It Takes a Village – A Day in the Life of the VWB Vet Students in Kenya

Hello all!

The weeks are just flying by! For this blog post, we would like to describe what a typical day looks like for us, and the number of people it takes to pull off a project like this – enjoy!

8 am: Breakfast! Our cook Sam keeps us well fed, we are always eager to see what he has prepared for us in the mornings. While our primary goal it to assist the farming community, our project offers gainful employment to many people like our cook Sam. We pay for his salary out of our own pockets, and without the project we wouldn’t be here, and Sam wouldn’t have this job. We discuss our plans for the day over tea and coffee and look at reports about the farm from previous years to know what to focus on/expect when we get there. Without all the work put in by previous volunteers we would be starting from scratch.

9 am: Our driver Ephraim and translator Pricilla arrive. They have both been working on VWB projects for the last five years offering driving and translation services (in addition to cow wrangling, and coordinating all our farm visits). These two are a major backbone of the project and help to ensure we succeed. More than that they also help to guide us in the cultural norms and practices in Kenya. To say we would be lost without them is an understatement both figuratively and literally – no farm has a road name or house number here, it is all first hand knowledge of the region and people. We load up the van with supplies for the day. These include our medical supply kit for animals, construction tools, a first aide kit (for any minor bumps and scrapes for the humans), the flip chart and stand for the seminar presentation, and buckets for washing our boots between farms.

9:30 am: Arrive at the host farm, where we meet the farmer and take a look at their cow(s). We discuss how the past year has gone for them and if they have any concerns about their cow currently. Most of these farmers have been working with VWB volunteers for 1-4 years, indicating the success of a long term partnership. If time allows, we do a physical exam on their animals while we wait for the rest of the seminar participants to show up. Yay Kenyan time! – things run a slower schedule here than we are used to in Canada, but it is a one of the charms of being in a new culture and country. The other farmers are coming from farms near-by, and are often friends of the host farmer.

The team talks with a host farmer about their cow and farm.

10 am: Priscilla takes attendance of the farmers who have arrived. Many of them have come to the seminars in previous years, but there are always some new faces in the crowd. There are usually 7-10 people who come out to each seminar. We always try to ensure at least half of the participants at the seminars are women as they are often the person taking care of the cows, and can benefit from farming as a source of income they have control over.

10:30: Once everyone is settled and introductions have been made, we start the seminar. Each of us take turns discussing the different topics that we are teaching this summer. Each topic is specifically targeted to provide information to increase cow production and welfare, and is all based on research projects done in this area through a PhD student and VWB volunteers from past years. These topics include:

  • Nutrition
    • Proper feeding of water (always available!), forage (free choice and good quality!), minerals, and dairy meal (a mixture of grains)
    • How to calculate how much dairy meal their cow needs depending on their milk production
  • Mastitis prevention (mastitis is an infection in the udder that lowers milk production and quality)
    • Proper milking practices to prevent the spread of bacteria – keep things clean!
    • Farmers here all milk their cows by hand, so we discuss the best techniques to ensure we reduce the risk of mastitis.
  • Reproduction
    • Heat detection
    • When to breed your cow
  • Cow comfort
    • Proper stall design
    • Clean and adequate bedding
    • Prevention of environmental mastitis

Farmers often have a lot of questions on all the topics in the seminar – they are very engaged and interested to hear about ways their can improve their cow’s milk production and prevent illnesses.

Alex and Priscilla teaching about nutrition at the seminar.
Interested and engaged seminar participants.

1 pm: Once we are finished with the teaching, we head on over to the host farmer’s cow pens to apply what we have just talked about. Farmers have the chance to comment on the strengths and weaknesses of the stall, with the hope that applying what they have learned will help them improve on their own farms.

If the stall needs minor changes to the size or bedding, we help the farmer make these changes. For larger reconstruction projects, we suggest to the farmer proper ways to rebuild to maximize cow comfort. We then deworm one of the host farmer’s cows as a thank-you for having us and taking the time to host all the seminar participants.

Looking at the cow pen to evaluate if alterations need to be made.

2 pm: We offer to visit the farms of the other seminar participants to do physical exams on their cows, give one-on-one feedback about their stalls and feeding programs, or to troubleshoot any specific problems they may be having. We may also help with stall reconstruction there if we have time. Usually we visit 2-3 farms for every seminar we teach.

At a seminar participants farm.

4:30: Arrive back at the house. After changing out of our (sometimes very dirty) scrubs, it’s on to the paperwork. Another person employed by our group with our personal funds is Ruth. She ensures all of our scrubs and clothes are clean when we go to work, no easy feat since in Kenya its all hand washing! For our paperwork we record how many participants were at the seminar that day, as well as their age, gender, how many cows they have, and if they had attended seminars in previous years. Additionally, we write a summary report of what we did that day, noting the things that we taught and what the farmers showed particular interest in. We write down how things have been going at the host farm, as well as improvements we suggested so that next year’s group can follow up with them about it. We also write about the other farm’s that we visited. In the background we also have ongoing assistance from many of the staff of the Wakulima Dairy, and our in country coordinator Mr. Gerald Kariuki. This assistance ensures we can all do our work easily with the cooperation of the greater Mukurwe-ini farming community.

Doing some paperwork before dinner.

6:30 pm: Dinner time! Sam outdoes himself every night with the spread he prepares – there is always something new and delicious to try. We like to joke about how we eat better here than in Canada!

Enjoying dinner!

8 pm: After dinner, with very full bellies, we have some free time to talk about the day, look up any questions we didn’t know the answer to during the seminar, and to catch up on our personal journals.

10 (ish) pm: After a busy day, it is time for bed to rest up for another day tomorrow! As you can see it takes a village to accomplish the project goals. Without the support of so many Kenyans and Canadians we would not be able to accomplish so much! Thanks to everyone who supports our work here – it wouldn’t be possible without you!