. The cows were covered in mud indicating that instead of staying in the stall made for them, they probably preferred to lie down in the dirty alley outside of their stalls since the alleyway had the most space. As the alley was made of cement, it seemed quite uncomfortable and painful for the cows to lie down on it. Since this was a control farm, we fixed the stalls this year and provided training on the importance of cow comfort and welfare. The farmers were very receptive to the new information as they had not realized the great importance of having a soft/dry stall not only for the cow but also for their income via increased milk production and reduced mastitis. Additionally farmers are often wary of how much extra work and cost is needed to build a new cow stall/shed and are hesitant to make changes until we explain there is little to no cost with the changes we make. Often times we use wood boards already present on farms, dig soil from surrounding hillsides, and use our own labour to make the necessary changes. We do purchase locally sourced wood shavings as bedding for stalls but farmers are advised of low/no cost alternatives such as dry leaves or hay/straw. To improve these stalls we removed some boards from the front of their stalls giving the cows more lunge space (cows need space in front of where they will lie down as they push their heads forward when they are lying down and getting back up). We had to dig up a lot of dirt to flatten and soften the stall floor. Once that was done, we added shavings on top of the dirt as bedding. As soon as we finished with the stalls, one of the cows went in and laid down. It was great to see that the cow liked the adjustments we had made to her stall! It’s not often that we get a chance to see immediately the difference our hard work makes. This also helped the farmer see the great benefit that a few changes can have for her cows.


In our farm visits, we have found last year’s treatment farms to be in different conditions, from very well maintained to not maintained at all. In order to understand better why some farmers maintained the changes made to their stalls last year, we developed a follow-up survey. We found that farmers who have kept up with maintenance have done so because they found that their cow’s milk production increased and that she got less mastitis. These farmers have spread the word to their neighbours to help them increase their production, too. Seeing results has helped many farmers realize the importance of increasing welfare and comfort of their cows: increased cow comfort and welfare leads to increased milk production and decreased risk of mastitis, which ultimately leads to higher income for their families.

On Thursday, Ephraim, another one of our Kenyan co-workers, took us to see a waterfall after our farm visits for the day were complete. He explained that the energy from the falling water is used to power a pump, which then pumps water up pipes to people’s homes. The pumps are very strong; they can push water to homes a few kilometers away, all due to energy from the waterfall!


After a week of visiting farms we headed to Meru for the weekend, which is located on the north side of Mount Kenya. There we met Jennifer, an influential lady in her community. She is one of the founding members of Farmers Helping Farmers and is heavily involved in coordinating projects in her area. She was also the head of a women’s group whose mission was to better the livelihood of the community through the sale of crops and distribution of water tanks. She has done a lot in her community and is greatly respected. We also met Emily and Krista, two veterinary students from the Atlantic Veterinary College in PEI working for Farmers Helping Farmers in Meru. They are starting up a similar project regarding cow comfort, welfare, and nutrition in Meru. We spent time with Jennifer, Emily, and Krista learning more about their projects.


On Saturday, we did a day hike on Mount Kenya. We hiked approximately 18 kilometers to Lake Alice and Nithi Falls. Although the hike was long, the views were breathtaking and worth the hard work!


On Sunday, Jennifer took us to church. Church is a very important part of most Kenyans’ Sundays. The people were very welcoming and made us feel right at home. Jennifer had us go up and introduce ourselves as her “Canadian daughters”. Part of church consisted of an auction of food donated by people. As a welcome gesture to us and to show their appreciation, many members of the church bought items from the auction for us. We went home with a lot of cabbage and green beans!


If there’s one thing I’ve observed from being here, it is that even though the people are not rich and do not own much, they are always friendly, welcoming, and generous to everyone around them. They live a very basic life. They do not have the luxuries we have back home in Canada, yet they are always willing to help their families, neighbours, and friends. Their income is often dependent on milk from their cows or crops from the field. Travel is by foot most of the time. Even though they do not have enough for themselves, they welcome visitors with open arms and offer them chai (tea), lunch, and fruits to thank them and to show them their gratitude. The great sense of community makes being here so enjoyable and such a wonderful learning experience. I am so thankful to have been able to work alongside our Kenyan colleagues. I am looking forward to the weeks ahead, and I hope that I can use what I have learned and experienced here in my life back home in Canada.

  1. Market at Ichamara:1
  1. Two of the stalls we fixed:

Before: 2 Before

After: She’s lying down!2 After

  1. Waterfall that powers the water pump. Left to right: Sarifa, Shauna, Priscilla, Mira, Maggie, Ephraim.3
  1. At Jennifer’s house in Meru. Left to right: Maggie, Mira, Krista, Emily, Jennifer, Shauna, Sarifa.


