Well another couple weeks have passed with many cows examined, many hands shaken, many stories exchanged and many memories made. It’s hard to believe an entire month has gone by and only two remain. At the beginning three months seemed like endless amounts of time and yet now it seems to pass by so quickly.
Since my last post Jen and I did manage to enrol all the remaining farms before the end of June for a total of 36 farms. It was a very busy and exciting week. Oftentimes we found ourselves driving from one corner of the region to another as we visited new farms, returned to farms that had calved and revisited farms that had already calved previously. We certainly gained a great deal of clinical experience performing yet more physical exams and withdrawing jugular blood samples from all the newborn calves. Since neither Jen nor I have had much experience with the technique before it was awkward and frustrating at first to hold off the vein while manuveering the needle into a comfortable position to hit he vein. However, with patience, and help from the farmers to restrain the calf, we became very proficient and for the last few calves it took us only one attempt. Once I even had an audience of 15 children peering over my shoulder as we collected the sample. That time there were a number of gasps when the needle was inserted and the vacuum container filled with blood. Eventually these blood samples will be sent off to a lab and tested for plasma protein and selenium concentration. It is theorised that failure of passive transfer of immunoglobulins is a large contributing factor to high pre-weaning calf mortality rates here. Unfortunately we experienced a couple such mortalities in our study. We sadly have lost four of our calves despite our best efforts – two perished within hours of birth while the remaining two were weak from the beginning, one being a month premature and the other having a very sick mother during gestation. While it represents a complication for the project I feel the greater concern here is the loss to the farmer. As for many of them these animals make up their livelihood I can only imagine the disappointment they must feel. Hopefully, we will not encounter any more deaths over the course of the project.
Fortunately there have been some successes to balance out the misfortunes. For a number of our farms the milk production is increasing up to 20L (for Kenyans cows this is a very good yield). In addition a number of the farmers have taken our recommendations regarding cow comfort and housing to heart and have made improvements to their structures- cleaning them out, providing dry bedding and adjusting stall parameters to match the cow’s requirements. It is rewarding to see such efforts being made towards improvement and I commend these farmers for their hard work and dedication.
In more cheerful news Jen and I have now been joined by Silvia and Pauline from the University of UPEI. Pauline is a third year student enrolled in the veterinary program and Silvia is a graduate student who will in fact be using the data we collect for her master’s project. It seems that the University of Nairobi has the only veterinary program in Kenya, although that could change in the next couple of years. We are curious to hear more about how their veterinary program compares to our own and to share experiences with them in the field. We are glad to have them both as part of the project and as roommates at the house. They provide wonderful company and their skill and knowledge has been invaluable thus far both on the farm and in terms of getting around and getting to know Kenya.
So far we have had quite a few little adventures on the farms and in between. For instance just this week we encountered a bit of car trouble on the way to one of our farms. One of the taxi drivers we have been using, Fredrick, is perhaps the sweetest and most content individual I know but his car is quite the character; it must be at least 30-40 years old and looks like it’s had a few rough times. Furthermore it is a standard. Given the uneven and bumpy roads here I am amazed the car has survived this long. Anyways one of the farms Pauline and I visited this week was at the bottom of a big hill. Once we finished we climbed into the vehicle and Fredrick made a gentle attempt to climb the hill. We made it only about halfway and at that point the car puttered to a stop. We put it in neutral and slid back down. Then Fredrick shifted up a couple gears, revved the engine, floored the gas pedal and we tore up the hill for the second time. This time we made it about 2/3 of the way before we lost momentum and all upwards progress. Again we put the car in neutral and backed down the hill. I was sure the third time would do it as we backed an extra 100m to gain more speed but yet again after a mad dash the car just couldn’t manage the ascent. Pauline and I climbed out of the car to try and push it up the remaining 200m but the car would not budge! Five strangers walking along the road noticed our struggle and put down their bundles to throw their weight against the car as well. Still it would not move! Fredrick decided to try one more time climbing up the hill without us in it. So we watched him back up yet again, heard the roar of the engine and watched his poor car bump and bounce up the slope. This time he made it! However as Pauline and I approached the car to get back in we could not help but notice that the exhaust pipe was hanging little lose from the rear end. When we finished at the next farm Fredrick was closing the hood of his car and wouldn’t you know it, but the exhaust can was sitting in the back! Poor car…
Another of our farms is also located at the bottom of a hill bordered by a school yard. Don’t worry Fredrick’s car did not suffer any further abuse on this hill. Rather Jen and I had a rather unique experience. This last week as we finished our work and climbed the hill back to the car the children from the school were at recess. Whenever Jen and I go out we are often the subjects of curious looks from children who often giggle and whisper as we pass by or shout “muzungo” and wave energetically. Anyways as we climbed the hill, I waved to a group of children and shouted a greeting before turning to take a picture nearby. I heard shouting behind me and when I turned back around suddenly I was swarmed by a hundred children, smiling from ear to ear with hands extended and whispering “how are you”. I must have shaken at least 50 hands (some more than once) and exchanged many more greetings before we finally waved goodbye and ventured onto the next farm. Never before (and maybe never again) have I seen so many individuals so excited to meet me.
Last week Jen and I also ventured into the market of Murkurweini for the first time accompanied by Sylvia and Pauline. I thoroughly enjoyed the fresh air and exertion of the leisurely45 minute walk along the side of the road although I must say the cars oftentimes drive a little closer to the shoulder than I’d like. In fact it seems to be common practice here to drive wherever is most convenient on the road- whether that be on the opposite side or halfway into the shoulder! Anyways, we made it to town intact and strolled through the market, admiring the fresh fruit displays and sorting through piles of fabric and clothing. I think a good deal of the clothing is imported as I saw more than one familiar label such as Old Navy and Columbiana. I was very surprised to encountered winter jackets and toques amongst the mounds of clothing. They claim this 20-25 ᵒC weather is their cool season. Jen and I find are quite comfortable in t-shirts and capris but we cannot help but note the large number of children walking to school with wool toques and men on motorcycles in huge heavy jackets. How ironic would that be to buy my winter jacket and toque in Kenya!
We have also ventured into Karatina by local transport (matatu) for market day. One of our taxi drivers was telling me it is one of the largest outdoor markets in all of Africa (not sure how accurate that is). Pauline is form around Karatina so she was able to find us the best stores to gather supplies for the following week and then she took us through the market area. There certainly was a vast array of stalls displaying everything from clothing, to shoes, to electronics. Jen and I both bought a couple brightly coloured head scarves to wear on the farms. I think I’ll have to work on my bartering skills and my kukuyu before we return again though. When we grew tired of shopping and wandering around Pauline took us to visit a restaurant run by her brother. He warmly greeted us and welcomed us in. At first I was a little hesitant to order simply because I didn’t know how it was prepared and I feared that I might get sick afterwards. However the restaurant seemed very clean and respectable so Jen and I both ordered a meat pie. I must say it was delicious (for the record I did not get sick either!) and the the service was excellent. We will definitely be returning there before the summer is finished.
I think that about wraps it up for now,