Paravet Refresher Training Day

Sorry we haven’t been keeping up with blogging lately; we’ve have been crazy busy the last few weeks. Since we last blogged Dr. Claire Card has joined us on the project for a couple weeks. She is a professor and veterinarian at the WCVM, and is also one of the founders of the goat project. We hoped to have the two biggest events of the year, the paravet refresher training and the goat pass-out, in the next two weeks. We also had another veterinary student from the WCVM, Susanne, joining us for the remainder of our time on the project.


Traditionally the paravet training occurs the day before the pass out so the goats to be passed on can function as demo/training goats for the paravets to use for some hands-on experience. Three massive feats need to be accomplished before any of this can occur though:

  1. We need to fundraise money to buy goats.
  2. We need to have beneficiaries ready to receive goats.
  3. And finally, we need to actually find healthy goats to give out.

With each of the above becoming progressively more difficult.

We were all fortunate to have amazingly supportive friends and family back home who offered to donate goats to the project. Thank you to everyone who bought goats this year! You are the best! Each goat costs about $50, which covers their vaccinations, deworming and transport to the FOAC Demonstration Farm where the pass out is held. So, thanks to generous people back home, step one was easily check off the list.

Now, like last year, finding beneficiaries who were ready to receive a goat ended up being a time consuming challenge. We are working in 17 different communities, some that are pretty spread out, and each with their own little quirks and differences – some communities are much older with primarily widows as members, while others are newer and have younger families. Others are very successful with the pass out and some have completely fallen apart over the years. We have a few basic requirements that must be met before a beneficiary can receive goats. They have to be an active community member and they absolutely must have a goat pen that meets our standards – four walls, a roof, raised off the ground with a proper floor and a door. Pretty basic and simple, right? We want beneficiaries to keep their goats in pens 100% of the time because it protects them from wild dogs, thieves, reduces the amount of parasites they consume and how many ticks they are exposed to. We tried to really emphasize the importance of building a good pen at the community meetings. Unfortunately, in some of the previous years goats were given to beneficiaries with no pens based on false promises that they would build them, resulting in an incredible number of goats dying the following year. Obviously we didn’t want to deal with a bunch of dead and dying goats again so we cracked down this year – no pen, no goat. After spending most of the week going community to community and home to home we were able to gather a list of about 30 beneficiaries ready to receive.

Lastly, we had to find healthy goats for the pass out. Generally, each beneficiary receives two goats, unless they’ve received one in the past or other special circumstances, so we were hoping to find close to 60 goats. In a country that literally has goats tied up along every street, this is actually incredibly difficult. We were able to buy a few off of community members, but usually we end up buying goats from larger ranches. We also have a checklist that each goat needs to pass before they are considered for the pass out: ideally less than 100,000USH, female (usually), between 12 and 18 months old, healthy body condition, low worm burden, a negative blood test result for brucella, and clear of any other significant health problems. After much searching and pulling blood from so many goats, we were able to find 38 healthy goats to pass out.

Besides searching for goats or inspecting pens, we were also busy making posters, writing the training manual, and about a dozen other small things that needed to be organized for the paravet training day and pass-out. We worked long hours everyday and tried as hard as we could to get everything done before Lena left, but alas, African Time won and we had to push the date back for both events and sadly Lena would have to miss out on them.

Lena flew home on Monday, so Sunday night we had the VWB family over for dinner as a joint going away party for her and a birthday party for Shafiq (one of our translators). As you’d expect, it was bitter-sweet but at the same time couldn’t have been more perfect. I’m not sure why, or how it happened, but after Brittany pulled out her ukulele to sing for Shafiq, Vivian requested to hear “Happy” by Pharrell Williams and that kicked off the start of an epic dance party! In case you were wondering, white girls still can’t dance as good as Ugandans, but we try! My face actually hurt from laughing and smiling so hard and I will forever be reminded of this night when I hear that song. According to Joseph, “the way we’ve chatted tonight has added years” and “if we can dance, we can make it” and I couldn’t agree more.

A couple days later, we arrive at the demo farm with training manuals and homemade posters in hand. Claire did a brief intro then asked the group for any questions they might have or tough cases they’ve seen over the last few months. I suppose this is where I should probably explain what paravets are. Paravets are members of the communities that have been selected to receive special vet med training, allowing them to provide very basic medical care to livestock. They do a week-long course taught by VWB interns and upon graduation they are awarded a medical kit to take with them into the field. Each year we provide a refresher training to go over some of the basics and answer their questions, which is followed by hands-on training to help them refine some of their skills.

After the intro and many, many, MANY questions it was time for me to present. Oddly enough, I ended up discussing pig husbandry for the second year in a row, but then added on common pig diseases faced here. Susanne discussed the chicken training section and Brit talked about cattle followed by a demonstration on how to properly milk cows. We then broke for lunch followed by the hands-on training section of the day. Attempting to learn from the chaos that ensued during this section last year, we broke the paravets into groups and arranged ourselves into stations. First up was Susanne with the physical exam station where she taught the paravets how to properly restrain a goat, check it’s body condition score, take a temperature, age the goats, and check their FAMACHA score, which measures anemia by looking at the conjunctiva. Pale conjunctiva indicates anemia due to a high blood-sucking parasite burden likely from the Haemonchus contortus worm. Following this station, they would move to my station where I taught them how to properly vaccinate against Brucella melitensis and clostridium (or what the locals call “sudden death”), and how to deworm the goats. Next up was Brittany with the IDing and ear tag station, and lastly they saw Joseph to spray the goats to repel ticks.

The day was very long, but also very successful! Like last year, the paravets were all very eager to learn and asked a lot of questions. It was great to see them so excited and passionate about being an educated paravet. This made me realized just how much what I’m doing here means to these people. For us, it might seem like just a simple presentation where we looked up some facts, drew a few posters and relayed all we learned back to some people we barely know. However, to them it was so much more; we are teaching them how to make a living and improve their livelihood and for some this could be their means of survival. Beyond that, it’s a break from their day after day life of working in a plantation or tending to duties around the home, so to them this was a big deal. All of us here agreed that it feels great to be a part of this fun day!