Week 2 Student News from Kenya

By VWB June 22, 2015 4:29 pm

We have almost been here two weeks and I (Maggie) feel like we have really settled in and are getting into a fun routine. Our first full week flew by in a blur of construction, tea (‘chai’ in Swahili), mud, manure, and laughs.

On Monday we started fixing our first stalls for the welfare project. Most of the cattle here have pens/sheds that consist of a stall for lying in, a milking stall, an alleyway, and a feeding area. Last year, the farms were divided into treatment and control groups. The treatment farms had their stalls fixed and the control groups were given Calliandra seedlings. This tree grows well in this region and has a very high protein content. When fed in abundance, Calliandra can be used to supplement or replace expensive feeds like dairy meal. Though most farms are quite small and there isn’t much room to grow more crops, Calliandra can be grown in place of the decorative hedges found at the perimeter of farms. Aesthetically pleasing and functional!

This year, we are doing the opposite with the groups; we are fixing the stalls of the control groups and bringing Calliandra to the treatment groups. On Monday, our construction skills were put to good use on the first control farm. The cow on this farm, Meni, has eye problems and is completely blind. Her pen had no stall and the only area for her to lie down consisted of deep mud and manure. Within a few hours, we made her a roof-covered, comfortable stall. When we returned an hour later, we found Meni lying down in her stall and looking so comfortable! It was pretty incredible to see such instantaneous results and definitely worth the hard work! It’s also been really satisfying to go to farms that had their stalls fixed last year and seeing them being well-maintained and used by the cows.

In addition to the physical exams and mastitis testing/treating, we interns are getting lots of practice with other clinical skills. On our second visit to the farms, we treat all the cows and any cats or dogs on the farm for parasites (mites, fleas, ticks, worms, etc.). We are also checking the pregnancy status of many cows; this skill is critical (although perhaps not glamorous!) for any bovine practitioner. In addition to being good practice for us, it’s also great to be able to tell farmers that their cow is indeed pregnant, since they are counting on her to make milk (which requires having a calf).

On Wednesday, we had a break from farm visits and went to Ithanji primary school, which is a local school that is twinned with an elementary school in Prince Edward Island through Farmers Helping Farmers. We had a very successful meeting with the head teacher about the possibility of us teaching some of the classes later on in the summer. We also got a tour of the school, which has really benefitted from being twinned with the PEI school. Every year, Farmers Helping Farmers holds a barbecue in order to raise funds for a cookhouse for one of their twinned schools, and Ithanji is one of these schools. The cookhouse allows the school to have a lunch program for their students, and there was porridge and githiri (maize and beans) cooking away when we stopped by. The ingredients for the lunch program come from the school’s farm as well as from donations by parents. In addition to the cookhouse, the school has received many rainwater tanks, new toilets, a hand-washing station, doors, and windows from the PEI twinned schools.

Later that day, we also went for a tour of the Bora Feeds factory; this local company makes feeds for many different animals, and is one of the main providers of dairy meal in the region. It was really neat to see the whole process from the raw ingredients (fish meal, wheat bran, sunflower seed cake, etc.) to the grinding, mixing, and packaging.

We are having a great time working with and getting to know our Kenyan coworkers Priscilla and Ephraim. In addition to being our translator and driver, they have also quickly become good friends who put our construction skills to shame, introduce us to new music, and patiently answer our never-ending questions. We all had a good laugh one day when Mira learned (the hard way!) that the Swahili word for hammer, ‘nyundo’, closely resembles ‘nyondo’, the Kikuyu word for breast!

Working with the farmers has also been really fun and rewarding. We find them to be very enthusiastic and open to new ideas. In addition, their generosity is incredible. We have been here less than two full weeks and have already been served multiple meals (often cooked for the household and then given to us instead), and commonly sent on our way with bunches of fresh fruit. Many people, myself included, tend to have a picture in mind when hearing the word ‘poverty’, of people living in grim conditions, hungry, and in need of aid. However, working with people who are considered to live in impoverished conditions and seeing their constant smiles, positive attitudes, and unselfishness makes you realize that common portrayals of poverty in the media are not always consistent with real life experiences and that the face of poverty can vary quite dramatically.

Yes, they are still very poor compared to Canadians, but they are happy because they have food from their farm, water from nearby sources, and family around them – the essentials. Their happiness despite having little money, savings or material goods helps us put our lives in Canada into perspective.

