First week in Meru, Kenya

Our four Canadian volunteers arrived in Meru, eastern Kenya, after a few hours of driving through the mountainous Kenyan landscape. They quickly got settled in to what would be their new home for the next three weeks. Our Meru volunteer team for the first week was comprised of:

·         Dr. Kelli Pinner, a bovine veterinarian with 10 years of experience from Southern Alberta

·         Blaire Toop, a veterinary technician from British Columbia

·         Joy Willis, a veterinary technician from Southern Alberta

·         Natalia Hanson, a public relations professional from Ontario

There wasn’t much time to rest. Our team came to Meru on a mission and they were ready and eager to get started.

On the first two days of work, the team was taken to a training farm, where they were welcomed by 25 extension officers and artificial insemination (AI) technicians, all members of the Meru Dairy Co-Operative. Dr. Pinner, having volunteered in Meru twice before, already knew some of these co-operative members, which allowed for a quick and easy rapport.

Dr. Kelli and Mwiringi, AI Tech

The morning and afternoon sessions promptly got started with Dr. Pinner encouraging extension officers and AI techs to bring their questions forward so they could be addressed throughout the presentation.

Dr. Pinner, assisted by our vet techs Joy and Blaire, jotted down the most common questions and topics related to cow care and comfort, breeding, artificial insemination, and calf care.

Dr. Kelli Presenting on Heat Dection and Time of Insemination

Both days were informative and engaging. Our team  made the time to visit the stalls on site to provide recommendations on feeding, stall design and bedding, deworming protocols, dehorning of calves, nutrition, and more. Extension officers and AI technicians had the opportunity to watch Dr. Pinner, Blaire  and Joy in action, performing hands on work on the cows and calves.

Farm visits were in order for days three and four. The team visited a total of five farms in the towns of Kanyakine and Kiamitumi, where they assessed farmers’ cows and provided recommendations to the farmers in regards to housing, nutrition, and more.

A training session was also held on each day, where a total of 45 dairy farmers increased their knowledge on topics related to nutrition, cow comfort and calf rearing, among others.

To finish off the first week, three out of the four members of Team Meru – Joy, Blaire and Natalia – headed off to Samburu National Reserve for their first safari experience. Sadly, Dr. Pinner was scheduled to return back to Canada for work, so she couldn’t join the team on this incredible expedition.

The Meru volunteers met up with Dr. Anne Drew, Dr. Claudia Koch, Dr. Melissa Knowles and Karissa Gall; our volunteers in the town of Mukurweini.

The weekend was spent relaxing by the pool, feasting on the buffet, and of course, taking in the breathtaking sight of wild animals in their natural habitats.

Dr. Anne Drew bid farewell to the Mukurweini team and headed back to Meru with Blaire, Joy and Natalia for her last two weeks of the placement.

In summary, week one was an eye-opening, rewarding experience for Team Meru. Thank you to the local people who welcomed the team with open arms and big smiles!

Interconnected Issues and Solutions in Tanzania

Mastitis. Empowering women. Antimicrobial resistance. Human nutrition. Nest boxes. School enrollment. Cow comfort. Human wellbeing. How are all these diverse topics related? During our time working with Africa Bridge, Vets Without Borders, and smallholder farmers in the Youth Volunteer Program, we gained a deeper understanding of these connections and got to know the importance of a One Health and One Welfare approach.

The Tanzanian farmers in the Rungwe district are quite new to farming, having only received dairy cattle in the last few years. As mentioned in our last blog, one of the topics of our seminars was mastitis. We tackled this topic using two approaches, advising on best milking procedures and improving cow hygiene by building stalls. The Co-op members were eager to implement some of the lessons to reduce the incidence of mastitis in their cows- but why is this so important? Though mastitis adversely affects the well-being of the cow, this disease impacts much more than the animal itself. Cows will produce less milk and the milk will be of poorer quality. This impacts the health, safety, and financial wellbeing of not only the farmers, but also their families and community members.

Milk diversifies the diet of Co-op families by providing minerals, essential vitamins, and nutrients that the average family may not receive from their everyday diets. This in turn helps improve family health. Healthy children may perform better in school and have more opportunity reach their full potential. If cows do not provide enough milk, the family must decide between consuming the milk themselves or making a small profit from selling the milk. Poor quality milk caused by mastitis is a possible source of pathogens that can contribute to food borne illness. The bacteria causing mastitis in cows and possible illness in people are found in the environment the cows are in contact with, so maintaining a clean cow shed and having a comfortable place for the cow to lay is a key part of the puzzle.

One aspect of our seminars trained on proper milking protocols to prevent mastitis. This consisted of a theoretical seminar explaining the importance and benefits of keeping cows mastitis-free followed by a practical session during which we demonstrated these procedures at local farms to help the farmers better understand this process in practice. The practical sessions also included the demonstration of the California Mastitis Test, which is a fast and simple test for the early detection of mastitis in the udder.

We explained the importance of treating mastitis using the correct dose of antibiotics but feel this is a great topic to expand upon in future years. Proper use of antibiotics by farmers and veterinarians worldwide is essential to reduce the occurrence of antimicrobial resistance, where bacteria evolve quickly to resist the action of currently available antibiotics. This has enormous impact on not only human and animal health, but also the environment. Currently, it is estimated that 700,000 deaths occur annually due to antimicrobial resistance but this number will increase greatly in the next 30 years, with a projected 10 million annual deaths by 2050.

Katarina Nedeljakova preforming a California Mastitis test with the Cow Co-op members of Kibatata Village.

