Well we have officially reached the two week landmark since our arrival in Kenya! It’s incredible to look back on how much has happened in so short a period of time. Both Jen and I have commented that it feels like it
has been much longer than that. Due to some initial difficulties with internet, travel to other regions and a busy start to our project we’ve been unable to post until now. It would be impossible to do justice to the entire experience of the last two weeks (as that would take at least 20 pages or more) but I will do my best to summarise and highlight the key events:
Jeff and Maureen Witchel, professors from UPEI, joined up with us in Nairobi to supervise for the first two weeks and help get the project up and rolling. We will also be joined later on in the project by two students from the university of Nairobi; Sylvia and Pauline.
I suppose our stay become official on May 15 when we settled into the chairman’s house in Ichamara.. The house is more than I was expecting in terms of comfort- it is quite cozy and well equipped with a flushing toilet (though no toilet seat), a hot shower (granted the power is on) and plenty of space. All in all I think we’ll have a pleasant stay here. In fact we have caught ourselves referring to it as home a few times now.
We have also begun work on our project and have made excellent progress so far.
To avoid confusion later on perhaps I will provide a brief summary here of what our project involves. This summer we will be conducting a nutritional survey focusing on both cow and calf health in an effort to find the ideal combinations of the feeds available to these farmers. Ideal in the sense that it yields both healthier calves and cows. Healthier calves, will theoretically give rise to stronger and higher producing milking cows or heavier bull calves to sell. Healthier cows will theoretically produce more and better quality milk. Overall the benefit to the farmer will be increased income from enhanced milk production and calf growth.
For the project we will be enrolling members of the Wakulima dairy cooperative due to calve within our critical time period. The cow and calf from the farm will be randomised to 1 of 9 different nutritional groups consisting of 9 possible variations of 4 feeds. One is a dairy grain ration, one a calf starter mix, one a vitamin supplement and one simply milk straight from the mother cow to the calf. All of the feed for the treatment plans will be supplied to the farmers by Bora feeds( Bora means excellent in Swahili and is literally located 200 meters from our home at the Chairman’s) free of charge. So phase one of our project involves visiting each farm, gathering information (extensive information!) about the history of the cow currently pregnant, diet, health complications; you name it, we record it. Once we have gathered this info, we then do a complete physical exam on every cow on the farm, treating disease as we find it or have the means to. Those cows which will ultimately qualify for phase two of our study, must be confirmed pregnant and be determined to be expecting within the next few weeks. Phase two of our project will begin once the calf has been born. Weekly we will visit each farm for the next 60 days, doing physical exams on those cows and calves selected for the study and recording more info on how the feeding plan is going (seeing if it is being implemented as we have asked or if their are any problems etc.) and then eventually compiling all this data together, to see which feeds are most cost effective in terms of growth and production. Next year, the study will be done on an even larger scale, hopefully following what we have found to be the best treatment plan (or, if need be a mixture of the plans if all foodstuffs are determined to be of equal benefit). Phew, so there it is! Not so brief but for those of you following this, I promise it won’t be repeated!
As of now we have enrolled 29 farms in the project and have had 12 cows calve. Jen and I are getting lots of clinical experience conducting physical exams, testing milk, doing rectal palpations and drawing blood samples.
Since we are both fresh from our first year of vet school much of the techniques are unfamiliar to us but Jeff and Maureen from UPEI have been great teachers. Their advice, support and their patience has been greatly appreciated!
The survey portion of the project has allowed us to also interact with the farmers. Some of the stories they have shared are astonishing. Despite the hardships they face these farmers are some of the friendliest, welcoming and generous people I have ever met. Just last week one women sent us home with a bag full of at least 50 passion fruits and another farmer collected a dozen eggs from his chickens for us. Another woman promised to name her calf Morgan or Maureen if it is female! I look forward to visiting with each farmer and hearing more about their lifestyle upon our weekly return visits to check the cow and calf.
From my observations so far Kenyan dairy farming is verydifferent from Canadian dairy farming. While in Canada a herd of 50 would be considered quite small most herds here consist of only two or three cows.
Most farmers here are limited in their growth by land availability. It is common for farmers here to own only 1-2 acres of land and rent another acre or two from a neighbour. This limitation causes a struggle for many
farmers to gather adequate amounts of forage for their cows. The weather further compounds the difficulties as the fluctuation of wet and dry season brings alternating periods of shortage and abundance. There are also stark contrasts in housing, cow comfort, milking techniques and farm management.
We have also had the opportunity in our first week to tour around some of the other projects going on in Kenya with Melanie Boyd, the representative for CIDA. Our tour began with the Wakulima dairy cooperative,
the organisation our project is closely associated with. The story behind Wakulima still astounds me. The organisation began as a self help group for farmers with an initial daily milk yield of 32 L Since that time the group has grown into a promising company now collecting 40 000L of milk daily at their peak. In addition
they have acquired milk cooling tanks and are in the process of expanding into milk processing. It is truly a success story. During our tour we also visited a number of greenhouses and a school cook house sponsored by CIDA. We also made a stop at the Muchuwi Women’s group where we were greeted by a welcoming song and dance! These women are quite the success story as well- they have become very proficient business women since the group started.
Other notable experiences thus far included experiencing our first torrential downpour (followed by many more since), our first power outage (also followed by many more since…) and getting stuck in the mud. The roads
here seems to shape around the land and are very rough and uneven. We had the misfortune to be driving through a very slick T-intersection during a heavy downpour. I was quite unprepared when the van dramatically slid and bashed into the bank along the road, tilting the vehicle to an awkward 45 degree angle. A number of rescues were attempted by at least two different vehicles, each of which ended up also stuck in the mud along with us and four other vehicles throughout the intersection. Luckily 20 or so farmers appeared out of no where and pushed us back onto the road. What an experience!
Well I think that about wraps up the first two weeks. Jeff and Maureen are departing today, leaving Jen and I to take charge of the project. We will miss them dearly and wish them safe travels home and abroad. Hopefully, next time you hear from us Sylvia and Pauline will have arrived and all 36 farms will be enrolled in the project!
Morgan and Jen