Meni was so excited to lie down she couldn’t even wait for the shavings!:

Photo 1

Shauna giving Askari (‘Soldier’) treatment for fleas:

Photo 2

Githiri and porridge cooking in the cookhouse of Ithanji primary school:

Photo 3

Only a vet student could be this happy about pregnancy checking via rectal palpation!:Photo 4



First Student Blog of the Summer for the Kenya Cow Project

By VWB June 9, 2015 4:46 pm

We have all arrived safe and sound in the town of Mukurweini, where the Veterinarians Without Borders-Canada Smallholders Dairy Project partners with the Prince Edward Island NGO – Farmers Helping Farmers (FHF). Mukurweini is located in the Kenyan highlands, about three hours northwest from Nairobi. The land here is beautiful with its’ rolling hillsides, red earth, and abundant vegetation (picture included as words cannot do it justice). This year, three student interns are working with veterinarian and PhD student, Dr. Shauna Richards, on research projects on dairy cow welfare and nutrition. The student interns include Maggie from the University of Calgary, and Sarifa, also from the University of Calgary and myself (Mira) from the University of Saskatchewan. Our first week has been a great success; we settled into our home for the summer, had a tour of the milk processing facility, and began to visit farms enrolled in the research projects.

On our first day in Mukurweini, we got a tour of the milk processing facility.  The Wakulima Dairy was incredibly impressive, not only due to its excellent organization, but also with the realization that it came from such modest beginnings. The Wakulima Self-Help Group Dairy is a cooperative of many smallholder dairy farmers (farmers having one or two dairy cows) that work together to process and sell milk. The Wakulima Dairy has grown over the years through their partnership with FHF and now VWB-Canada. Started in 1990 with 35 farmers selling 100 litres of milk a day, the Wakulima Dairy now has over 6500 farmers selling 38,000 litres of milk a day. Twice everyday, milk is collected by trucks at collection points throughout Mukurweini where farmers bring small pails filled with a couple of litres of milk. Milk (maziwa in Swahili – this is an important word for us here!) is brought to the Wakulima Dairy processing facility where it is tested for quality, pasteurized, homogenized, packaged and then shipped to Nairobi. There are approximately 200 employees working at the dairy facility, and it is a major employer in this area.

The next day, we began to visit farms that are enrolled in the research study. Our goal is to visit five farms (shambas in Swahili), per day. Each farm is located on a hillside; the combination of the steep hills and abundant rainfall in the area can make it can be quite a challenge to get to the farms without slipping! But luckily, there have been no big falls yet! Each farm keeps their dairy cow (or two cows) in a small pen with a roof-covered stall for laying down. Both men and women take care of cows here, but women are the predominant caretakers. Farmers here practice zero-grazing, meaning they bring food to their cows instead of grazing them. This is due to the lack of available grazing land and to reduce the incidence of diseases spread by ticks. VWB-Canada and FHF has been promoting Napier grass as a good feed source for cows as it is high in protein. This grass can be found along most of the roadsides here, where it is planted specifically in certain plots by farmers, who then cut and carry it to their cows. Napier grass can grow to heights of over 2 metres, but as it increases past 1.5 meters, it loses a lot of its nutritional value. This is an important concept that we are working hard to educate farmers on in order to help them improve the nutrition of their animals.

At each farm, we do a thorough physical exam of the cow, and collect important information about the cow’s environment (e.g. can the cow lie down comfortably? Does the cow have access to water?). Shauna also conducts an interview with the help of our fabulous translator, Priscilla, to ask farmers about the health and diet of their cow. We also attach accelerometers to a leg of each cow. Accelerometers are small devices that record the position of whatever they are attached to in space; we can use them to see how much time the cow spends lying down or standing. When cows are comfortable, they spend more time laying down, which results in increased milk production. The data we are collecting on the behavior of individual cows helps us gain insight into how we can improve their environments to help improve their welfare and productivity.

The longevity of FHF’s working relationship with the Wakulima and partnership with VWB-Canada has led to improvements in stall designs, cow welfare, and nutrition. However, there is still much work to be done. Many of the cows we have seen do not have body weights that are adequate to support good milk production or pregnancies. Working with farmers to introduce better feeds, improve stall designs, and encourage better health management of their dairy cows is vital to improving livelihoods in this area, where the average household income is less than $1000/year. Even slight increases in milk production can provide a pathway out of poverty by allowing families to afford their children’s education, improve their sanitation facilities, and afford a more nutritional diet for themselves. Of course, all of this is easier said than done, which is why working with people is key. While it is easy to tell someone what the right thing to feed is, it is far more effective to work with them to understand their individual needs and challenges and find realistic solutions that are sustainable in the long term.

We are looking forward to this upcoming week! We will be pulling out the hammers, nails, and shovels to help farmers improve their cows’ stalls as well as continuing on with interviews and physical exams.

On a geeky veterinary student note, we have seen some really interesting diseases that are not common or unheard of in Canada. We went to a farm where a cow had ulcerative lesions on its mouth, suggestive of Foot and Mouth Disease, which is very common in this area. The cow was okay, but it was great for us to be able to see what this disease looks like in real life after having read so much about it in our studies.  And of course we have been practicing lots of California Mastitis Tests, a cheap and effective test to determine if cows have subclinical mastitis (an infection of the udder).