Next up, the big goat pass-out!

All of the Paravets that attended the training:

All the paravets that attended the training

An example of a great pen:

An example of a great pen

Brit and Shafiq discussing cattle diseases:

Brit and Shafiq discussing cattle diseases

Claire and I demonstrating how to castrate piglets:

Claire and I demonstrating how to castrate piglets

Katarina from the Kahenda community learning how to restrain goats:

Katarina from the Kahenda community learning how to restrain goats

Last team photo together:

Last team photo together

Spontaneous dance party:

Spontaneous dance party

Teaching how to vaccinate against clostridium:

Teaching how to vaccinate against clostridium

VWB Family Photo:

VWB family photo

The PAHW final evaluation !

The Lao project team is not always busy in the field- from July 21st to the 24th- they were very busy in the classroom!

Together with Dr Bounmy Xaymountry from the Division of Veterinary Services, the Department of Livestock and Fisheries, and the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, we evaluated 26 of our PAHWs (Primary Animal Health Workers). Sisavath, Chantha and Margot were also part of the evaluation committee and we had worked together on preparing the exam.

Dr Bounmy, Sisavath and Margot filling up evaluation grids:SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

The exam was an oral examination and all PAHWs did completed it with success! It included a review of the last sick animal they had seen and review questions on the topics we trained them on previously. We were very impressed with how many small details they remembered- even the number of spoons of salt and sugar to use to prepare oral rehydrating fluids and the exact protection period of the different types of haemorrhagic septicaemia vaccines or the dosages of antibiotics.

Ong, PAHW from Palai, ready for the evaluation:SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

The next step for them is now to get their certificates, as well as scoring attestations, signboards and even a T-shirt, so that they are completely equipped to promote their work in the village.  A small ceremony for this will be held in the beginning of September.  Because of their success, we are looking at extending this training to other areas of Laos so that animal health services can reach more farmers.

Phomma, PAHW from Nakhao, answering the committee’s questions:SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES Amphone, our project assistant explaining the evaluation process to Por Tor, a PAHW from Somsamai:


Somsanook, a PAHW from Sanoudom, in front of the evaluation committee: Dr Bounmy, Chantha and Margot:


Blog 6: A Trip to the North: the Naari Dairy

We only have 2 weeks left in Kenya! Time has gone by very quickly. We have continued visiting the nutrition study farms. This past week, I (Sarifa Lakhdhir) spent time in Naari with two veterinary students from PEI who are representing Farmers Helping Farmers (Emily and Krista) and two Kenyan veterinary PhD students (Joan and Dennis). They are all starting a project in Naari similar to the one we have been working on down here in Mukurweini. Our project has been of great benefit to the dairy farmers in Mukurweini, and that is the reason for starting the same type of project in Naari.

Picture 1: Naari Dairy Farmers Co-op SocietyPicture 1

We visited several farms during the week. Normally the PhD and veterinary students would have a guide from the dairy to help them locate the farms in the study. On the first day of my visit however, the dairy was having a general meeting and all farmers and dairy employees were required to attend. Thus, we were left to find study farms on our own. We managed to find the first farm and after we were done, we asked the farmer for directions to the next farm. This worked fine for the first few farms. But we had quite a time locating one farm in particular. It was only after we had hopped around three farms that we managed to get to the farm that we thought we were looking for. Upon arrival, we found out from the farmer that we were at the wrong farm! The mix-up occurred because this farmer’s name was the same as the name of the farmer we were looking for. So we were back to square one! Looking for these farms while driving on dusty and bumpy roads definitely did not help! After the exhausting search, we found the farm and managed to examine the animals there. Thankfully we had a guide for the rest of the week.

At every farm that we visited, we performed a physical exam of each and every cow and calf, recorded some identification information for future visits, and collected some baseline data. The number of cattle on the farms varied from as few as 1 to as many as 10. I got a lot of practice drawing blood and performing rectal palpations! The farms contained a mixture of both grazing and non-grazing cows. Many of the non-grazing cows were tied via rope to a stake. It felt like a rodeo trying to corral and restrain them!

Picture 2: Enjoying tea, eggs, and “malaria oranges” with a farmer. Malaria orange is a fruit thought to prevent malaria if eaten regularly. It tastes like bitter grapefruit with a lasting aftertaste. I think I’ll stick to the malaria pills! Left to right: Dennis, farmer, Steven (our guide), Joan, Emily, Sarifa, Krista.

Picture 2

I also had the opportunity to attend to some interesting veterinary cases during my time in Naari. During one visit, we examined a cow that had a growth on part of her eye. It was a squamous cell carcinoma of the third eyelid. This is a cancer commonly found in cows, especially those with sun exposure. In most instances, it does not hurt or harm the animal in any way during the early stages. Treatment is surgical excision of the affected tissues when the growth becomes invasive and causes discomfort to the cow. In this case, the cow was still behaving normally and there was minimal discomfort associated with the growth. Thus, we did not need to perform surgery on her during this visit. Another cow we visited had metritis, an infection of the uterus. The cow had recently given birth but had not immediately expelled her placenta. So someone had manually pulled it out of her. In cows, it is best to leave retained placenta alone and let the cow expel it herself so long as she is still behaving normally. Pulling out the placenta can harm her reproductive tract and introduce bacteria into it. In this case, the cow had pus in her uterus due to the infection. Thankfully, within one week of treatment, the metritis had improved drastically!

Picture 3: Zebu bull in Naari. Cattle in Naari tend to be more of the local Zebu breed.Picture 3

Over the weekend, two Kenyan members of Farmers Helping Farmers, Salome and Steven, took us to visit some interesting places.

On Saturday, Steven took us to some farms to show us screen houses and greenhouses. Many people in the Meru area own either a screen house or a greenhouse and use them to grow crops, especially tomatoes. Steven explained that a screen house is an area enclosed by screen cloth. Air can freely pass through the enclosure, and the temperature inside varies with the temperature on the outside. On the other hand, a greenhouse is an area enclosed by plastic sheets. The temperature inside the greenhouse tends to be higher than that on the outside, and this allows crops to grow much faster. The downside of a greenhouse is that any disease brought in will tend to stay inside the enclosure and spread rapidly to all the other crops.

