What is One Health, and what does it have to do with a Veterinarians without Borders project?

Actually, quite a lot.

A major component of our work here in Mukurewe-ini, Kenya, this year is teaching dairy farmers about zoonotic diseases (diseases that can be shared between people and animals), and how to prevent them. We focus on some of the most serious zoonotic diseases that are of greater concern in central Kenya: rabies, anthrax, rift valley fever, brucella, bovine tuberculosis, and internal parasites and other diarrhea causing pathogens. The most interesting part of teaching these seminars is that some of the farmers have already experienced some of these diseases – in themselves, their animals, or in their community.

Stories of people getting sick from slaughtering and eating an animal with anthrax are not uncommon. A friend a farmer knows cuts themselves with a knife they were using to butcher a cow that died (due to anthrax); the wound becomes infected; the rest of the family that ate that meat were hospitalized shortly after. Others know people in their community who died from anthrax after slaughtering a sick or deceased cow. It is also not uncommon to hear of people who went to the hospital for treatment when they became ill with a disease they contracted through drinking their cow’s raw milk (which can contain pathogens like brucella). Farmers are heavily dependent on their livestock as a source of food and income. When an animal dies due to disease the financial loss and subsequent food insecurity causes a considerable negative impact. For these reasons sick or deceased animals will be used as food unless farmers are made aware of risks, and supports are in place to improve food security by preventing animal disease in the first place.

Laura and Priscilla teaching about zoonotic disease prevention in humans at one of the on farm seminars.

Perhaps the saddest of stories we hear though, are the ones about rabies. During the time that we have been working in Kenya, multiple human rabies fatalities have been reported. In Kisumu County, about 6 hours from Mukurwe-ini, two children died of dog bites, in addition to several other people who were affected. The parents of the children were unable to afford the rabies treatment at the hospital, and instead opted to take them to an herbalist. When they returned to the hospital, the rabies treatment was out of stock. Both children died within days. In a neighbouring county to Mukurwe-ini, Murang’a, an outbreak occurred last summer, where a three-year-old boy succumbed to rabies. This is why we also teach seminars in schools to children about rabies prevention. In our sessions, they learn what the disease is, how they can get it, how to safely interact with dogs to avoid dog bites, and what to do in the case that they are bitten by a dog. We also teach safety around cows, and how to avoid getting other zoonotic diseases from the animals on their farms. The reception from teachers and students alike are often strong – most everyone comes from a farming background in this area, and everyone comes into contact with roaming dogs in the community. Teachers and students often express how they have learned new, practical, advice from the sessions.

Effective prevention of rabies in Kenya involves teaching people about the importance of vaccinating dogs and how to safely interact with dogs to avoid getting bitten.

So how does this tie into the One Health? And what is One Health?

The One Health approach recognizes that animals, people, and the environment are all interconnected. This approach understands that for a population to thrive, the animals in it and the environment that supports it must also be healthy. It is a critical problem-solving approach, as the same diseases that infect people live either within the environment or the animal population. For example, rabies in Kenya is best prevented in people by vaccinating dogs against the disease. Anthrax is controlled in populations by vaccinating cows against the disease in regions where it is prevalent, which prevents the spread of the bacteria amongst animals, to people, and also back into the soil, where it can survive for decades.

Teaching farmers and kids about the risks of zoonotic diseases empowers them with the knowledge to prevent these diseases in themselves and their animals. Reducing outbreaks of these diseases in animals reduces the likelihood that people will be infected, and vice versa. If the majority of dogs in Kenya were vaccinated against rabies, rabies deaths in people would become very rare. If at risk cows were vaccinated against anthrax, the incidence of anthrax infections in people would also be reduced. There would be fewer bacterial spores introduced into the soil, and fewer animals would be infected in the future, slowing the cycle of anthrax infections in Kenya’s domestic animal and wildlife populations. By alleviating animal suffering, we are also alleviating human suffering.