Picture captions:

“Napier grass”: Shauna teaching a farmer about the importance of cutting Napier grass short.Blog 1

“Group photo”: Mary is an extremely motivated and dedicated farmer, and it shows! From left to right: Maggie, Mira, Mary, Sarifa, and Priscilla.Blog 2

“Processing machine” This machine is where milk is pasteurized, homogenized, and then pasteurized again at the Wakulima Dairy.Blog 3

“Happy cows produce more milk!”Blog 4

“Transporting Napier grass to farm.”Blog 5

News from Kenya- Last Student Blog of the Summer

By VWB August 20, 2014 3:34 am

Lumpy Skin Disease Encounters

We have continued to have some successful farm visits/changes but have also seen some unfortunate realities such as lumpy skin disease. Lumpy skin disease is not a disease we have in Canada but is common in African countries. It is a disease that affects cattle causing fever, depression, and nodules all over the body. Secondary bacterial infections often worsen the situation. This disease is transmitted by biting insects (therefore unlikely for travelers to bring back to Canada). This is a reportable disease in Canada to which the Canadian Food Inspection Agency would respond with efforts to eradicate the disease.  This disease does not cross over to humans. There is no good treatment for Lumpy Skin Disease but vaccination can be effective. Here however, it seems that the recent rounds of vaccines wasn’t the best and some animals ended up getting the disease from the vaccination. But most cases we have seen were not vaccine induced.

Recently, here in the Mukerwe-ini area of Kenya, there seems to be a larger out break than normal. We have seen several cases of cattle with lumps on their skin. Their stories are stricken by abortions and decreased milk production (along with many other negative results). The most frustrating case we have heard about this week was about a cow that had died one week ago of the disease… she was due to calve early August.

On average farmers here have 2 cows and therefore having a sick one (and potentially a dead one) is a huge loss that greatly affects the people’s quality of life. Finances get a hit largely because expected milk production is absent, they see no return on the money that went into breeding and feeding the cow to term, and they can’t sell the calf or benefit from it in the future. To some people this may mean the difference between putting their child through school or not (or other similar choices). It is frustrating in Canada to lose a cow-calf pair but does it ever make or break a child’s basic education level?

A reminder to stay thankful for what we have.

Back To School

We also got time to go visit an elementary school. We were very lucky to be welcomed to the Karaguririo elementary school in Mukurwe-ini. The school has over 500 students going from nursery to grade 8. (Nursery would be the class before junior kindergarden in Canada). With that many students, it was surprising to find out that each grade level only has one class. That means that in one room there are over 70 grade 7 students with just one teacher. I can’t even imagine the work that faces the teachers with that many students to educate, prep for and mark all their work.

The school day starts at 6 am with students responsible for cleaning to school after walking up to 5km to get there. By 7am classwork starts and continues till 5pm. At least one teacher stays at the school until 6:30pm so that students may finish their homework before they go home as many of them don’t have lights. That amounts to a 12hr school day. To add to this, the students go to school 7 days a week (only in the afternoon on Sundays). Finally, most schools have a break in August, one in April and one in December. This school however only takes the December break

Farm #24 (signalled by our fingers): Anika repairing a stall with John (who is an extension worker at the dairy). We promise he smiles all the time…except in pictures.Capture

Going through our physical exam parameters (every cow got one at the beginning of the study and one at the end)

Farm #36: Ephraim (our main driver) and NancyCapture3

Farm #48 “Can we Fix it?”Capture2

This is “break a leg farm” so nicknamed because we could very easily envision one or both cows doing just that. The cows were obviously not using their stalls (see picture below). After a great deal of machete work to loosen soil, hammering, sawing, shoveling, discovering the partial remains of a cow, measuring and sweating, the cows had a new place to call home.Capture4

Farm #48 continued: “Yes we can!”Capture5

Farm #48 continued: And we did!!!Capture6

Nancy planting a tree with a student from the school that we got to visit


Vaccinating Chickens in Ta Chan Pa

By Sonia July 24, 2014 9:44 am

Sarah and Michelle: Chicken Vaccination Campaign – May 31, 2014

We had the amazing opportunity to get our first real hands-on vet experience here in Laos! We accompanied the Primary Animal Healthcare Workers or PAHWs around the various farms in Tha Chan Pa to vaccinate chickens for Fowl Cholera and Newcastle Disease.

Chicken Farmer

One of the chicken farmers preparing his flock for vaccination. They use chicken feed to catch their chickens under this large bamboo baskets and take them out one by one.


Ta Chan Pa is a quick ferry ride across the Nam Ngum river and 20 minute drive from Nabong campus. Here's the ferry we drove our project van onto. It was quite an adventure in itself!

Ta Chan Pa is a quick ferry ride across the Nam Ngum river and 20 minute drive from Nabong campus. Here’s the ferry we drove our project van onto. It was quite an adventure in itself!