I found it interesting that tomato plants planted in screen houses must be grown and maintained differently than those planted in greenhouses. Due to the accelerated growth in greenhouses, it is essential that only one main stem of the tomato plant is allowed to grow vertically up. All side branches must be trimmed down regularly. Once the stem has grown tall and matured, it is laid flat onto the ground and a new stem is allowed to take its place vertically. This process controls the growth of the tomato plant. In screen houses, tomatoes grow much slower and because of that, less maintenance is required as the plant will not be able to quickly reach the size of the plant grown in a greenhouse.

Pictures 4 and 5: Screen house (left) vs greenhouse (right). Notice how the tomato plants in the greenhouse are bigger than those in the screen house.

Picture 4 Picture 5

Later in the day, Salome and Steven took us to visit the Muchui Women Group Business Centre. This group of women grows crops such as tomatoes, kale, beans, and an assortment of trees to sell to the community.  There are now around 110 women who are part of this group. I was impressed and very happy to see how this initiative has helped to empower women in the community to work together to make a living in order to support their families.

Picture 6: Visit to the Muchui Women Group Business Centre. Left to right: Steven, Krista, Emily, Salome, Sarifa.

Picture 6

On Sunday, Salome took us to visit the Ngare Ndare Forest Trust. We hiked along the Ngare Ndare river and visited some waterfalls and springs. The river has about 11 springs along it. These springs are often visited by elephants looking for a drink or just to cool off. Elephants will tend to slide down steep banks to get to the springs! Salome had packed us a wonderful lunch of chapatis (baked flattened dough), cabbage, and chicken, which we all enjoyed sitting beside one of the springs.

Picture 7: Group picture by one of the springs of the Ngare Ndare river. Left to right: Emily, Krista, Charles (our driver), Salome, Zablon (our guide), Carol, Sarifa.Picture 7

In the afternoon, we went on a canopy walk. This canopy was built in 2007 and is 500 meters long! The view from above was breathtaking. On our drive out of the forest, we had to cross the river in our car. Thankfully we had a four-wheel drive and the river was only one foot deep at that point! We also passed under dangling live electric wires.  I came to learn that the wires are strategically positioned above the roads to keep the elephants from crossing into areas inhabited by people.

On our way back to Meru, we drove through the Lewa Wildlife Conservancy. We saw so much wildlife along the way, including giraffe, lesser kudu, ostrich, and even a rhino and its calf! The mini safari was a great end to our productive and adventure-filled weekend.

Picture 8: Beautiful drive to and from the Ngare Ndare Forest.Picture 8

Seeing the Naari side was a great cultural and veterinary experience for me, but I am glad to be back in Mukurweini for the last few weeks of the project. We have continued our visits to nutrition study farms. The weather has been cold and rainy, making for very muddy and slippery roads. We have had to hike to some farms and push our car out of the mud a few times! And we occasionally got a break from the peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Our chef, Samuel, made us some veggie sandwiches for lunch one day, which we very much enjoyed. Unfortunately, our driver, Jeremiah, was not a big fan of the green, leafy stuff. Priscilla, our translator, really enjoyed watching Jeremiah’s face as he attempted to finish the last of his sandwich!

Picture 9: Walking to a farm near Mukurweini.Picture 9

I am excited to see the project wrap up successfully as we near its end. We have received positive feedback from the farmers and the dairy, and I am so glad that the work we have done here has benefitted the community. I have really enjoyed my time in Kenya, and I am already dreading the time when I will have to say goodbye to our Kenyan friends and families. This amazing experience has been life-changing and humbling, and the generosity and hospitality of the Kenyan people has been second to none!


The Adventures Continue: Weeks 6 and 7

The past few weeks have been filled with a mixture of farm visits, teaching and learning opportunities, exchanges, and hands-on opportunities; I (Maggie) cannot believe that it is already mid-July and that we have only 3 weeks left!

Last week was somewhat of a milestone, as we finished up the welfare project we had been working on since arriving, and started on the second part of Shauna’s PhD, which focuses on nutrition. It was also Sarifa’s turn to head on exchange to Naari, so last Monday, after a full day of stall constructions, pregnancy checking, and deworming cattle, she set off with our other driver, Jeremiah. Jeremiah is a local taxi driver in the area, who has been working with Shauna for the past 3 years. He has been a great help to us when we need a second vehicle, and also a great addition to our construction team (one of my favourite lines of his has been “the Nail Man has arrived” – in reference to our abysmal skills with a nail and hammer, and his superior ability to get the job done much more efficiently and accurately).

Photo 1: One of the last farms of the welfare project that we visited. The farmer is holding a photo of her and Anika, one of the student interns from last summer!Photo 1

Last Wednesday, Mira and I had our first teaching experience at a local primary school. The school was Ithanji, the one we had visited in June. It is a fairly small school, and we had planned on teaching classes (equivalent to Canadian “Grades”) 6,7, and 8. However, when we arrived, the room was quite full, and some of the children looked younger than we were expecting…we found out afterwards, that all the classes except one were there! Considering how many students and what a wide range of ages were present, it was really incredible how attentive, well behaved, and engaged the students were. We had spent a lot of time creating a lesson plan that followed their curriculum, but also emphasized things that we feel are very important to human and animal health. In the end, this plan included material on “One Health” (how the health of the environment, animals, and people are all connected and can affect each other), how to recognize signs of disease in animals, how to prevent the spread of diseases, and then some more specific information on the zoonoses (diseases that can be spread from animals to humans) rabies, brucellosis, and diarrheal diseases.

Overall, we felt that the whole experience was a great success, and the feedback we received from the teachers was extremely positive; they even requested to keep the teaching aids we had made. It was also nice to hear teachers and students discussing how they would share all the information they had learned with friends and family at home. For me though, the most rewarding part of the day was walking outside afterwards and seeing a group of girls practicing the handwashing technique we had taught them (at the hand washing station built by Farmer’s Helping Farmers!).