The other aspect of our seminars explained to farmers how providing and maintaining stalls for their cows can minimize contamination of the udder by bacteria living in the environment. Not only do stalls keep the cows clean, but they also improve the comfort of the cow- meaning she will produce more milk! Producing more milk not only boosts human nutrition, but also provides economic opportunities to farmers. With profits from Co-op animals, farmers have been able to pay for school supplies, uniforms, or even furnish their houses with solar panels. Improved welfare for the cow will also improve the wellbeing of the Co-op families by increased health as well as greater economic and educational opportunities.

This is the principle of One Welfare, where just like One Health, the welfare of animals, humans and the well-being of the environment are interconnected. Though stalls are quite a large investment, we were able to train the extension workers from the villages in Kisondela Ward on how to construct the stalls. Once farmers have begun to profit from the milk sales through small improvements in animal husbandry, they can reinvest these profits to further improve the well-being of their cows. This is a positive cycle of profit and investment, with an eventual surplus that can be spent on family matters such as education.

Working together building a stall in Isuba Village!

The training of the Chicken Co-op members was another major focus of our summer. Like cows, chickens can also help diversify the diets of families. A healthy chicken can lay about 200 to 300 eggs a year, which either be consumed directly or kept with the hen to hatch chicks. Excess chickens and eggs can be sold for profit to support the Co-op members. Hen comfort is one aspect that contributes to egg production and hatching rates- the more comfortable the hen is, the more likely it is that she stays in her nest. Having a nest box in which hens can feel safe and comfortable is the first step to achieving this goal.

Our chick management seminars included practical sessions in which we guided Chicken Co-op members in constructing a nest box for their coop. In an unexpected turn of events, in addition to promoting animal health and welfare, gender equality also became a major theme of these seminars. During the nest box building sessions, men would automatically take the lead in planning and constructing the nest boxes while most of the women watched from the side. However, once they were given the opportunity to take part in the session most of the women were willing and enthusiastic to contribute to the project, from helping plan the nest boxes to hammering nails and sawing wood.

Chicken Co-op members Halima Noa and Noel Seme building a nest box in Ndobe Village.

 Again, One Health and One Welfare are shown to have a large impact on the success of international development initiatives as well as the well-being of smallholder farmers and their animals. Throughout the summer, we had the pleasure of being invited to the homes of many Co-op members and hearing how receiving the cows or chickens and appropriate training has directly impacted them and their families. Tabia Tujobe Mwakabuli is a Chicken Co-op member in Kambasegela Village who was gifted ten chickens last summer.

Tabia was selected by Africa Bridge as she is currently supporting her 19-year-old niece and her niece’s child. Now, she has 19 chicks and Tabia and her family consume the eggs for improved nutrition. Tabia is diligent in her animal husbandry and is determined to excel in the project. She hopes to start selling eggs and chickens for profit in the coming months to better support her family. We also had a chance to visit Chicken Co-op members Lupe Anudlele Mwakifumbwa and Ruth Lupe Mwakifumbwa from Lutete Village, who are currently supporting 7 children and one grandson. Though they started with four hens and one rooster in 2017, Ruth and Lupe now have about 40 chickens! They commented on how the seminars helped improve their animal care practices and how the profits they make through selling eggs and chickens contribute toward their childrens’ education.

Chicken Co-op member Tabia Tujobe Mwakabuli of Kambasegela Village and her chickens.
Chicken Co-op members Lupe Anudlele Mwakifumbwa and Ruth Lupe Mwakifumbwa from Lutete Village with their chickens.

Overall, we are very grateful to have had participated in the Youth Volunteers 2019 Program. Working with Africa Bridge this summer, it felt like we were learning as much (if not more) than we were teaching. Coming back to Canada, we have definitely gained a new outlook on the meaning of sustainable international development and animal health practices worldwide. Though we will miss Tukuyu, we are eager to apply these lessons back home and continue participating in international development in the future!

What is One Health, and what does it have to do with a Veterinarians without Borders project?

Actually, quite a lot.

A major component of our work here in Mukurewe-ini, Kenya, this year is teaching dairy farmers about zoonotic diseases (diseases that can be shared between people and animals), and how to prevent them. We focus on some of the most serious zoonotic diseases that are of greater concern in central Kenya: rabies, anthrax, rift valley fever, brucella, bovine tuberculosis, and internal parasites and other diarrhea causing pathogens. The most interesting part of teaching these seminars is that some of the farmers have already experienced some of these diseases – in themselves, their animals, or in their community.

Stories of people getting sick from slaughtering and eating an animal with anthrax are not uncommon. A friend a farmer knows cuts themselves with a knife they were using to butcher a cow that died (due to anthrax); the wound becomes infected; the rest of the family that ate that meat were hospitalized shortly after. Others know people in their community who died from anthrax after slaughtering a sick or deceased cow. It is also not uncommon to hear of people who went to the hospital for treatment when they became ill with a disease they contracted through drinking their cow’s raw milk (which can contain pathogens like brucella). Farmers are heavily dependent on their livestock as a source of food and income. When an animal dies due to disease the financial loss and subsequent food insecurity causes a considerable negative impact. For these reasons sick or deceased animals will be used as food unless farmers are made aware of risks, and supports are in place to improve food security by preventing animal disease in the first place.

Laura and Priscilla teaching about zoonotic disease prevention in humans at one of the on farm seminars.