It was a really hot day but overall pretty successful. This was an opportunity we otherwise might never have had back home in Canada, as the poultry industry tends to do mass vaccinations in ovo, or on day 1 after hatching. Rarely would we get the chance to do hands on vaccinations with adult chickens and roosters. It was also great getting the chance to meet new people from another village and to see how the PAHWs apply the training that VWB and the Faculty of Agriculture provides them.

Walking to our next farm. It was a reallllly hot day!

  Walking to our next farm. It was a reallllly hot day!

Preparing to vaccinate

One of our PAHWs prepping vaccination records.

We even got to meet the PAHWs’ families and purchased some fabric that one of their wives had handwoven. We think it would be great to purchase more fabric from this village and sell it back home, with proceeds going to the VWB/VSF chicken vaccination and animal husbandry programs right in Tha Chan Pa.

Sarah vaccinating a chicken for Fowl Cholera subcutaneously or under the skin of the wing.

Sarah vaccinating a chicken for Fowl Cholera subcutaneously or under the skin of the wing.

Michelle vaccinating for Newcastle Disease.

Michelle vaccinating for Newcastle Disease.

Vet students hard at work in Kenya with local cow farmers

By VWB July 21, 2014 2:13 am

We have had an amazing first month here in Kenya!

We find it interesting to listen to Dr. Shauna talk to the farmers. She always says, “Your cow and calf need water…always.” Seems like a simple and easy concept however we must repeat it very often. Sometimes re-wording helps, “milk is made of water so, if you want more milk your cow needs to drink more water.” Often farmers don’t give their calves a constant supply of water because they think it makes them pee blood. Shauna then explains to them that this happens because, when the calf is deprived of water and then offered it, it will drink as much as possible and this actually causes them to pee blood. Many farmers are need to re-train their calves water drinking habits by offering them small amounts often throughout the day until they are ready to have a constant supply.

Local veterinarians do not have it easy. Diagnostic tools are limited and so is transportation. They ride a bodaboda (dirt bike) with a backpack on their back and a bag on their lap and that’s it…that is what they take to farm calls. They must keep tick born diseases (such as Anaplasma and East Coast Fever) in mind, not something we worry about in Alberta.

Our work these last few weeks has involved some construction. We modified the cows’ stalls so they can have a more comfortable place to rest. During our second visit to the farms we took out our hammers and shovel, and with the help of our drivers and the farmers, we set out to give the laddies a bit more space or soften their floor. In one case, within a few hours of leaving the farm, we received a call from the farmer letting us know that his cow, which had never laid in her stall before, was resting comfortably for the first time. On another farm, as soon as the tools were removed from the stall, the cow walked in and laid down.

Not all of our construction work has been an instant success. We’ve had to make follow up visits to some farms because the cows were not using the new stalls or the farmer had some concerns they wanted to discuss. This is all part of the process since one of our goals is to develop new guidelines for stall size, design and materials that are well within the reach of a small farm. In the weeks to come, we will be returning to all the farms to collect more data on the cows now that they have had time to get used to their new home.image006

Making the stall longer so the cow has more forward lunge space


Before picture of a stall with hard uneven stonesAfter picture of the stall with a thick layer of soft dirt and shavings:


Farmers often like to offer us tea:


Farmers and Dr. John replacing a roof:


Farm #38: Nancy with Eiphram (one of our drivers):


Vet students Anika and Nancy arrive in Kenya!

By VWB June 25, 2014 2:30 pm


Hello my name is Anika Mueller. I am beyond excited to have this opportunity in Kenya with Veterinarians Without Borders. So far it has already proved to be life changing for me both professionally and personally. I am proud to represent the University of Calgary Veterinary Medicine program. My main interest lies in production animal health and I especially love cows. I grew up in a small town with my father as a veterinarian as my role model. I feel very fortunate to get to take part in this sustainable project and am so thankful for everyone’s support. While Kenya is much different than Canada I feel very much at home in this humble place.

Hello, my name is Nancy Brochu and as a third year student at the Atlantic Veterinary College, I am grateful to have the opportunity to work in Kenya this summer with Veterinarians Without Borders. I grew up in Canada’s largest city but spent many summer on farms in rural Quebec. So being here reminds me of those summers, though the scenery is so different, the people have been so welcoming that I feel at home. In my short time here thus far I have learnt that as a cow vet one should expect to get splattered by poop, smeared with saliva and that brown pants are fantastic when your suitcase does not arrive with you.

Summarizing our first impression of Kenya is very difficult because so many wonderful aspects have already greeted us. To begin with, we’ve gained an appreciation for patience and for each other’s moral support because we arrived in Nairobi suitcaseless. As we visited farms our appreciation for what we have in our carry-ons increased; we saw clothes lines hung with items that are getting the most use out of them, items that tell a story of hard work and commitment for family.