Photo 2: Maggie and Mira teaching students and teachers at Ithanji Primary School proper hand-washing techniques.Photo 2

Photo 3: Going over the review activity that the students at Ithanji Primary School completed on zoonotic diseases.Photo 3 

On Wednesday, we also visited the last farm of the welfare project, thus ending our construction marathon! That same day, Mira and I also had some practice changing a flat tire, so it seems we will be going home with a range of new handy skills!

Photo 4: Learning to change a flat tire!Photo 4 

The next day, we started visiting farms that have been part of a nutrition project that Shauna started in 2013. This project has looked at the effects of different feeding methods such as feed types and amounts, and their effects on growth of calves, and reproduction and milk production of cows. This year we are doing physical exams on the cows and any of their calves (now 2 year old animals) that are still present on the farm, while Shauna gathers more information about their health and reproduction. The study has found some really interesting results and it is nice to be able to give some feedback to the farmers on practical and economical ways that they can feed their animals in order to maximize profits for themselves and the animals’ health.

That same day, we also visited a farm that one of the local veterinary technicians put us in contact with. This farmer had a cow that had clinical mastitis and he was drying her off (stopping milking to give her a rest before her next calf due in September). Mastitis treatment is generally done via intramammary infusions, where an antibiotic is put into the affected teat(s). Since this cow had not responded to previous treatments we decided to give her a different dry cow treatment. Dry cow treatment is often more effective because the type of antibiotics used are able to stay in the udder for a longer period of time compared to when a cow is still being milked. This visit provided us (the students) with a great opportunity to practice giving intramammary infusions, and also discuss management practices that the farmer could use to reduce the risk of mastitis for his cows. On a side note, he also had the largest heifer that I had ever seen!

Photo 5: Mira pregnancy checking an enormous heifer…it barely fit in the stall!Photo 5

Yesterday, we had another opportunity to do some teaching and also see some different farming styles. Kamau is an extension officer that used to work at the Mukurwe-ini Wakulima Dairy providing education and training to farmers. He is now working in a similar role but in a different part of Nyeri County, and had organized for us to meet some of his farmers and provide them with some training. They were an extremely enthusiastic group that were very keen to learn, and the morning flew by as we discussed cow nutrition, mastitis prevention, and stall management with them.

Photo 6: Mira teaching a group of farmers about the importance of having clean and dry stalls for their cows to lie in.Photo 6 

We then spent the afternoon visiting many of their farms, which was very valuable as they are quite different to the ones we have been visiting around Mukurwe-ini. Like in Naari, most of their cattle are grazed at least part of the time, which means that they must also be sprayed for ticks on a weekly basis. Some of the farmers are also growing a variety of high-protein plants that are great (and economical) replacements for the more expensive dairy meal that people feed their cattle. One farmer actually had hundreds of Calliandra trees, which are the seedlings that we were giving to participants in the welfare project. It was really cool to be able to see what tiny seedlings can grow to in just a few years! As it turns out the farmer was unaware of what a good protein source Calliandra is until we had mentioned it during the nutrition part of the talk that morning, so he was very excited to learn about the ‘dairy meal’ that he had growing on his farm already!

Photo 7: Picking up Calliandra seedlings to give to farmers in the Welfare project.Photo 7 

Photo 8: A row of Calliandra trees on a farmer’s property that we visited with Kamau.Photo 8 

Photo 9: A 22 year-old cow (on the left)! This is one farm we visited that had a larger number (10) of cows.Photo 9

Some of the farmers also had many more cows than we are used to seeing, and it was very interesting to see how they manage these larger numbers. A common problem farmers face in Kenya is feed shortages during the dry season, and this can be especially difficult when there are more mouths to feed. Recently, there has been a growing interest in making silage, which is fermented, storable feed, to help with this problem. Kamau has done a great job working with his farmers to teach them about this, and one of the larger farms we visited had just built brand new silos to start making and storing silage in.

Coincidentally, as I am writing this blog, the farm where we are living on is actually in the process of making its first batch of silage. This farm also has a large number of cattle (~20), so this is an exciting step to ensuring there will be forage available for the animals, even when crops aren’t growing well during the dry seasons.

Photo 10: Making maize silage. The barrel of water is being used to compress the maize to get the air out.Photo 10

Finally, I cannot forget to mention our newest Kenyan friend. Last week, a kitten was found orphaned outside the Mukurwe-ini Wakulima Dairy, and after being unclaimed by her mother for over a day, we decided to feed her. While it is difficult to guarantee the long-term health of such a young kitten, Maziwa (“milk” in Swahili) has proven herself to be an extremely resilient, voracious, and of course, adorable little furball.

Photo 11: Maggie feeding little Maziwa.

Photo 11


Celebrating the Day of the African Child

Written by Sarah Zelinski:

Here on the goat project, we work with more than just animals and have been taking some time to visit a couple primary schools in the district we have been working in. June 16th (sorry, this entry is a little late) is the Day of the African Child, which started in South Africa in 1991 after an uprising of black students demanded better rights to quality education. I (Sarah) didn’t get a chance to take part in the festivities last year, so we talked to Boaz (FAOC’s director) and he set things up for us to visit Rustya Primary School for the day. In typical Ugandan fashion we arrived at 10am, the start time for the day, and the kids were still setting up the tarps and tents. Chaos would break if they saw a bunch of muzungus leave the vehicle, so we drove past the school to give them time to organize themselves without distractions. While waiting, we remembered there was a young puppy a short drive away that we considered rescuing a week prior. Silas, a long time friend of Dr. Claire and Dr. Laura, told us earlier in the summer that he was looking for a puppy so we were keeping our eyes open for one we could save from village life and give to him. The school was going to take at least another 45 min or so (in actuality it ended up being a solid two hours) so we left in search of the dog. To our luck the woman who owned the dog was home and for only 20,000USH (about $8) he would be ours and we planned on picking him up at the end of the day.