Lexie with schoolkids at Ithanji Primary School

Zoonoses risk is not exclusive to Kenya. Rabies has always posed a public health threat in Canada; however, the major risk is in wildlife populations as compared to dogs in Kenya. Most recently, the death of a British Columbia man from an infected bat bite made national headlines. The One Health concept doesn’t just apply to Kenya; in Canada, healthy wildlife and pets protects the health of humans, especially in the case of rabies. The One Health approach transcends borders and economic status.

With many farmers in Kenya still engaging in practices such as drinking raw milk, eating sick or dead animals, and not safely handling sick animals, the need for zoonotic disease training is an important step to reduce the burden of zoonotic diseases. Improving animal and human health improves productivity, which increases financial stability. People who are caught in a cycle of poverty carry a greater cost to making choices that benefit their community and environment long term at the expense of a small personal benefit. Helping people reach stable ground in terms of finances and health will improve the welfare of people and animals and benefit the local environment. This is the very core of the One Health concept – and the work that VWB is doing in Kenya to build capacity in farmers and children in how to prevent serious zoonotic diseases.

This project is funded by Global Affairs Canada, and also collaborates with the Sir James Dunn Animal Welfare Centre based in Prince Edward Island.

Rabies outbreak in Kisumu, Kenya:


Rabies case in British Columbia, Canada:


Rabies case in Murang’a, Kenya:



Kenya Dairy Project – Young Volunteers Update

After many months of fundraising and preparation, the Veterinarians Without Borders young volunteers have finally arrived in beautiful Mukurwe-ini, Nyeri County, Kenya. What exactly are three cow loving vet students from the Ontario Veterinary College doing in Kenya? Over the next three months, we will be training smallholder dairy farmers on zoonotic disease prevention and health management practices that will improve cow health and welfare, with the goal of increasing milk production. In addition to improving animal health and welfare, we are also working to improve human health. This is achieved through (1) preventing zoonotic diseases (diseases which are shared between animals and humans), (2) increasing milk production, food stability, and income for local farmers. In Mukurwe-ini, Veterinarians Without Borders works with the Wakulima Dairy Cooperative Ltd, which collects and processes the milk from local farmers. While the Mukurwe-ini area is an agricultural hotspot in central Kenya, the dairy sector dominates in this region, thanks to the support of the Wakulima Dairy.

Wakulima Dairy in Mukurwe-ini
Wakulima Dairy Sign

The Wakulima Dairy began with a mere 5 farmers producing a total of 32L in 1990. Since then, with the addition of a milk cooling tank in the year 2000, and the capability to process their own milk in 2014, the cooperative has grown to a remarkable 7000 active members today. This growth has been in part due to the 20+ year partnership between the dairy and a Canadian NGO Farmers Helping Farmers. Our work at the Wakulima Dairy builds on this partnership in areas of veterinary science and one health (recognizing the interconnectedness of human, animal and environmental health). In addition to selling their fresh milk, the dairy also recently began producing vanilla and strawberry yogurt, and ultra-high temperature (UHT) pasteurized milk. UHT milk does not require refrigeration until opening, and can be shipped further and stays fresh longer. Having a central processing facility and value-added products allows the local dairy farmers to receive a better price for their milk, and is a key component of food and financial security in the community.

Farmland in Nyeri County, Kenya, near Mukurwe-ini

The majority of farmers in Mukurwe-ini rely on one or two cows to produce the milk that supports themselves and their families financially. The difference of a few kilograms of milk production has drastic impacts on their ability to procure essentials for themselves and farm inputs to further enhance their production quality and capacity. This summer, our on-farm seminars will teach farmers about the risks of serious zoonotic diseases in central Kenya. The seminars focus on practical ways to reduce zoonotic disease transmission, like biosecurity, what to do in the event that farmers suspect their animal has a zoonotic disease, and prevention through vaccination. Additionally, we will be visiting farms to provide advice on nutrition, reproduction, cow comfort, and disease management.