Upon our arrival, our supervisor John VanLeeuwen suggested an activity before heading to our hotel. We decided on a nature walk where some highlights included getting to see an albino zebra (in the picture above), a leopard sunbathing very high in a tree, and a pigmy hippo saying hello up close and personal.

In our first week a typical day consisted of about 7 farm visits where our role was to do a physical exam of the 1 or 2 dairy cows on the farm and attach accelerometers to their hind limb. We are grateful of all the practice we are getting.  Our lunch generally consists of peanut butter & jelly sandwiches however, for Anika’s birthday we got a special treat: samosas inside a donut. It may sound weird but they are very delicious.

There are many facets of our new home that have amazed us. Firstly, we have no idea how our drivers find the farms. The roads are not named nor numbered. The rough dirt paths are just barely wide enough for a car to pass and they split off often. There is a lot of cell phone communication with the farmers to find them and often enough, the farmer has to come find us and guide us. Secondly, the commitment of the farmers amazes us.

We met a farmer the other day who is an electrician… 50% of his income comes from his 2 dairy cows and the other half comes from his pigs, coffee,  AND his electrician work. It puts things into perspective about how the people live here. Lastly, we were advised that church is a great cultural experience. And so, on Sunday, we found ourselves in an all tin walled and red dirt floor building, clapping to their songs and listening to their passionate sermon which they kindly translated from Swahili to English so that we could understand.

Our writing cannot do justice to our experience so far in Kenya. It is difficult to capture the feelings and experiences but so far we can say we love it and asante (thank you) to everyone for your support for this opportunity.


La leçon

By Kenya August 22, 2013 8:26 am

Le 24 juin 2013, j’atterrissais à Nairobi. Deux mois, 111 fermes, 1 mammite gangreneuse, plus de 300 échantillons et près de 1000 trayons plus tard, me voilà de retour dans la capitale du Kenya, où un avion m’emmènera loin de ce pays que j’ai appris à tant aimer. Shauna et Shepelo ont encore un mois de visites à faire à Mukurwe-ini, Jessie est partie hier et moi, je contemple le trafic des rues achalandées de Nairobi. Le pouls urbain est si différent du rythme des highlands, lui-même complètement différent de l’atmosphère des réserves naturelles. Le Kenya est un pays aux mille couleurs.

Je me suis engagée dans ce stage avec Vétérinaires sans frontières pour l’expérience culturelle, pour partager des connaissances, pour aider une communauté prête à recevoir de l’aide et, avouons-le, par désir d’aventure. Mais je quitte aujourd’hui avec un bagage cent fois plus lourd que je ne l’aurais espéré : mes valises sont remplies d’expériences, d’un savoir nouveau, de liens à entretenir, de souvenirs bons et moins bons (mais surtout bons).

Voici un bref aperçu de ce que je ramène :

– Une assurance en présence des bovins. Je suis définitivement plus à l’aise que je ne l’étais.
– Un bras gauche rendu plus adroit par les fouilles transrectales et par les autres manipulations que j’ai dû faire.
– Une collection d’ecchymoses pour accompagner celle de souvenirs.

– Une connaissance pratique de l’origine du mot « urticaire », soit du contact de l’ortie.

– Une idée de ce qui est « normal » lors d’un examen général de bovin (bien utile pour ensuite déterminer ce qui est « anormal »).
– De meilleures aptitudes de communication.

Je n’ai pas entrepris ce voyage pour changer le monde, ni pour accomplir une quête de découverte intérieure. Mais j’avoue que j’en reviens grandie, que j’ai beaucoup appris, et la réalité que je n’aurai jamais fini d’apprendre m’a frappée plus fort et plus tendrement que jamais. C’est une chance inouïe que d’avoir pu toucher plus d’une vie et de m’être laissée toucher à mon tour; ce n’est pas le moindre de mes apprentissages.

Cette expérience à l’étranger m’a été plus que bénéfique dans le processus de devenir une vétérinaire accomplie, même si je compte exercer ma profession au Canada. J’ai vu des gens mettre tous les efforts et le peu de moyens à leur disposition pour améliorer leurs fermes, tant sur le plan productif que sur celui du bien-être animal. Si de tels progrès sont possibles dans un pays en développement, je ne doute pas un instant qu’il est possible d’améliorer divers aspects des productions animales canadiennes aussi. Les défis sont certes différents, mais pas plus insurmontables… si la volonté est là. Et cette volonté doit venir de tous : vétérinaires, producteurs et autres citoyens.

Je dois dès maintenant me servir de tous les éléments de cette grande leçon pour appliquer cette dernière dans ma future profession… ainsi que dans la vie de tous les jours.


