A Kenyan Veterinarian’s Work

Text and photos by Katy White, UCVM Veterinary Student and VWB Intern.

The internships with the Wakulima Dairy group are a joint initiative of Veterinarians without Borders and Farmers Helping Farmers, an organization of globally-minded people from Prince Edward Island partnering with Kenyan farmers and families. This project is also supported by the Sir James Dunn Animal Welfare Centre.

This week we spent a day with Patrick, one of the veterinary technicians from the Wakulima Dairy. In Kenya, veterinary technicians have extensive training and are licensed to treat animals so long as they work under the indirect supervision of a veterinarian, reporting on the cases they have seen each week. Dr. Auyub is the lead veterinarian at the Wakulima Dairy, and there are two other technicians that work under him.

Over the course of our day, we saw some very interesting cases. The day started with a case of foot rot, as common an ailment here as it is in Canada. In Kenya, it is especially common in cows who do not have an adequate resting stall. Without somewhere clean and comfortable to rest, the cows spend more time standing on hard ground or in manure, making them prone to foot rot. In this case, we treated with topical and intravenous (IV) antibiotics, pain control, and advised the farmer to keep it as clean as possible.

Blog 7 - 01Julia, Patrick, Ephraim, and Katy after a successful day of veterinary work in Mukurwe-ini.

The first farmer we saw had also had cases of East Coast Fever and babesia on his farm in the last year. Both of these are tick borne diseases that are seen more commonly in Kenya than Canada. Tick borne illness is especially common in cows that graze out where they might be in contact with wild animals. However, in the Mukurwe-ini area most cows are zerograzing, meaning they stay in their stalls all the time and farmers bring forage to their cows. It is suspected that cows here get tick borne illness from hay that is harvested in higher risk areas and then sold to local farmers.

Blog 7 - 02The lead legged tick, seen here, can be a vector for diseases like East Coast Fever and babesia.

We had follow-up visits with two other farmers who had cows that were recently diagnosed with East Coast Fever. The cows presented as pale, depressed, anorexic, and with decreased milk production. Their temperatures were over 40oC. They also had petechiae (small internal bleeds presenting as red dots) across their gums. The lymph nodes in front of their front and hind limbs were significantly enlarged. Successful treatment depends on early diagnosis and luckily in these cases the treatment Patrick had offered 48 hours earlier was enough to make significant improvements in both cows. For future prevention, applying a tick-killing spray (such as permethrin) every seven days will be essential.

Blog 7 - 03Julia attempting to carry a load of Napier grass similar to the weight of those we mentioned in last week’s blog.

Two other farmers we visited were part of the youth farmer project we are running. On our second visit to their farms, we perform physical exams and California mastitis tests (CMT) on farmer’s cows. When we find positive CMT results or any other abnormal findings, we recommend follow-up with local veterinarian professionals like Patrick. The prevalence of mastitis is much higher in Kenya than in Canada. The majority of the farms we visit have at least one cow with subclinical mastitis. When cows have mastitis they give less milk, the milk is of poorer quality, and farmers have the added expense of treatment. Prevention through proper hygiene is one of the main things we are educating farmers about on our visits. An intramammary antibiotic given in the affected teats helps to prevent an increase in severity of the infection and stops spread to other quarters. We are currently working with the dairy to ensure they are using appropriate antibiotics to treat infections and prevent antibiotic resistance.

Another common thing we have to educate farmers on is the importance of mineral feeding. Though most farmers are feeding mineral, they are often feeding it inconsistently and in inadequate amounts. Cows are often getting less than a third of what they are recommended to receive in a day. As a result, farmers here struggle with their cows not coming into heat, low milk production, and illness associated with mineral deficiency. In addition, dry cows (those who are not being milked in the two months before calving) are often being fed milking cow minerals resulting in milk fever. Through the course of our day, we saw a calving cow presenting with milk fever and vaginal prolapse, as well as a mineral deficient heifer. By helping to educate farmers on proper mineral feeding hopefully we can prevent the need for emergency veterinary visits like the one we had to assist on.

Blog 7 - 04Another successful seminar, where we discussed mastitis prevention, reproduction, nutrition and cow comfort.

We also responded to a call from a farmer who reported a difficult calving. When we showed up it was evident that the cow was in the middle of an abortion, and needed assistance to pass the fetus. Once the fetus was pulled we estimated that it had stopped developing at the 7-month stage of pregnancy, likely due to an intrauterine infection caused by a natural bull breeding. Most farmers here use artificial insemination (AI) to get their cows pregnant but some still have their cows bred by a bull making them prone to infection and injury.

AI is performed by a veterinary professional and with Patrick, we visited 3 farms for AI. Without ready access to internet, it is hard for farmers to know which bulls they want to breed to, so they trust the veterinarian to make the decision for them. Patrick choses the sire based on conformation, genetics, and owner preference for imported or local semen. He makes his decision on the farm after talking to the farmer about their cow. To time the breeding, the veterinarians rely on farmers to recognize signs of heat. This is something we work with farmers on during our seminars. Occasionally when a farmer is struggling to get their cow pregnant, the veterinarians will use hormones to help time breeding but for most farmers, that option is out of the budget.

Blog 7 - 05Patrick performing AI on an Ayrshire cow.

Through the course of the rest of the day, we also saw a dog with kennel cough and dewormed each of the animals we saw. We also talked to a farmer about a recent anthrax outbreak in her area that had resulted in one human death. This was tragic news for everyone involved, but it is because of the support of Patrick and the other Wakulima Dairy veterinarians that the outbreak was handled before it turned into an epidemic. Spending the day with Patrick really highlighted the importance of veterinarians not just to animal health, but also to human health. By helping people keep their animals healthy, the veterinarians here are directly improving the health of the farmers and their families.

Blog 7 - 1Katy and Julia with two slightly unhappy puppies after a tandem deworming!

Blog 7 - 06Katy and Julia  at Chania Falls in Aberdares National Park where they took a chance to explore on their weekend.