Since arriving in Mukurwe-ini, we have had the opportunity to consult with farmers about various aspects of cow health and welfare. At Beatrice Wambui and Daniel Mwai’s farm of two milking cows, we provided some additional advice on enhancing stall comfort so that the cows would spend more time lying down in a dry, soft place. Dairy cows require a significant amount lying time to efficiently digest their feed and produce milk. A comfortable cow is a content, and a more productive, cow. We also checked a cow for mastitis upon Daniel and Beatrice’s request using the California Mastitis Test (CMT), since subclinical mastitis cannot be detected by simply looking at the cow’s milk. Subclinical mastitis leads to lower milk production, and increased risk the milk will be found unfit for human consumption. Testing for mastitis at farms gives farmers the opportunity to contact their vet for treatment, which improves cow health and milk production. In addition, we applied a topical de-wormer to the cow.

Laura Michalovic measuring cow with farmer Daniel Mwai to determine weight for de-wormer dosage


Nicole Burcar applying de-wormer with farmer Daniel Mwai.

At Lucy Njoki’s two milking cow operation, we discussed her concerns of low body condition scores in the cows. The recent drought in Kenya has made it difficult for farmers to provide sufficient forages to their animals. Luckily, rain has started to fall and feed is becoming more available. We provided advice on optimal nutrition strategies and checked one of her cows for mastitis using the CMT upon her request. We also made enhancements to the stalls to make them more comfortable to lie in, as Lucy noted that the cows were competing for one preferred stall. While the modifications may appear small from the human perspective, moving the dividing boards from the inside of the stall to the outside provides the cow with a wider, and therefore more comfortable, resting space. In addition, moving the bottom board a few inches lower will allow the cow the option to lie straight or diagonally, also allowing for more lunge space to comfortably get up and down.

Lucy Njoki (farmer), Priscilla Muthoni (translator), Nicole Burcar (VWB volunteer), Laura Michalovic (VWB volunteer), and Lexie Reed (VWB volunteer)
Lucy’s calf pen is an example of an excellent enclosure – a good roof covering the pen and feed, quality forages in the feeder, free access water at all times, and dry leaves for bedding.
After stall modification. The boards on the left side were moved to the outside of the stall to increase the available width. The bottom board was lowered by ~25cm to allow the cow to lay or lunge diagonally to increase functional width of the stall to encourage the cow to lie down inside the stall more often. The bedding quality is excellent and will contribute greatly to cow comfort.

The Mukurwe-ini community has graciously welcomed us, and we could not be more grateful to have the opportunity to work alongside the farmers and the Wakulima Dairy. It is heartening to see how much farmers care for their individual cows, and how enthusiastic they are about improving their practices. We are looking forward to continuing to learn about the unique challenges and opportunities of dairy farming in central Kenya.

Nicole and Lucy Njoki’s cow Admiration

Photo 10 – The VWB team headed to a farm seminar

Baadae – (until next time). Your team of bovine enthusiasts: Laura, Lexie, and Nicole.

About the authors:

Laura is a second-year student veterinarian at the Ontario Veterinary College, in Guelph, Ontario. Laura has received both her BScH (Animal Biology) and her MSc (Animal Science) from McGill University. She has also collaborated closely with Canadian dairy farmers while working at Holstein Canada and is very excited to compare and contrast dairy practices in Kenya.


Lexie is a student veterinarian at the Ontario Veterinary College. Lexie has a BSc in Agriculture and an MSc in Animal Biosciences both from the University of Guelph. Coming from a small cow-calf farm in Norfolk County, Ontario, she has spent many years working with and learning about cattle. Lexie is passionate about cow welfare, which she hopes to share with the smallholder farmers in Mukurwe-ini. Lexie would like to thank her sponsors, Merck Veterinary Affairs Team and Nutrien, for supporting her in this project.

Nicole is also a student veterinarian at the Ontario Veterinary College. Nicole completed a BSc (Agricultural and Environmental Sciences) at McGill University. She is interested in practicing bovine medicine in the future and hopes to be able to use her experience with dairy cattle to make some positive impact in Mukurwe-ini but also learn just as much about local dairy farming and culture.

Maximizing Milk in Meru

Farmers in Meru, Kenya are eager to improve the milk production of their cows. For the past three weeks, our group of volunteers with Vets without Borders (VWB), in partnership with the Meru Central Dairy Union, have been working to meet this goal, through education.

A common sight in Meru – a milk delivery truck.