Geneviève C. Luca

Des génisses et des hommes

By Kenya August 18, 2013 4:28 pm

Les jours et les semaines ont passé. Les veaux et génisses que nous avons enregistrés pour l’étude grandissent en force et posent à chaque semaine un défi plus ardu pour les examiner (joueurs ou bagarreurs, nous ne savons jamais exactement dans quel rodéo nous embarquons lorsque nous pénétrons dans l’arène de leur enclos). Nous avons eu une petite fête d’au revoir avec collègues et amis samedi. Une odeur aigre-douce dans laquelle se mêlent nostalgie et espoir emplit l’air; ça sent le départ.
Nostalgie des expériences vécues, des moments passés – parfois rudes, mais plus souvent bons – et des gens rencontrés qui nous ont charmées. Espoir que notre participation ait pu aider Shauna et Shepelo dans leur projet de recherche, que notre implication ait contribué à améliorer ne serait-ce qu’un peu les conditions des fermiers et de leur bétail dans la région de Mukurwe-ini.

Ces espoirs ont déjà été exhaussés, du moins partiellement. En effet, durant ces deux mois, nous avons pu observer des changements, petits ou grands, dans divers aspects des fermes que nous visitons.

Alimentation : « Vous ne pouvez pas faire du lait avec du bois », disait Dr John aux fermiers, quand il parcourait les collines de Kenya avec nous. Les vaches ont certes besoin de fibres, mais leur diète n’est pas complète si elles ne mangent que de hautes pousses de Napier grass, qui ressemblent alors plutôt à du bois qu’à du fourrage. En prenant conscience de cela, de nombreux fermiers ont été prêts à investir un peu de temps, d’argent même parfois, pour modifier l’alimentation de leur bétail afin d’obtenir une meilleure production.
D’ailleurs, la production de lait exige également de l’eau. Beaucoup d’eau : elle devrait être en tout temps disponible pour les vaches – et pour les veaux aussi. Nous sommes heureuses de constater que désormais, rares sont les vaches ou leur progéniture qui sont laissées sans de quoi s’abreuver, contrairement à nos observations au début du projet.
Autre fait important : les changements alimentaires doivent s’effectuer progressivement, sinon l’animal peut tomber malade ou refuser de manger. En comprenant cela, une fermière résolut ainsi le mystère de ses derniers veaux morts « subitement », alors qu’elle les avait fait passer du jour au lendemain d’une alimentation de lait à 100% à une diète de fourrages à 100%.

Logement : Une vache bien couchée est une vache heureuse et en santé. La stalle doit être propre et confortable. Ce n’est pas que pour le bonheur de la vache : un lit confortable l’incite à se coucher, donc à utiliser son énergie pour la production laitière plutôt que pour se tenir debout, offrant par la même occasion un meilleur apport sanguin aux glandes mammaires. La propreté évite les problèmes causés par les pathogènes environnementaux. Donc, vache confortable et propre = meilleure production = meilleur revenu. Les fermiers saisissant la logique de la chose, nous avons vu des enclos être nettoyés, des stalles être construites et même des coussins être installés par les fermiers. Hommes et bêtes sont satisfaits, notre objectif est atteint.

Soins en général : Comme au Canada, la mammite est une préoccupation récurrente de la production laitière. En plus d’améliorer le logement, les fermiers peuvent appliquer certaines mesures d’hygiène – comme le nettoyage du pis, le lavage des mains entre chaque animal et le bain de trayons – qui permettent de prévenir cette condition. S’ils sont dubitatifs lorsque nous leur enseignons ou répétons ces mesures préventives, ils n’en sont pas moins fiers et reconnaissants, lorsque ces dernières sont intégrées à leur routine, de nous montrer une vache avec un pis en santé quand nous venons effectuer un CMT qui s’avère négatif.
Outre les innombrables mammites que nous avons traitées – et montré comment traiter, nous avons vu quelques autres conditions médicales, sources d’inquiétude ou non.  Nous répondons alors aux questions cas par cas, contentes de voir les fermiers satisfaits à la visite subséquente ou corrigeant le tir si nos conseils étaient insuffisants. Nous travaillons avec du vivant, et le vivant n’est jamais entièrement prévisible. Certains fermiers nous reprochent l’absence de potions magiques, mais la grande majorité comprennent cette difficulté et nous font confiance. Par exemple, un veau naissant refusait de s’alimenter dans le seau de lait laissé par le fermier. Nous avons donc pris le temps de nourrir le veau en trempant nos doigts dans le lait et avons recommandé au propriétaire d’en faire de même pour les premiers jours. À force de patience, le veau a apprit à s’abreuver tout seul et le fermier, qui s’était fié à nos conseils, en fut très content.