Perhaps the saddest of stories we hear though, are the ones about rabies. During the time that we have been working in Kenya, multiple human rabies fatalities have been reported. In Kisumu County, about 6 hours from Mukurwe-ini, two children died of dog bites, in addition to several other people who were affected. The parents of the children were unable to afford the rabies treatment at the hospital, and instead opted to take them to an herbalist. When they returned to the hospital, the rabies treatment was out of stock. Both children died within days. In a neighbouring county to Mukurwe-ini, Murang’a, an outbreak occurred last summer, where a three-year-old boy succumbed to rabies. This is why we also teach seminars in schools to children about rabies prevention. In our sessions, they learn what the disease is, how they can get it, how to safely interact with dogs to avoid dog bites, and what to do in the case that they are bitten by a dog. We also teach safety around cows, and how to avoid getting other zoonotic diseases from the animals on their farms. The reception from teachers and students alike are often strong – most everyone comes from a farming background in this area, and everyone comes into contact with roaming dogs in the community. Teachers and students often express how they have learned new, practical, advice from the sessions.

Effective prevention of rabies in Kenya involves teaching people about the importance of vaccinating dogs and how to safely interact with dogs to avoid getting bitten.

So how does this tie into the One Health? And what is One Health?

The One Health approach recognizes that animals, people, and the environment are all interconnected. This approach understands that for a population to thrive, the animals in it and the environment that supports it must also be healthy. It is a critical problem-solving approach, as the same diseases that infect people live either within the environment or the animal population. For example, rabies in Kenya is best prevented in people by vaccinating dogs against the disease. Anthrax is controlled in populations by vaccinating cows against the disease in regions where it is prevalent, which prevents the spread of the bacteria amongst animals, to people, and also back into the soil, where it can survive for decades.

Teaching farmers and kids about the risks of zoonotic diseases empowers them with the knowledge to prevent these diseases in themselves and their animals. Reducing outbreaks of these diseases in animals reduces the likelihood that people will be infected, and vice versa. If the majority of dogs in Kenya were vaccinated against rabies, rabies deaths in people would become very rare. If at risk cows were vaccinated against anthrax, the incidence of anthrax infections in people would also be reduced. There would be fewer bacterial spores introduced into the soil, and fewer animals would be infected in the future, slowing the cycle of anthrax infections in Kenya’s domestic animal and wildlife populations. By alleviating animal suffering, we are also alleviating human suffering.

Lexie with schoolkids at Ithanji Primary School

Zoonoses risk is not exclusive to Kenya. Rabies has always posed a public health threat in Canada; however, the major risk is in wildlife populations as compared to dogs in Kenya. Most recently, the death of a British Columbia man from an infected bat bite made national headlines. The One Health concept doesn’t just apply to Kenya; in Canada, healthy wildlife and pets protects the health of humans, especially in the case of rabies. The One Health approach transcends borders and economic status.

With many farmers in Kenya still engaging in practices such as drinking raw milk, eating sick or dead animals, and not safely handling sick animals, the need for zoonotic disease training is an important step to reduce the burden of zoonotic diseases. Improving animal and human health improves productivity, which increases financial stability. People who are caught in a cycle of poverty carry a greater cost to making choices that benefit their community and environment long term at the expense of a small personal benefit. Helping people reach stable ground in terms of finances and health will improve the welfare of people and animals and benefit the local environment. This is the very core of the One Health concept – and the work that VWB is doing in Kenya to build capacity in farmers and children in how to prevent serious zoonotic diseases.

This project is funded by Global Affairs Canada, and also collaborates with the Sir James Dunn Animal Welfare Centre based in Prince Edward Island.

Rabies outbreak in Kisumu, Kenya:

Rabies case in British Columbia, Canada:

Rabies case in Murang’a, Kenya:


Young Volunteers in Tukuyu!

The Veterinarians Without Borders young volunteer program in Tanzania has had a delayed start but everyone is finally here and eager to begin our work with the staff of the non-governmental organization, Africa Bridge. Now working out of Tukuyu, Africa Bridge has been operational since 2005 and works to empower and assist families with vulnerable and orphaned children.  Their methods not only include local district officials, but also the adults and children in each ward they work with. Obtaining local input in selecting projects specific to each area allows the families Africa Bridge works with to have a greater impact and hopefully be most sustainable in the future. Each family gets to choose which of the selected projects they personally wish to be a part of.  The current projects that have been chosen involve dairy cattle, chickens, and avocadoes…this is where we come in!  Katy and I will be here until mid August and Megan and Dr. Gimbi (pictured below) have been travelling and mentoring us for the first weeks to help us settle in and plan our work for the rest of the summer.

Our Vets Without Borders team at our arrival at Songwe Airport in Mbeya, Rungwe District Tanzania. Left to Right: Megan White, Nicole Burcar, Dr. Angaza Gimbi, Katarina Nedeljakova

By supplying families and schools with these farm animals, Africa Bridge creates a sustainable way to empower families and in turn help the communities. To ensure this project has a long-term impact, the families given donations from Africa Bridge pass on the first calf, clutch of chicks, or avocado seedlings to other families, increasing the livelihood of many village members. Currently, 156 cows and 8 bulls, 1545 chickens, and 4450 avocados have been given to households in six different villages in the Kisondela ward. In the Kambasegala ward, 550 chickens have been given out in three different villages.  Since recipients are typically new to the agriculture industry, Africa Bridge provides extensive training to help farmers best take care of their animals and in turn be more profitable. Our roles will be linked to this initiative- leading training seminars, creating fact sheets, and listening to the farmers individual concerns are just a few of the tasks we aim to accomplish this summer.

50 Grafted Avocado Seedlings are given to families with 4 hens and 1 rooster, otherwise families can receive 9 hens and 1 rooster.

he chicken coop of Mpaki Benad where he has many sources of food and water available for his chickens as well as the added enrichment of hanging greens, which also provide the chickens with essential vitamins.