There are three of us here: Dr. Aleta Schmah, a veterinarian with nine years of experience; Cydney Smith, with a background in dairy farming, testing milk, and advising farmers on how to improve production; and Fiona Emdin, a third-year student of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Sydney. Here in Meru, The Meru Central Dairy Union acts as the central organization for over 40 smaller co-operatives. The union regulates milk collection and milk distribution centers and provides resources to smaller cooperatives. One such resource is the co-operative and Meru Central Dairy Union extension officers, trained individuals with a deeper knowledge of dairy farming who answer questions and provide direction to farmers about crop management, silage production, mastitis prevention, and animal welfare topics.

We were lucky enough to see a demonstration of silage production. The forage (maize) is cut by a chaff cutter and packed by foot in layers. Molasses is coated between layers, and acts as a starter for the fermentation process.

One of VWB’s main directives while we are in Meru is to provide additional training to extension officers. This ensures sustainability of the VWB programs in this area. After discussions with extension officers and other Meru Dairy employees, a number of topics have been identified as important for further education. We held a training session with extension officers on Feburary 1st, under the direction of Dr. Schmah, covering identification of mastitis using the California Mastitis Test (CMT), mastitis management and treatment, and how to effectively educate farmers on the reproductive cycling of their cows.

Another of VWB’s mandates while in Meru is to continue to educate farmers directly. Currently, there are only 22 extension officers for over 40 co-operatives in the Meru Central Dairy Union. Despite the hard work of these extension officers, it has been difficult for them to provide education and direction to all farms because of the rapidly increasing number of dairy farmers in the region. We will be conducting sixteen seminars over the course of our three weeks here, in partnership with four smaller co-operatives. A number of seminar topics have been identified as important by previous VWB groups in Kenya. These include: cow nutrition, cow housing, mastitis management and prevention, cow reproduction, and calf care.

Dr. Aleta and Cydney educate farmers on the best stall design to improve production and comfort for their cows.

We try to tailor our seminars for each area, visiting two or three typical farms to determine what issues are most important to farmers in the area. This also allows us to speak to farmers about some of the more common diseases and issues they face and what common forages they use. With each seminar, we also aim to have at least half of the attendees be women, to help educate and strengthen the position of women who participate in household dairy management. Our seminars, thus far, have been very well received.

A finely chopped feed of Napier and Maize. The most common forage used for dairy cows in Meru is Napier grass. A less common forage is sunflower.

Mastitis is one of the issues faced by dairy farmers both in Canada and here in Kenya. To help address this issue, after each seminar we demonstrate how to use the California Mastitis Test (CMT) to identify subclinical mastitis.  The CMT is a simple locally available test done on farm with a small sample of milk to look for inflammatory cells. If farmers are interested in testing their cows, we advise them they can contact their extension officers for this service. When demonstrating the CMT, we often identify low-grade subclinical mastitis in tested cows. Farmers are frequently extremely surprised to learn that their cow has subclinical mastitis. Subclinical mastitis presents with no visual changes to the milk and the cow appears healthy, however these low grade infections will reduce milk quality and decrease milk production in the long run. This knowledge motivates them, and the other farmers observing, to take the recommended preventative steps against mastitis outlined in the seminars.

Fiona demonstrating the CMT to participating farmers at a VWB seminar

Through our work educating farmers and extension officers we hope to sustainably improve both the livelihoods of smallholder dairy farmers through increased milk production, and the welfare and health of their animals through simple changes in management.

Our work is part of a multi-year partnership with the Meru Central Dairy Union, and funding for this work has been provided by Global Affairs Canada.

School Visits in Kenya

While teaching seminars takes up most of our days here, we also got to spend a few highly enjoyable days visiting 8 different schools in the Mukurwe-ini area to teach the students there. We teach students from Gr 6-8 about topics relating to animal health and safety to help minimize diseases in the community.

The planning for each school visit starts about a week before it actually happens, with us visiting the school’s Head Teacher to meet them, explain our lesson plan, and arrange a date and time for when we can come. We also discuss with them which classes we will teach, depending on the class sizes and whether some of the grades received the lesson from the Canadian students who came last year. The groups we have taught range from a Gr 6 class of 33 students, to 134 students from Gr 6 and 7 (there were so many students that we taught the lesson outside!)

