From Manitoba to Meru, Kenya

Two local veterinarians recently went to Kenya, Africa, to help make a difference in the lives of diary farmers there. Claus and Karen Leppelmann — owners and operators of Beausejour Animal Hospital and Lac du Bonnet Veterinary Service — and their children found themselves in the Meru region of Kenya back in February, where they toured local dairy farms and worked side-by-side with Kenyan farmers who make their living working in the dairy industry.

There are 42,000 dairy producers that ship milk to the dairy processor the Leppelmanns worked with, Mount Kenya Dairy. Each producer has an average of two cows each and average milk production is two to four litres per cow, per day. That’s much different than here in Canada, where Claus says the average calf is fed six litres of milk each day just to keep it properly nourished.

In Kenya, milk is commonly transported by motorcycle from the farm to the collection centre.

“The dairy industry in Kenya looks much different than it does here in Canada”, Claus notes. “Most milk is picked up from the farm and goes to a central collection centre that has a cooling bulk tank”.

“One farmer we met hauled the milk up to the road in milk cans everyday,” Claus says. “Most milk is picked up from the farm by motorcycle. Often, it will spoil by the time it gets to the collection center, and the farmers don’t get paid for it. It’s one of the hardships they can face.”

Claus and Karen Leppelmann examine a dairy cow in Kenya.

Kenya is a country in East Africa with coastline on the Indian Ocean. It encompasses savannah, lakelands, the dramatic Great Rift Valley and mountain highlands. It’s also home to wildlife like lions, elephants and rhinos — and lots of dairy cows. It has a population of just over 46 million people.

According to the Kenya Dairy Board, the dairy industry plays a significant part in the nation’s economy and provides income to an estimated 1.8 million small-scale farmers. Apart from milk, dairy animals also provide manure, other marketed products such as calves and cullings as well as other intangible benefits such as insurance.

There is a growing demand for milk and milk products in Kenya and in the export market given the growing population, increasing urbanization and an emerging middle class.

“Some producers are realizing that they can make a good living if they are serious about dairy farming. For many it’s just a supplemental income — but almost all are very hungry for knowledge,” Claus says.

He and Karen were there to work with local farmers and help them learn new practices to help them take better care of their cows and, in turn, produce more milk. “We discussed nutrition, cow comfort, mastitis, reproduction and calf raising. The farmers were very keen,” Karen says. “We showed producers how to measure and design stalls to improve the cows’ comfort.”

The Leppelmann family learned a lot about Kenya during their stay, and were able to show farmers the benefits of better farming practices.

A Kenyan dairy farm.

“One day we held a producer meeting at Mount Kenya Dairy and we had almost 200 producers show up,” Claus says. “We showed them the improvements we made at one farm that allowed us to really increase milk production. They were very encouraged by it.”