We spent the first weeks of our placement getting to know the local communities and conversing with farmers to identify the current issues the villages are facing. Our first task was to help with pregnancy diagnosis of the Africa Bridge co-op cows. The reproductive status of the cows can give us a lot of information about challenges farmers may be facing. This is typically done here by rectal palpation 3-5 months after cows were exposed to a bull. It is important for farmers to know whether their cows are pregnant to optimize their reproductive performance, resulting in increased milk production and economic gain. We also had the opportunity to introduce ourselves to the communities before going back the following week for our mentoring visits.

Nicole Burcar performing rectal palpation with the help of Noel Msuha, the agriculture specialist at Africa Bridge.

After a few busy days of pregnancy diagnosis, we returned to the villages for mentoring visits. This involved visiting each of the villages to identify the full range of their successes and challenges, not only related to reproduction. We also visited some of the co-op chickens. This will help both us as a volunteer team and Africa Bridge better tailor training programs to be the most beneficial to farmers. We visited a few farms in each ward, then met with all of the co-op members and extension workers in each village.

Our first stop was the Kambasegala ward to visit families with chickens. When visiting these households our objective was to ask the farmers questions to assess their current situations. We found that though farmers had done a great job in the basic construction of their chicken coops, some construction modifications and adjustments in terms of management could be made to optimize their production. This becomes especially important to successfully  hatch and raise chicks. We found that our observations matched the concerns that were brought up in the village meeting, but the community members also brought up some additional concerns such as handling vaccinations for their birds.

A group of co-op members with our VWB and Africa Bridge team from Mbambo village in the Kambasegela ward after our mentoring visit.

Our next stop was the Kisondela ward, where Africa Bridge has given out both cattle and chickens.  Regarding the hens, there were some similar concerns in this ward compared to Kambasegela. It was interesting to compare and contrast the management styles between the two wards, and since we identified some similar challenges we have a better idea of how to make our teaching program more focused.  We also visited different families who had co-op cows to ask them more about the care of these animals and the progress they have made since being given these cows about 2 years ago. Again, we found some strengths and weaknesses in their management, but this is understandable as they are new to dairy farming. The infrastructure in the area also leads to challenges, meaning that both us and the farmers have to get creative in constructing more versatile solutions that are specific to this area.

Noel, Fele, Puri, Dr. Gimbi, Nicole and Katy observing the behavior of Fele’s cow as well as his stall and pen construction. His cow preferred to lie down in the outdoor portion since the soil is softer and comfortable.

Based on discussions between the Africa Bridge staff and ourselves after seeing the different farms and receiving feedback from the co-op members, we decided the topic that would be most useful to teach about regarding dairy cattle is mastitis. Mastitis is an infection of the udder, which can have a negative impact on milk quality and milk production. Cows all over the world can be afflicted with mastitis and it can be difficult to treat so we will be teaching about different ways to prevent mastitis. Farmers in both wards have noted this being a problem. We will train on proper milking procedures and we will also help farmers construct stalls for their cows. The cow pens we observed were mostly very clean but the stalls will also help keep the cows more clean and comfortable to not only reduce the amount of mastitis but also help them produce more milk. Cow comfort may be an issue that is overlooked even in Canada, but cows that are more comfortable and lay down more do produce more milk, which will therefore help create more economic opportunities for these families.  For the chicken co-op members, we have decided to focus the training seminars on chick management. This includes providing information on brooding and nest boxes, as well as chick housing and feed information. An increased knowledge of chick management will help farmers ensure high survival rates among their chicks and increase the productivity of their flocks.

Another mentoring visit in Ndobe Village where we took note of the farmer questions and concerns regarding their chickens and cows.

We have spent time making a plan for the rest of our time here and we hope to visit each village again to train on chick management and mastitis. We feel like these will be manageable expectations and hopefully we will created training seminars that farmers will remember and they will be able to apply those lessons on their farms.  That’s all for now, in our next post we hope to be able to share the progress of our seminars with the co-op members here in the Rungwe district of Tanzania. We look forward to meeting more farmers and learning more about the agriculture industry in this district.

About the authors:

Nicole is also a student veterinarian at the Ontario Veterinary College. Nicole completed a BSc (Agricultural and Environmental Sciences) at McGill University. She is interested in practicing bovine medicine in the future and hopes to be able to use her experience with livestock to make some positive impact in the Kambasegela and Kisondela wards but also learn about the practices and challenges of small holder farmers in this region.

Katarina is a student in her final year of completing a BSc in Plant Biology with an embedded certificate in Sustainability Studies at the University of Calgary. When not studying plants, she spends her time hanging out with goats at a small farm outside of Calgary. In the future, she hopes to further study sustainable agricultural methods both in Canada and around the world.

Akwaaba from Ghana!

Akwaaba (“Welcome” in Twi) from Accra; Ghana’s capital city. With a metropolitan population of 4.3 million people Accra is a bustling city constantly on the go. Living in Accra is to be constantly surrounded by heat and humidity, as well as the smells of people’s perfume, street food stalls, and diesel fumes that allow vehicles to continue driving even during flood conditions. We arrived during the beginning of the rainy season, so humidity is high, and rain is becoming almost a daily occurrence; sometimes gentle and warm, sometimes torrential and dangerous.

Our home in Kpeshi, Accra, Ghana.


We’ve arrived and are all living together like one big family in our Barbie dreamhouse pink house in Kpeshie, a suburb of Accra. We will be spending half of our time here in Accra, with the remainder spent in rural Northern Ghana with one group in Yua and the other in Sirigu. The amenities in Accra are better than any of us were expecting with our own kitchen, plenty of bathrooms, and lots of overhead fans to help keep us cool. Two of our group (Heather Bauman and Madison Russel) have been in Africa previously and so had a better idea of what to expect, while the others (Heather Ellis and Mark Rossi) have not traveled outside North America or Europe.