When the day comes, we get dressed up (no scrubs on these days!) and head to the schools. The students are usually gathered and ready when we arrive, though sometimes the Head Teacher insists we have some tea before we start.

We always start the lesson by singing a song with the children, because they are usually very shy of us at first. Singing a silly song with lets them interact with us in a stress-free way, and by the end of the song everyone is smiling and laughing. Even the teachers join in sometimes!

Children laughing as they sing a song with us.

Once everyone is happy and relaxed, we start our lesson. Alex teaches about Zoonotic diseases and how to recognize a sick animal, as well as about safety around cattle to prevent injuries. Elle teaches about proper hand-washing to help prevent illness, and about understanding dog body language. Aiyanna teaches about ways to avoid dog bites, what to do if you are bitten, and about rabies prevention.

Elle teaching about understanding dog body language.
Aiyanna teaching about how to recognize a mammal

The students are all very focused on our lesson, and are constantly writing to get down all the information we are telling them. We make sure to have some interactive parts to the lesson as well, and once the first brave student puts up their hand to answer a question, the classroom becomes a sea of waving hands, every student eager to give an answer.

Students busily taking notes

After we finish the teaching portion of the lesson, we go through some case studies with the students based on what they have just learned, talking about ways to recognize a sick or rabid animal and what to do in that situation, and ways to act around dogs to prevent bites.

Aiyanna helping students with the case studies

At the end of every lesson, we emphasize that the knowledge the students have gained from us should be shared with their friends, families, and communities. It is our hope that through this, our teaching will reach a greater number of people than what we could possibly reach alone, and thus help everyone in the community be safer and healthier. Even the teachers often say that they have learned something, and that they will share it with their families as well!

After these are done, we ask the students if they have any questions for us about the material or about Canada. There are usually many questions about what life in Canada is like, if it is always cold there (they are surprised when we tell them that Canada is currently warmer than Kenya!), and about our studies.

Students are very eager to ask and answer questions

This summer, our lesson plan at one of the schools changed a bit, when the Head Teacher asked us to talk about Rift Valley Fever with their students. Kenya and the surrounding countries are currently experiencing an epidemic of this Zoonotic disease, which causes fever and flu like symptoms, and in some rare cases can cause severe illness in humans. This disease is mainly transmitted through insect bites, but can also be contracted from eating the meat or milk of an infected animal.

The students were very attentive during this portion of the lesson, and were eager to learn about ways that they can keep themselves and their families safe during the outbreak. We emphasized the importance of using mosquito nets and recognizing when an animal is sick to avoid contact with it, as well as making sure milk is boiled and meat is well cooked before eating it.

Alex teaching about how to prevent a zoonotic disease
Alex teaching about how to prevent a zoonotic disease

School visits are always the highlights of our week when we go, we love meeting and interacting with the students, who are always so excited to have us! The visits also give us the chance to reach out to and teach a different demographic than we do when visiting farms (the children are almost always in school when we visit farms for seminars).

By the end of the day, it’s hard to tell who is smiling more – us or the children!

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!

Veterinarians without Borders’ Young Volunteers Program 2018 – Introducing Team Tanzania

In May 2018, Brent Ludwig, Megan White, and Dr. Roger Thomson arrived  in Tanzania after a training session in Ottawa. They touched down in the Mbeya Region of Tanzania on May 18 and have since been hard at work in the small hillside town of Tukuyu. Brent recently graduated from the University of British Columbia with a B.Sc. (Hons) in Animal Biology. Megan is a Registered Veterinary Technician and is currently completing a B.Sc. in Agricultural Studies at the University of Lethbridge. Dr. Roger is one of Veterinarians without Borders’ (VWB/VSF) most experienced and dedicated volunteers. He has coordinated a poultry project in Tanzania for several years and has mentored many volunteers in the process. Megan and Brent will be working in the Mbeya Region for the summer as part of VWB/VSF’s Young Volunteers Program.