Rustya Primary School has a little over 300 students, but is unique in that about a third of them are special needs children; mostly deaf children and those with unspecified mental handicaps. The school also boards several special needs children who cannot travel daily from home to school and back. The beginning of the day started with a tour of the school for the guests and parents where we saw the sleeping quarters, the mostly bare classrooms and the grounds. According to the agenda, following the tour there would be several speeches, lunch and lastly free time to play with the kids before everyone went home. However, since the speeches only started around noon, lunch and the afternoon would likely be postponed… and postponed it was. There was speech, after speech, after speech, all in the local language, with no breaks. Fortunately, I was sitting beside Joseph who was paraphrasing it all for me. (Also of note, there was someone performing sign language throughout the speeches for the deaf children which I thought was incredible.) Everything was directed at the parents and the speeches tried to emphasize the importance of keeping children in school and educating them would give them a chance at a better life. They also talked about how the children need proper nutrition to learn, asking the parents to send their kids to school with lunches, as the school doesn’t always have enough food for the kids. Lastly, they asked parents to discuss financial issues with the school instead of pulling children out of school if they cannot afford it.

After the speeches, it was time for awards for students that worked really hard, had outstanding grades and good attendance. Along with local chairpeople, directors of various educational programs and the school, us VWB interns stood in a row, shaking hands and congratulating the students receiving awards. The award? Three small notebooks that cost about 17 cents each at the local grocery store. When these kids often don’t even have a pencil or paper to take notes, these notebooks can make a huge difference. Dozens of children received the awards, some receiving multiple books. We was really pleased to see many special needs children being awarded as well.

When these awards were done it was time for us to present some donations we (and Laura) brought from home or bought here – activity books, stickers, markers, pencils and erasers, crayons, paper, VWB bandanas and a soccer ball. The bandanas were given to the school net ball team, as they were given new uniforms that day while the rest were given to the school to distribute. I was asked to present the donations – the crowd went wild when they saw the soccer ball – and give a little speech, so I thanked the school for having us and did my best to use my motivational skills to explain the importance of staying in school to be successful later in life. Maybe hearing it from a muzungu will have a longer lasting impact? Let’s hope. Let’s also hope that everything I said was translated properly as a local news crew was filming most of the day! So if anyone tuned into Local News West that day let us know how we looked! Ha!

After all the festivities we bought the village dog I mentioned earlier and made our way back home. “Puppy” or “Benji”, depending which one of us you ask, was covered in ticks, fleas, had a round belly full of worms and at the same time was nothing but skin and bones. He was terrified of people but was also so weak that he didn’t really move or try to get away once he was picked up. The first thing we did when we brought him in the house was give him a serious, serious bath; he smelled foul. By the end of the night he started to warm up to us and we were able to get him to eat if we hand fed him. As the week progressed, so did he! Deworming him was the single most important thing in improving his character; he was a new puppy once all the worms were out! We also were able to locate a rabies vaccine and a distemper/parvo combination one for him. All week we home cooked for him and his appetite came back with a force! Despite still being a little fearful, he eventually trusted us enough to play a little and followed us all around the house. It was so nice to come home from “work” and be greeted with a wagging tail again!

The work in the field continued to be the same as previous weeks, although this week we were held up from getting as much done as we would like due to intense rain storms and a community wedding.

Anyways, before this gets too long we’ll stop here for now!

Group Photo at the end of the awards:

Group photo at the end of the awards

In one of the classrooms- the kids get so excited to see pictures of themselves!

In one of the classrooms - the kids get so excited to see pictures of themselves


My turn to give a speech and present the donations
My turn to give a speech and present the donations

Our puppy all cleaned up!

Our puppy all cleaned up!


Students performing the traditional dances for the guests

Students performaing traditional dances for the guests


The netball team in their new jerseys and bandannas- don’t the look great?!

The netball team in their new jerseys and bandanas - don't they look great_


We got a chance to play with the children at the end of the day

We got a chance to play with the children at the end of the day


This past week, I (Mira) was fortunate enough to spend time working on a smallholders dairy project in Naari, Meru County. Farmers helping Farmers, the Prince Edward Island NGO that started working with the Mukurweini dairy thirty years ago, also works with other co-operative dairies in Kenya. VWB-Canada partners with Farmers Helping Farmers to offer a greater range of veterinary services to their partner dairies. Due to the success of the Mukurweini dairy, Farmers helping Farmers is now working alongside new and developing dairies throughout Kenya to provide valuable knowledge and support so that these dairy co-operatives can grow in a sustainable and profitable manner. The Naari dairy has recently partnered with Farmers and Helping Farmers, and this summer, several Canadian veterinary students and Kenyan veterinarians are conducting research on cow nutrition and health as part of a baseline survey in this area. My visit to Naari was a wonderful opportunity for me to gain exposure to smallholder dairy farms in another area, and for me to appreciate the opportunities for develepment of the smallholder dairy farming in Kenya. And both Maggie and Sarifa will also be visiting Naari as well! So I packed my bags and off I went to the other side of Mount Kenya.


Visiting Naari and the Meru area was an eye opener for me for a number of reasons. Meru may only be about three hours away from Mukurweini by car but the landscape changes drastically from tropical and extremely hilly to flat and arid. Accompanying these geographic differences is a change in the way cattle are farmed. There are more beef cows in Meru and dairy cows are often found grazing in fields rather than being zero-grazed (where food is cut and brought to the cows in their pens). This presents different challenges and benefits for the farmers. For example, grazed cows are more likely to acquire ticks harbouring diseases and farmers must dip their cattle in acaricide, a chemical that kills ticks, much more than zero-grazed cattle. However, the benefit of Meru’s flat and less populous landscape means that farmers can graze their cattle along roadsides and in pastures, thus reducing the work of having to harvest and carry forage for their animals. But in both Naari and Mukurweini, cattle are a very important source of income and pride for farmers.

The Naari dairy is what I imagine the Mukurweini dairy must have been like thirty years ago. It is hard to paint a picture of the two dairies, but I will compare and contrast them to give a sense of their differences. The Naari dairy was started in 2010 after a ten-year hiatus when the co-operative fell apart. Now, the dairy is under new management and the growing success of this dairy is attracting more farmers and investment. The Naari dairy has seven employees and has a bulk tank where milk is stored before being shipped to Meru as milk is not processed nor sold at the Naari dairy. There are 500 farmers that supply milk to the dairy and milk cans are collected each day by several donkey carts. By contrast, the Mukurweini dairy has 6,500 farmers supplying milk to the dairy. Milk is collected by trucks at collection points before being processed on site and then sold on to Nairobi. The Mukurweini dairy might currently be larger and more developed than the dairy in Naari, but they both started in the same place; thirty years ago, the Mukurweini sold only 32 litres on its’ first day in business!