Kwame Nkrumah Mausoleum for the founder of Ghana, in Accra.

We spent our first days getting Ghanaian phone numbers, groceries, trying local food, and going to beaches. We also got to meet our wonderful neighbour, Jennifer Agazere, and seeing some culturally significant landmarks while we tried to acclimatize to the heat. Some of the first places we visited were Independence square, the museum for Ghana’s founder Kwame Nkrumah, and the local artists market. We learned much about Ghana’s independence from Britain, which they gained in 1957, a brief 2 years before Newfoundland became part of Canada. We are also doing our best to support small crafters in the local economy, visiting markets to buy food and purchase gifts for our loved ones back home.

We are here to help small rural subsistence farmers increase their animals’ health and wellbeing by counselling in animal nutrition, importance of vaccination and deworming protocols, and appropriate housing. We can then troubleshoot the issues they face with limited resources, remote locations, and using only locally available materials that are environmentally friendly. This should have the trickle-down affect of increasing the production value of their animals, which will help raise the level of their families’ nutrition and their income. We hope this will increase the local populations and environmental health in the area as well. Since women are more likely to be the owners or poultry, and those that care for most of the small farmers livestock, we assist in empowering women in their communities. We are going to achieve this by running educational workshops, working with farmers one on one to troubleshoot issues, working with local women’s groups, and providing free vaccination and deworming to local animals.

The rest of the small herd of Nigerian Dwarf Goats waiting their turn for deworming and vitamin injections.

Heather Bauman deworming a Nigerian Dwarf Goat owned by a local farmer, being assisted with restraint of the goat by local partner and Veterinary Health Technician Isaac Bentil.

We are working with the Ghanaian Poultry Network (GAPNET) run by Ghana veterinarian Dr. Anthony Nsoh Akunzule, and organization that runs educational workshops and seminars to help farmers learn how to get the most out of their animals. Our local supervisor is Dr. Geoffrey Akabua, a veterinarian that has practiced both in Canada and Ghana and a great go-between for the differences between veterinary practice in Canada and Ghana. Gloria Essel, and employee of GAPNET and a fast friend, has been helping us get settled in our new home for the next three months. She is making sure we know where to get groceries and supplies, helping us plan weekend entertainment, and showing us culturally significant landmarks around southern Ghana. She has taken us to things such as Elmina Castle, a dark reminder of the history of the slave trade in West Africa, Boti waterfalls, and the Kakum National Park and the famous Canopy Walk which is 40 metres above the forest floor.



Kenya Dairy Project – Young Volunteers Update

After many months of fundraising and preparation, the Veterinarians Without Borders young volunteers have finally arrived in beautiful Mukurwe-ini, Nyeri County, Kenya. What exactly are three cow loving vet students from the Ontario Veterinary College doing in Kenya? Over the next three months, we will be training smallholder dairy farmers on zoonotic disease prevention and health management practices that will improve cow health and welfare, with the goal of increasing milk production. In addition to improving animal health and welfare, we are also working to improve human health. This is achieved through (1) preventing zoonotic diseases (diseases which are shared between animals and humans), (2) increasing milk production, food stability, and income for local farmers. In Mukurwe-ini, Veterinarians Without Borders works with the Wakulima Dairy Cooperative Ltd, which collects and processes the milk from local farmers. While the Mukurwe-ini area is an agricultural hotspot in central Kenya, the dairy sector dominates in this region, thanks to the support of the Wakulima Dairy.

Wakulima Dairy in Mukurwe-ini

Wakulima Dairy Sign

The Wakulima Dairy began with a mere 5 farmers producing a total of 32L in 1990. Since then, with the addition of a milk cooling tank in the year 2000, and the capability to process their own milk in 2014, the cooperative has grown to a remarkable 7000 active members today. This growth has been in part due to the 20+ year partnership between the dairy and a Canadian NGO Farmers Helping Farmers. Our work at the Wakulima Dairy builds on this partnership in areas of veterinary science and one health (recognizing the interconnectedness of human, animal and environmental health). In addition to selling their fresh milk, the dairy also recently began producing vanilla and strawberry yogurt, and ultra-high temperature (UHT) pasteurized milk. UHT milk does not require refrigeration until opening, and can be shipped further and stays fresh longer. Having a central processing facility and value-added products allows the local dairy farmers to receive a better price for their milk, and is a key component of food and financial security in the community.

Farmland in Nyeri County, Kenya, near Mukurwe-ini

The majority of farmers in Mukurwe-ini rely on one or two cows to produce the milk that supports themselves and their families financially. The difference of a few kilograms of milk production has drastic impacts on their ability to procure essentials for themselves and farm inputs to further enhance their production quality and capacity. This summer, our on-farm seminars will teach farmers about the risks of serious zoonotic diseases in central Kenya. The seminars focus on practical ways to reduce zoonotic disease transmission, like biosecurity, what to do in the event that farmers suspect their animal has a zoonotic disease, and prevention through vaccination. Additionally, we will be visiting farms to provide advice on nutrition, reproduction, cow comfort, and disease management.

Since arriving in Mukurwe-ini, we have had the opportunity to consult with farmers about various aspects of cow health and welfare. At Beatrice Wambui and Daniel Mwai’s farm of two milking cows, we provided some additional advice on enhancing stall comfort so that the cows would spend more time lying down in a dry, soft place. Dairy cows require a significant amount lying time to efficiently digest their feed and produce milk. A comfortable cow is a content, and a more productive, cow. We also checked a cow for mastitis upon Daniel and Beatrice’s request using the California Mastitis Test (CMT), since subclinical mastitis cannot be detected by simply looking at the cow’s milk. Subclinical mastitis leads to lower milk production, and increased risk the milk will be found unfit for human consumption. Testing for mastitis at farms gives farmers the opportunity to contact their vet for treatment, which improves cow health and milk production. In addition, we applied a topical de-wormer to the cow.