Tous ces fermiers qui ont bien voulu nous écouter n’ont pas fait que suivre aveuglément nos conseils. La clef du succès lorsque l’on souhaite apporter des changements à des pratiques appliquées depuis longtemps (surtout dans un contexte culturel différent) réside toujours dans la communication. Ainsi, nous fixons des objectifs en tenant compte de la réalité locale, chaque recommandation est accompagnée d’une explication – la compréhension ayant une portée plus grande que la simple écoute – et nous soulignons également aux propriétaires les bons aspects que présente déjà leur ferme. Et quel bonheur d’entendre des fermiers nous poser des questions, démontrant ainsi leur intérêt à comprendre et à s’améliorer!

Bien sûr, comme dans n’importe quel contexte de travail, nous nous sommes heurtées à des individus entêtés qui n’étaient pas prêts à écouter nos conseils et l’on sait qu’il n’y a pire sourd que celui qui ne veut entendre. Fort heureusement, pour chacun de ces cas isolés, des dizaines de fermiers ont fait preuve d’une ouverture d’esprit nous permettant de communiquer et d’arriver à des résultats encourageants.


Geneviève C. L.

Of Calves and Men

By Kenya 4:24 pm

Days and weeks have come and gone. The calves we have taken for our study are growing big and strong and are harder to examine each week (playful or ready to fight, we never know what kind of rodeo awaits in the pen). We just had a goodbye party with collegues and friends, on Saturday. A bittersweet scent in which we perceive nostalgia and hope fills the air; the smell of our departure.

Nostalgia for the experiences we lived, the moments we shared – sometimes hard, but more often good – and for the people we met and who have won our heart. Hope that our participation could help Shauna and Shepelo in their research study, that what we did contributed to improve the farmers’ and their cattle’s lives in the area of Mukurwe-ini.
These hopes have been partially answered. Indeed, during those two months, we observed changes, small and big, in some of the aspects of the farms we visit.

Feeding : “You can’t make milk out of wood” said Dr. John to the farmers, when he was traveling up and down the Kenyan hills with us. Cows do need a certain amount of fibre, but their diet is not complete if all they eat is very tall Napier grass, which is then more like wood than forage. Realizing that, many farmers were ready to invest some time – and sometimes money – to modify the feeds they offer to their cattle to obtain a better production.

Also, cows need water to give milk. Lots of water : it should be available at all times for the cows, and for the calves too. We are happy to notice that now, few are the cows or their offsprings that are left without anything to drink, contrary to what we observed in the beginning of the project.

Another important fact : feed changes must occur progressively, or else the animal could get sick or refuse to eat. Understanding that, a farmer solved the mystery of her last calves’ “sudden” death, when she made them go from a 100% milk diet on one day to a 100% forage diet on the next day.

Housing : A comfortably laying cow is a happy and healthy cow. The stalls must be clean and relatively cozy. This is not only for the benefit of the cows : comfortable beddings will make them lay more, so they can use their energy for producing milk instead of standing, and also allow a better blood circulation in the mammary glands. Cleanliness avoids environmental pathogen-related problems. Therefore, comfy and clean cow = better production = better income. Once the farmers acknowledged this, we saw pens getting cleaner, stalls being built and even pillows being laid for the cows. Man and animal are satisfied, we reached our goal.

General care : Like in Canada, mastitis is a recurrent concern in milk production. On top of improving the stalls, farmers can apply some good hygiene practices – for example cleaning the udder, washing hands between animals and using a teat dip – that will help prevent mastitis. If some are doubtful as we teach or repeat these preventive measures, they are nonetheless very proud and grateful, when these measures are integrated in their daily routine, to show us a cow with a healthy udder when we come to make a CMT that turns out negative.

Apart from the countless mastitis we treated – and taught how to treat, we saw a few other medical conditions, causing concern or not. We answered to each case as good as we could, happy to see the farmers satisfied on a subsequent visit or making adjustments. We are working with living creatures, and life is never entirely predictable. Some farmers will blame us for not having any magic potions, but most of them understand this difficulty and trust us. For example, a newborn calf refused to drink from the bucket of milk that the farmer left for him. We took the time necessary to feed the calf by dipping our fingers in the wilk and we recommended that the owner do the same for the first few days. Thanks to the farmer’s trust and patience, the calf learned to drink on its own and the farmer was very happy.

All farmers that did listen to us did not just follow blindly our advice. The key to succes when you want to bring changes (especially in a different culture) resides in communication. Therefore, we propose realistic objectives according to local challenges, each recommendation comes with an explanation – since comprehension has a better impact than just listening – and we also mention the good aspects of a farm to it’s owner. What a joy it is to hear a farmer asking us questions; it demonstrates their motivation to understand and to improve themselves.

Of course, just like in any professionnal context, we met some stubborn individuals who were not willing to hear our advice. Fortunately, for every one of these people, dozens of farmers showed open-mindedness, allowing us to communicate and to obtain encouraging results.


Geneviève C. L.