The possibility of improvement and development of the dairy industry in Naari and other smallholder dairy farming regions in Kenya is tremendously exciting. Having a good dairy co-operative is extremely important for smallholder dairy farmers as a well functioning co-operative dairy can provide loans, veterinary services, and farming education to its’ members. By learning from the successes and challenges in developing the dairy in Mukurweini, Farmers helping Farmers (and future Veterinarians without Borders interns), can transfer this knowledge to new areas like Naari and continue to research best farming practices that benefit both farmers and their animals.

P.s. On a fun note, we have noticed some interesting trends in cow names. A very popular name for cows in Mukurweini is ‘Meni.’ I would hazard that at least 85% of cows here are called Meni (we even met a Meni Junior!). In the Meru area, cows are often called ‘Matunay’, meaning brown, or ‘Chiro’, meaning black. Occasionally, cows are given names that are also given to women. I met several cows named Mawdu-ay, meaning ‘beautiful lady’ in the local language.

Pioneer Training

Life on the project has continued to be busy with field work and pulling blood, running tests, and many community meetings. In the previous blog, we mentioned going to Queen Elizabeth National Park to visit Dr. Seifert and assess some new communities wanting to start their own goat projects. To start, they are planning on implementing the project in three different communities: one in the mountains, one that has issues with elephants eating their goat forage, and lastly, one community that has issues with lions eating their goats. These are all problems that do not occur in any of our current communities in Insingiro.

Mondays have become our at-home “office day” as it’s market day for most of the region so no one is usually at home for us to pull blood and do vaccinations. Since our visit in QE park we have been using office days and some evenings to get ready for the big Pioneer Training for the QE community people. A lot of the material for the trainees was completely new for us as VWB doesn’t typically train new groups; FAOC takes care of that. Each of the three communities was sending three selected members to learn all basics of the goat project so they could go back and mobilize their communities to start the prep work to eventually receive goats.

After busy days writing training manuals, making posters, booking chairs and speakers and ensuring there would be enough food prepared for everyone we arrived bright and early on training day… and about two hours after the training was supposed to start, all the trainees rolled in. African time, man.

We didn’t know what to expect from the trainees as they come from completely different backgrounds than the groups we’re used to. We work almost exclusively with women, most of which are widows, whereas all but one of the QE trainees were men. The QE communities are also slightly less impoverished than those in Insingiro, so we’re hoping to have less of a struggle getting members to pay for vaccines and treatments for their animals. Considering none of us really knew what we were doing with the training and most of it was really rushed, it went shockingly well, and was actually a lot of fun! The trainees were very engaged the entire time, asking a lot of good questions and seemed to understand and accept the information we gave them. Each of us gave separate presentations and we had three of our paravets, Joseph, Ibrahim and Janet talk about their success with the goat project. We focused on how each group should run, the business model of the project, and lastly some basic husbandry rules for keeping goats alive and healthy. Since we are starting from scratch with these groups, we’re hoping we can learn from past mistakes in Insingiro and have these groups become very strong and successful with less pitfalls. Another bonus is that these groups have been pastoralists for generations so they have a longer history and deeper understanding of some basics of raising livestock.

Following all our presentations another paravet of ours, Margaret, made a huge feast of traditional food for everyone. After lunch we took the group to Joseph’s home to show them what a model goat pen should look like. To be honest, while Joseph does have a near model pen, he doesn’t zero graze like we tell people, but he’s a great paravet so he knows how to take care of his animals and they live just fine. However, we wanted the community people to think he followed all our instructions so we stalled the trainees by quizzing them for a few minutes to give Joseph time to collect the goats from grazing in the field and put fresh Napier in the trough. We made it just in time and the group was very impressed by how great his pen looked! We have high hopes for these communities and if they can keep up the momentum and enthusiasm for the project they can take it really far!

~ Sarah, Brittany and Lena

All the trainees and speakers at the Pioneer training:

All the trainees and speakers at the Pioneer Training

Lena explaining how keeping goats alive will turn a profit:

Lena explaining how keepign goats alive will turn a profit

Sarah teaching basic goat husbandry:

Sarah teaching basic goat husbandry

Blog 3: Weeks 3 and 4…News From Kenya!

Blog written by Sarifa Lakhdhir:

We have been in Kenya for just over a month now. We have settled in quite nicely with our extended Kenyan family, including those with whom we stay in Ichamara and the local villagers and farmers with whom we are working with on a daily basis. I have even learned to love peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Lucky for me, I get to have them for lunch every day for the next 6 weeks!

Last Friday, we were invited to attend the Wakulima Dairy’s annual general meeting. This meeting was held on a soccer field, and all farmers of the dairy as well as the dairy’s board of directors were invited to attend. At the meeting, the board of directors updated the farmers regarding progress that was made by the association in the past year. They also commented on plans moving forward. At the end, farmers had an opportunity to ask the board questions they had regarding its plans and actions or regarding farming in general.

The dairy has done exceptionally well this year. Their product is in high demand, and they are planning on expanding the number of farmers contributing milk. They are also planning on producing yogurt in the coming years. They have been given a grant from the Nyeri county government, which will help to pay for the equipment needed to make yogurt. Sale of yogurt also has a higher return than milk – almost double! Thus, making yogurt will be a more profitable option for the dairy in addition to production of processed milk.

We visited Ruth’s farm over the weekend. Ruth is one of our Kenyan co-workers. Thus far, we have visited and worked with many smallholder dairy farmers, who typically own 1 to 2 cows that produce milk and generate income for the family. Ruth, on the other hand, grows crops for income. She showed us around her farm. She grows a variety of crops including beans, sweet potatoes, arrowroot, avocados, passion fruit, yams, pumpkin, cassava, peppers, guava, and sugar cane. She uses manure from her rabbit and goats as fertilizer for the crops. Once the crops have matured, she sells them at the market every Wednesday when people bring their crops as well as other items to sell. Luckily for us we got some passion fruits as a gift to enjoy over the remainder of the weekend.