Laura Michalovic measuring cow with farmer Daniel Mwai to determine weight for de-wormer dosage


Nicole Burcar applying de-wormer with farmer Daniel Mwai.

At Lucy Njoki’s two milking cow operation, we discussed her concerns of low body condition scores in the cows. The recent drought in Kenya has made it difficult for farmers to provide sufficient forages to their animals. Luckily, rain has started to fall and feed is becoming more available. We provided advice on optimal nutrition strategies and checked one of her cows for mastitis using the CMT upon her request. We also made enhancements to the stalls to make them more comfortable to lie in, as Lucy noted that the cows were competing for one preferred stall. While the modifications may appear small from the human perspective, moving the dividing boards from the inside of the stall to the outside provides the cow with a wider, and therefore more comfortable, resting space. In addition, moving the bottom board a few inches lower will allow the cow the option to lie straight or diagonally, also allowing for more lunge space to comfortably get up and down.

Lucy Njoki (farmer), Priscilla Muthoni (translator), Nicole Burcar (VWB volunteer), Laura Michalovic (VWB volunteer), and Lexie Reed (VWB volunteer)

Lucy’s calf pen is an example of an excellent enclosure – a good roof covering the pen and feed, quality forages in the feeder, free access water at all times, and dry leaves for bedding.

After stall modification. The boards on the left side were moved to the outside of the stall to increase the available width. The bottom board was lowered by ~25cm to allow the cow to lay or lunge diagonally to increase functional width of the stall to encourage the cow to lie down inside the stall more often. The bedding quality is excellent and will contribute greatly to cow comfort.

The Mukurwe-ini community has graciously welcomed us, and we could not be more grateful to have the opportunity to work alongside the farmers and the Wakulima Dairy. It is heartening to see how much farmers care for their individual cows, and how enthusiastic they are about improving their practices. We are looking forward to continuing to learn about the unique challenges and opportunities of dairy farming in central Kenya.

Nicole and Lucy Njoki’s cow Admiration

Photo 10 – The VWB team headed to a farm seminar

Baadae – (until next time). Your team of bovine enthusiasts: Laura, Lexie, and Nicole.

About the authors:

Laura is a second-year student veterinarian at the Ontario Veterinary College, in Guelph, Ontario. Laura has received both her BScH (Animal Biology) and her MSc (Animal Science) from McGill University. She has also collaborated closely with Canadian dairy farmers while working at Holstein Canada and is very excited to compare and contrast dairy practices in Kenya.


Lexie is a student veterinarian at the Ontario Veterinary College. Lexie has a BSc in Agriculture and an MSc in Animal Biosciences both from the University of Guelph. Coming from a small cow-calf farm in Norfolk County, Ontario, she has spent many years working with and learning about cattle. Lexie is passionate about cow welfare, which she hopes to share with the smallholder farmers in Mukurwe-ini. Lexie would like to thank her sponsors, Merck Veterinary Affairs Team and Nutrien, for supporting her in this project.

Nicole is also a student veterinarian at the Ontario Veterinary College. Nicole completed a BSc (Agricultural and Environmental Sciences) at McGill University. She is interested in practicing bovine medicine in the future and hopes to be able to use her experience with dairy cattle to make some positive impact in Mukurwe-ini but also learn just as much about local dairy farming and culture.

Animal Health Training in Rural Tanzania

Hi! My name is Adrien Nahayo, and I have been volunteering as a field veterinary adviser with the support of VWB and by Mr. Ponciano L Edouard, Mr. Kelvin,  and Mr. Noel at local  partner Africa Bridge in the Rungwe district of Tanzania. I have been working to build capacities of the farmers and Africa Bridge staff by providing training sessions focused on animal feeding, diseases control, and farm management.

I visited the villages of Kambasegela and Kisondela wards and held discussions with farmers and paravets working with Africa Bridge to assess and identify the skillsets of community members. Through these discussions I was also able to identify knowledge areas and skills training I could lead to improve the productivity of their chicken and cows. To build capacities of the poultry farmers, the seminars were delivered in Kisondela wards, village of Bugoba and Lutete. Under this building capacity we managed to discuss and lead training sessions the following;

  • Basic chicken feeding
  • Adults chicken nutrition
  • Chicks nutrition
  • Laying hen and chicks nutrition
  • Chicks and eggs management
  • Common poultry diseases control
  • Farm record keeping

The attendance record was impressive. In total 140 farmers; 69 from Bugoba and 71 from Lutete village. The were more women than men at these training sessions, which was great to see. In total, 41 women in Bugoba and 33 women in Lutete village attended with men present were 28 and 38 respectively.

Adrien leading a training session in March.
Adrien leading a training session in March.

A key topic discussed was poultry health, and ways to detect animal illnesses. I was able to provide a seminars on poultry health and provide key ways to identify diseased poultry versus healthy poultry to farmers. A central issue was nutrition, which is linked to animal health.  Leading session on nutrition,  a nutritious recipe for poultry feed was provided. Additionally, a calendar for vaccination schedules and a template for farm records was provided alongside training sessions to assist farmers in best animal health practices. Before giving these documents to the farmers, they were also translated in Swahili by Africa Bridge.

At the end of training sessions on animal feed and nutrition, the farmers were convinced that there is enough animal food resources in their regions, which was great to hear. They were also keen and committed to keep farm records to better manage animal health moving forward.