As we were leaving for work Monday morning, we encountered several young people in white lab coats carrying coolers. We learned later on that there was an outbreak of Lumpy Skin Disease (LSD) in the Mukurweini area. LSD is endemic to this region. It is contagious and is most commonly spread by biting insects. LSD results in lumps throughout the skin, mucous membranes, and internal organs as the name suggests. It also causes emaciation, enlarged lymph nodes, edema of the skin, reduced production of milk, and can be fatal leading to huge economic losses for farmers. Due to the reported outbreak of LSD, the government was sending veterinarians and veterinary technicians to vaccinate all the cows in the affected areas. People here do not vaccinate their cows regularly as a preventative measure because it can be quite expensive. When an outbreak occurs, the government subsidizes vaccination of cows in the affected areas. Unfortunately, most people wait for an outbreak because that is the only time that they are able to afford to vaccinate their cows. This is not always in the cow’s best interest because without the vaccination, it is prone to infection. So far we have not seen a case of LSD. However, we did do a follow up visit with a farmer in our study who had lost both her cow and heifer calf to LSD last September. She was having difficulty since her cow and heifer were her main source of income.

We continued visiting farms and constructing stalls this past week despite the LSD outbreak. One farm especially stood out for us. On our first visit to this farm, we were told that the cows are very shaky. As we watched them move around their pen, we saw that they were very careful with each step they took. The floor seemed very slippery, and the stalls looked lumpy and hard. The cows were covered in mud indicating that instead of staying in the stall made for them, they probably preferred to lie down in the dirty alley outside of their stalls since the alleyway had the most space. As the alley was made of cement, it seemed quite uncomfortable and painful for the cows to lie down on it. Since this was a control farm, we fixed the stalls this year and provided training on the importance of cow comfort and welfare. The farmers were very receptive to the new information as they had not realized the great importance of having a soft/dry stall not only for the cow but also for their income via increased milk production and reduced mastitis. Additionally farmers are often wary of how much extra work and cost is needed to build a new cow stall/shed and are hesitant to make changes until we explain there is little to no cost with the changes we make. Often times we use wood boards already present on farms, dig soil from surrounding hillsides, and use our own labour to make the necessary changes. We do purchase locally sourced wood shavings as bedding for stalls but farmers are advised of low/no cost alternatives such as dry leaves or hay/straw. To improve these stalls we removed some boards from the front of their stalls giving the cows more lunge space (cows need space in front of where they will lie down as they push their heads forward when they are lying down and getting back up). We had to dig up a lot of dirt to flatten and soften the stall floor. Once that was done, we added shavings on top of the dirt as bedding. As soon as we finished with the stalls, one of the cows went in and laid down. It was great to see that the cow liked the adjustments we had made to her stall! It’s not often that we get a chance to see immediately the difference our hard work makes. This also helped the farmer see the great benefit that a few changes can have for her cows.

In our farm visits, we have found last year’s treatment farms to be in different conditions, from very well maintained to not maintained at all. In order to understand better why some farmers maintained the changes made to their stalls last year, we developed a follow-up survey. We found that farmers who have kept up with maintenance have done so because they found that their cow’s milk production increased and that she got less mastitis. These farmers have spread the word to their neighbours to help them increase their production, too. Seeing results has helped many farmers realize the importance of increasing welfare and comfort of their cows: increased cow comfort and welfare leads to increased milk production and decreased risk of mastitis, which ultimately leads to higher income for their families.

On Thursday, Ephraim, another one of our Kenyan co-workers, took us to see a waterfall after our farm visits for the day were complete. He explained that the energy from the falling water is used to power a pump, which then pumps water up pipes to people’s homes. The pumps are very strong; they can push water to homes a few kilometers away, all due to energy from the waterfall!

After a week of visiting farms we headed to Meru for the weekend, which is located on the north side of Mount Kenya. There we met Jennifer, an influential lady in her community. She is one of the founding members of Farmers Helping Farmers and is heavily involved in coordinating projects in her area. She was also the head of a women’s group whose mission was to better the livelihood of the community through the sale of crops and distribution of water tanks. She has done a lot in her community and is greatly respected. We also met Emily and Krista, two veterinary students from the Atlantic Veterinary College in PEI working for Farmers Helping Farmers in Meru. They are starting up a similar project regarding cow comfort, welfare, and nutrition in Meru. We spent time with Jennifer, Emily, and Krista learning more about their projects.

On Saturday, we did a day hike on Mount Kenya. We hiked approximately 18 kilometers to Lake Alice and Nithi Falls. Although the hike was long, the views were breathtaking and worth the hard work! The next day, Jennifer took us to church. Church is a very important part of most Kenyans’ Sundays. The people were very welcoming and made us feel right at home. Jennifer had us go up and introduce ourselves as her “Canadian daughters”. Part of church consisted of an auction of food donated by people. As a welcome gesture to us and to show their appreciation, many members of the church bought items from the auction for us. We went home with a lot of cabbage and green beans!

If there’s one thing I’ve observed from being here, it is that even though the people are not rich and do not own much, they are always friendly, welcoming, and generous to everyone around them. They live a very basic life. They do not have the luxuries we have back home in Canada, yet they are always willing to help their families, neighbours, and friends. Their income is often dependent on milk from their cows or crops from the field. Travel is by foot most of the time. Even though they do not have enough for themselves, they welcome visitors with open arms and offer them chai (tea), lunch, and fruits to thank them and to show them their gratitude. The great sense of community makes being here so enjoyable and such a wonderful learning experience. I am so thankful to have been able to work alongside our Kenyan colleagues. I am looking forward to the weeks ahead, and I hope that I can use what I have learned and experienced here in my life back home in Canada.

  1. Market at Ichamara:1
  1. Two of the stalls we fixed:

Before: 2 Before

After: She’s lying down!2 After

  1. Waterfall that powers the water pump. Left to right: Sarifa, Shauna, Priscilla, Mira, Maggie, Ephraim.3
  1. At Jennifer’s house in Meru. Left to right: Maggie, Mira, Krista, Emily, Jennifer, Shauna, Sarifa.