I look forward to the rest of my time here in Tukuyu with Africa Bridge and VWB to support local farmers and  increase local capacity on animal health.

Animal Production Updates from Tamale

Well, here I sit again in Tamale, Ghana, one of my most favorite places on earth. The start of many more memories and work in advancing animal agriculture with the wonderful people of the Eastern Corridor. One remarkable thing about returning to a place you love is to return to the same sights, sounds and smells, where it seems nothing has changed but continued on in your absence. And welcoming you warmly, like the touch of the suns strong rays, back into the day to day bustle of life in Tamale.

It’s been a busy month since I arrived in Accra the middle of January. I had my share of troublesome days with missed connections, lost luggage and computer problems but the good memories will far out weigh the bad. In the days since I arrived I have reconnected with friends from across the world who have embraced me back with open arms. The staff at Send- Ghana, as always, have been there for me to help in anyway they can and ensure that I am settling right back in at home. The temperature adjustment was much harder this time, as when I left my home town it was nearly -20°C and a major snow storm had met us just the night my departure. Stepping off the plane in Accra felt like I had been slapped in the face with a wall of intense heat. But as usual our bodies tend to adjust and now the 35-40 °C weather feels somewhat normal again.

Earlier this month, Dr. Joseph Danquah, another VWB volunteer, and I were invited to speak to two women’s groups in Wulensi who raise poultry together as a group effort. We spoke to both groups on aspects of animal rearing, in particular, I spoke about poultry nutrition, proper feeding supplementation. Up until now these women had been apart of a project put on by another organization and had received funding for the construction of their barns, purchasing of animals as well as provided with a commercially formulated feed. We hope that through our discussions regarding bio security measures, proper animal husbandry from Dr. Danquah and feeding requirements on my part; when the funding ends, the women can continue to successfully raise their poultry with feeds that are formulated on farm rather then the expensive commercial feeds that will no longer be provided.

Women in Wulensi learning to formulate poultry feed

We also had the opportunity to return to villages that we had visited last year to see what progress they have made in terms of animal production. This was one of the most rewarding visits I ever had. The community members were so elated to see me return and proud to show the changes that they had made in terms of rearing their animals. This really portrayed how well the knowledge that we have transferred has produced a viable change to these community members lives.  I look forward to getting back into the field next week to complete more sensitization sessions, focusing on proper animal nutrition and health management. Keep following the VWB blog link for more updates from Tamale!

Maximizing Milk in Meru

Farmers in Meru, Kenya are eager to improve the milk production of their cows. For the past three weeks, our group of volunteers with Vets without Borders (VWB), in partnership with the Meru Central Dairy Union, have been working to meet this goal, through education.

A common sight in Meru – a milk delivery truck.

There are three of us here: Dr. Aleta Schmah, a veterinarian with nine years of experience; Cydney Smith, with a background in dairy farming, testing milk, and advising farmers on how to improve production; and Fiona Emdin, a third-year student of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Sydney. Here in Meru, The Meru Central Dairy Union acts as the central organization for over 40 smaller co-operatives. The union regulates milk collection and milk distribution centers and provides resources to smaller cooperatives. One such resource is the co-operative and Meru Central Dairy Union extension officers, trained individuals with a deeper knowledge of dairy farming who answer questions and provide direction to farmers about crop management, silage production, mastitis prevention, and animal welfare topics.

We were lucky enough to see a demonstration of silage production. The forage (maize) is cut by a chaff cutter and packed by foot in layers. Molasses is coated between layers, and acts as a starter for the fermentation process.

One of VWB’s main directives while we are in Meru is to provide additional training to extension officers. This ensures sustainability of the VWB programs in this area. After discussions with extension officers and other Meru Dairy employees, a number of topics have been identified as important for further education. We held a training session with extension officers on Feburary 1st, under the direction of Dr. Schmah, covering identification of mastitis using the California Mastitis Test (CMT), mastitis management and treatment, and how to effectively educate farmers on the reproductive cycling of their cows.

Another of VWB’s mandates while in Meru is to continue to educate farmers directly. Currently, there are only 22 extension officers for over 40 co-operatives in the Meru Central Dairy Union. Despite the hard work of these extension officers, it has been difficult for them to provide education and direction to all farms because of the rapidly increasing number of dairy farmers in the region. We will be conducting sixteen seminars over the course of our three weeks here, in partnership with four smaller co-operatives. A number of seminar topics have been identified as important by previous VWB groups in Kenya. These include: cow nutrition, cow housing, mastitis management and prevention, cow reproduction, and calf care.

Dr. Aleta and Cydney educate farmers on the best stall design to improve production and comfort for their cows.

We try to tailor our seminars for each area, visiting two or three typical farms to determine what issues are most important to farmers in the area. This also allows us to speak to farmers about some of the more common diseases and issues they face and what common forages they use. With each seminar, we also aim to have at least half of the attendees be women, to help educate and strengthen the position of women who participate in household dairy management. Our seminars, thus far, have been very well received.

A finely chopped feed of Napier and Maize. The most common forage used for dairy cows in Meru is Napier grass. A less common forage is sunflower.

Mastitis is one of the issues faced by dairy farmers both in Canada and here in Kenya. To help address this issue, after each seminar we demonstrate how to use the California Mastitis Test (CMT) to identify subclinical mastitis.  The CMT is a simple locally available test done on farm with a small sample of milk to look for inflammatory cells. If farmers are interested in testing their cows, we advise them they can contact their extension officers for this service. When demonstrating the CMT, we often identify low-grade subclinical mastitis in tested cows. Farmers are frequently extremely surprised to learn that their cow has subclinical mastitis. Subclinical mastitis presents with no visual changes to the milk and the cow appears healthy, however these low grade infections will reduce milk quality and decrease milk production in the long run. This knowledge motivates them, and the other farmers observing, to take the recommended preventative steps against mastitis outlined in the seminars.