Cattle and buffaloes ready for the rainy season in Houychiem community, Laos

In May 2015, PAHWs and village chiefs from Houychiem community gathered together with staff from the Faculty of Agriculture and from Vets without Borders to plan the next Hemorrhagic septicemia vaccination campaign for cattle and buffalo. Hemorrhagic septicemia is a fast evolving fatal disease that occurs mainly during the rainy season; it can kill more than 50% of cattle and buffalo population and it is very difficult to treat and is best prevented through vaccination.

Village chiefs have been involved in announcing and promoting the usefulness of the campaign, while PAHWs were responsible for counting the animals whose owners were willing to vaccinate, supplying the material and vaccines from the Rural drug vendors and delivering the campaign.

During the actual campaign, which lasted several days in each village throughout June, farmers were charged 6000 kips (less than $1) per head for the vaccination. PAHWs were recording the number of animals vaccinated, as well as the total animal population in the village so that we can assess the vaccination coverage (we are aiming for 70%). They were also giving out certificates to farmers to remind them to vaccinate again next year. Teachers from the faculty visited each village to make sure everything was going according to plan. Some vet students were also asked to participate to help PAHWs restrain animals, since very seldom farmers have crutches in their farm.By involving the village authorities in the organization of the campaign, we hope that PAHWs and village chiefs can work together next year to offer the same service to farmers.

2015-05-26 17.59.55






Week 2 Student News from Kenya

We have almost been here two weeks and I (Maggie) feel like we have really settled in and are getting into a fun routine. Our first full week flew by in a blur of construction, tea (‘chai’ in Swahili), mud, manure, and laughs.

On Monday we started fixing our first stalls for the welfare project. Most of the cattle here have pens/sheds that consist of a stall for lying in, a milking stall, an alleyway, and a feeding area. Last year, the farms were divided into treatment and control groups. The treatment farms had their stalls fixed and the control groups were given Calliandra seedlings. This tree grows well in this region and has a very high protein content. When fed in abundance, Calliandra can be used to supplement or replace expensive feeds like dairy meal. Though most farms are quite small and there isn’t much room to grow more crops, Calliandra can be grown in place of the decorative hedges found at the perimeter of farms. Aesthetically pleasing and functional!

This year, we are doing the opposite with the groups; we are fixing the stalls of the control groups and bringing Calliandra to the treatment groups. On Monday, our construction skills were put to good use on the first control farm. The cow on this farm, Meni, has eye problems and is completely blind. Her pen had no stall and the only area for her to lie down consisted of deep mud and manure. Within a few hours, we made her a roof-covered, comfortable stall. When we returned an hour later, we found Meni lying down in her stall and looking so comfortable! It was pretty incredible to see such instantaneous results and definitely worth the hard work! It’s also been really satisfying to go to farms that had their stalls fixed last year and seeing them being well-maintained and used by the cows.

In addition to the physical exams and mastitis testing/treating, we interns are getting lots of practice with other clinical skills. On our second visit to the farms, we treat all the cows and any cats or dogs on the farm for parasites (mites, fleas, ticks, worms, etc.). We are also checking the pregnancy status of many cows; this skill is critical (although perhaps not glamorous!) for any bovine practitioner. In addition to being good practice for us, it’s also great to be able to tell farmers that their cow is indeed pregnant, since they are counting on her to make milk (which requires having a calf).

On Wednesday, we had a break from farm visits and went to Ithanji primary school, which is a local school that is twinned with an elementary school in Prince Edward Island through Farmers Helping Farmers. We had a very successful meeting with the head teacher about the possibility of us teaching some of the classes later on in the summer. We also got a tour of the school, which has really benefitted from being twinned with the PEI school. Every year, Farmers Helping Farmers holds a barbecue in order to raise funds for a cookhouse for one of their twinned schools, and Ithanji is one of these schools. The cookhouse allows the school to have a lunch program for their students, and there was porridge and githiri (maize and beans) cooking away when we stopped by. The ingredients for the lunch program come from the school’s farm as well as from donations by parents. In addition to the cookhouse, the school has received many rainwater tanks, new toilets, a hand-washing station, doors, and windows from the PEI twinned schools.

Later that day, we also went for a tour of the Bora Feeds factory; this local company makes feeds for many different animals, and is one of the main providers of dairy meal in the region. It was really neat to see the whole process from the raw ingredients (fish meal, wheat bran, sunflower seed cake, etc.) to the grinding, mixing, and packaging.

We are having a great time working with and getting to know our Kenyan coworkers Priscilla and Ephraim. In addition to being our translator and driver, they have also quickly become good friends who put our construction skills to shame, introduce us to new music, and patiently answer our never-ending questions. We all had a good laugh one day when Mira learned (the hard way!) that the Swahili word for hammer, ‘nyundo’, closely resembles ‘nyondo’, the Kikuyu word for breast!

Working with the farmers has also been really fun and rewarding. We find them to be very enthusiastic and open to new ideas. In addition, their generosity is incredible. We have been here less than two full weeks and have already been served multiple meals (often cooked for the household and then given to us instead), and commonly sent on our way with bunches of fresh fruit. Many people, myself included, tend to have a picture in mind when hearing the word ‘poverty’, of people living in grim conditions, hungry, and in need of aid. However, working with people who are considered to live in impoverished conditions and seeing their constant smiles, positive attitudes, and unselfishness makes you realize that common portrayals of poverty in the media are not always consistent with real life experiences and that the face of poverty can vary quite dramatically.

Yes, they are still very poor compared to Canadians, but they are happy because they have food from their farm, water from nearby sources, and family around them – the essentials. Their happiness despite having little money, savings or material goods helps us put our lives in Canada into perspective.

Meni was so excited to lie down she couldn’t even wait for the shavings!:

Photo 1

Shauna giving Askari (‘Soldier’) treatment for fleas:

Photo 2

Githiri and porridge cooking in the cookhouse of Ithanji primary school:

Photo 3

Only a vet student could be this happy about pregnancy checking via rectal palpation!:Photo 4