Fiona demonstrating the CMT to participating farmers at a VWB seminar

Through our work educating farmers and extension officers we hope to sustainably improve both the livelihoods of smallholder dairy farmers through increased milk production, and the welfare and health of their animals through simple changes in management.

Our work is part of a multi-year partnership with the Meru Central Dairy Union, and funding for this work has been provided by Global Affairs Canada.

Gender Updates from Mbarara

Hello Everyone, my name is Hamda Mohamed and this is my first blog post! This is long overdue, so let’s start from the beginning. I arrived in Mbarara, Uganda on July 2nd. Before reaching Mbarara, there is a couple of hours drive from Entebbe to Mbarara. After arriving in Mbarara, I met my advisor Annet, who helped me get settled in to my new surroundings. She made me feel very comfortable right away, and she invited me into her home and cooked lunch for Chris (another volunteer) and I. She was (and still is) a great local advisor and very welcoming.

Hamda at Annet’s with Chris

I began my placement with local partners SNV and their partner, Agriterra shortly after arriving. Once my workplan was approved and the community members had been introduced to me, I could begin the implementation of my workplan. This included travelling to villages daily. Some villages were only a 20 minute drive while others would take several hours to reach.

While in the villages, I found wearing dresses provided me with better approval within the community compared to when I wore jeans. The way you present yourself absolutely impacts how well you fit into the community, and whether or not they will internalize and listen to what you are saying. Traditionally woman in the villages do not wear pants, which are Western. Therefore, the fact that I look like a local and dress within their appropriate attire makes trust and capacity building much easier.

During one village visit to Sanga, I held meetings with seven women leaders in their community. Within this group three woman owned their own yogurt business; there were also several female board members of the Sanga dairy co-operative present. The discussions focused on strategies for gender and youth sensitization, mobilization, and inclusion within the dairy value chain. Dairy and the dairy value chain is a central source of income for many communities here, so it is important to include women and youth who are typically excluded from income opportunities.

Hamda meeting with women in Sanga.

Local issues with the dairy value chain were discussed. One issues the women involved in yogurt production explained was a lack of support for market integration. Specifically, due to localization and lacking supports for transport and marketing of their product they experience barriers for growth. Many of these women have low income and cannot afford to implement the steps needed to market their yogurt. For example, selling yogurt in bottles is inexpensive compared to containers. However, people in the community prefer to buy yogurts in containers which results in a struggle to financially ‘break-even’ for these groups. On the other hand, it was also made apparent that these three yogurt groups were competitively vying for a market in one small area. Through our meetings we decided to take all three yogurt groups and make one united group, titled “Sanga’s Women Group.” Forming one collective group united these entrepreneurs and made it easier to implement marketing strategies and pooled funds. Sanga’s Women Group is collaborating with a local business ‘ Yoba For Life’ to assist them with marketing strategies.

These female leaders are keen to acts as ‘agents of change’ to help mobilize other woman in different areas in a similar way. They proposed the idea of travelling to field with me and advocating for the opportunity of financial empowerment as a role model group. These women had explained that extensive sensitization is required from community leaders as well. One female board member explained to me that I should rally all the female board members and ask them to join me in my youth and gender discussions. If the board members were to travel to different areas to advocate on the importance of decision-making power that is present within cooperatives, it would produce a stronger effect within these vulnerable groups because they would see the evidence for themselves.

Additionally, one female leader advised me to get church leaders involved, in collaboration with female board members. She explained that the support of pastors and husbands, would produce a domino effect of sensitizing the women as well because there would be a system of acceptance that would be felt holistically, in every aspect of domestic life.

Hamda working with women in Sanga

I conducted a gender training meeting in Akatongole. The women who attended the meeting were interested in yogurt making but were skeptical about how fiscally responsible it would be to invest in yogurt making. Many women have to take out loans from their husbands which was a concern for them. The extension officer of Akatongole advised me to have another meeting in which I arrive with a successful women’s yogurt group and female board members as well. It was interesting to hear from many different sources that the women and youth in these rural areas require role models (Champion Role Model Group/ Champion role model female board members/Church leaders) to help advocate for empowerment.

The challenge has been that these church leaders/ female board members are quite spaced out geographically. These rural agrarian landscapes make it financially difficult for these change agents to travel and help sensitize the women and youth in remote villages.

I did however form nine group councils and 16 youth councils. These groups discussed a shared vision for their team in having additional income with the dairy value chain. Through the youth and women subsidies provided by SNV (a local partner of VWB) many of them were excited and are on track to increase their funds. Psychological empowerment of youth was another factor that I took into consideration for each group by discussing the innovative and fresh ideas that each member could contribute.

One thing that I kept noticing was the low number of women within youth groups and in board of cooperatives. I realized that it was hard to access women to appear in meetings due to the double burden of time present for them. Even if youth councils were free to join (compared to cooperatives), their time was still occupied. If I wanted to see and sensitize more women, I would have to travel to them individually, household by household.

Although I work hard, in my free time I hang out with my roommate who is also my co-worker and some of our local friends. We go swimming and horse back riding, and I enjoy being out with nature as much as I can. Of course, with a stable tropical climate such as Mbarara, we have all the beautiful sun you could ask for. I travelled to Lake Bunyonyi, which was also an amazing experience. It is several hours from Mbarara, and it contains the second deepest lake in Africa. It really was very relaxing being by the lake and canoeing. I had such a cathartic experience being there, it was a beautiful experience.

Hamda and friends

After the time at the lake, it was back to work!