We attended a child’s birthday party in Tukuyu and got to partake in the festivities. In Tanzania, putting icing on all of the birthday guests’ faces is a tradition! (Left to right: Dr. Roger, Megan, and Brent)

Tanzania is a stable country, rich in natural resources, but still burdened by harsh realities: there are an estimated 930,000 children considered vulnerable in the country and 47% of the population lives below the international poverty line. VWB/VSF’s partner organization, Africa Bridge (AB), works in 18 villages in the Mbeya Region. They establish Most Vulnerable Children Committees (MVCCs) and provide a pathway to economic independence for caretakers of vulnerable children. This is done by establishing crop and livestock co-ops, providing start-up loans to co-op members, and offering intensive training. Using a holistic, integrated development model, AB’s self-sustaining programs have improved the lives of over 7,000 children and their families.

We went on a hike through a tea plantation south of Tukuyu. Tea is a major export from the Mbeya Region

During the month of May, we have had the privilege of meeting with village representatives and co-op members to get a firsthand look at the tremendous impact AB has in these rural communities.

During our visit to the small village of Katela, we met Estwidaa Itete. Estwidaa has been hard at work over the last few months listening to and applying the training provided by AB and has built an impressive chicken coop using local materials. At the beginning of May, she received 9 hens and 1 rooster, who continue to be well cared for and safe in their new coop. (Left to right: Megan, Estwidaa, Brent, and Dr. Roger)

For the remainder of our stay in Tanzania, we will be working in villages in Kisondela ward, where AB has an established dairy co-op. We will be hosting seminars focused on dairy calf management, including proper nutrition, housing, and disease control, in order to improve calf health and welfare. We are excited to have the opportunity to work with small-holder farmers to develop sustainable methods that will benefit the health and welfare of the people, animals, and the environments in which they live.

During a visit to dairy co-op member Joseph Nwaka’s farm in Isuba village, we found his happy calf resting in a bed of straw.

Thanks to Global Affairs Canada for supporting VWB/VSF’s Volunteers for Healthy Animals and Healthy Communities (V4H2) initiative and making our project this summer possible.

Checking-In From Kenya!

This project is funded by Veterinarians Without Borders (VWB/VSF), The Sir James Dunn Animal Welfare Centre, and supported by Farmers Helping Farmers. All volunteers are from VWB/VSF as well.

Muriega (Greetings) from Kenya! It has been a busy couple of weeks since we landed in Nairobi – and a time for lots of learning! From Nairobi we travelled to Mukurwe-ini, where we will be staying for the next three months. Our work this summer will be focused on improving the livelihoods of dairy farmers who are members of the Mukurwe-ini Wakulima Dairy. This dairy has over 6,000 members and collects and processes over 30,000 liters of milk every day, which is a major driver for income for the community. The Wakulima (Farmer’s) Dairy works to serve the dairy farming community in Mukurwe-ini by offering stable prices for milk, as well as extension, banking, and veterinary services, a feed mill, and more. In the last few years the dairy has started to pasteurize milk, and produce yogurt in order to further the income of the dairy and the farmers they serve. The Wakulima Dairy is VWB-Canada’s in country partner in Kenya, and has been for the past 5 years.

The Wakulima Dairy is an exception when it comes to the services offered to farmers, but the farmers it serves still struggle to improve their milk production and subsequently their livelihoods due to lack of resources and knowledge on the best dairy farming practices. For example a typical dairy farm has one or two dairy cows, and often each cow may only be producing 5 litres of milk per day, whereas with training we see cows producing 20+ litres/day. Dairy farming, and more generally farming, is the main source of income for people in rural settings in developing countries such as Kenya.  VWB – Canada’s work aims to focus on developing farmers’ knowledge base by working to train farmers on best farming practices based on research done in this region.  By working with the Wakulima Dairy and their staff our goals are to create a long term and sustainable improvement to milk production and livelihoods in this region.

Our project this summer will focus on continued engagement and training of youth farmers, as similar to Canada, the age of the farming population continues to increase, and new young farmers are needed to maintain the dairy industry. Our work builds on the work done in Mukurwe-ini over the past five years, which includes research into best farm management practices, and two years of an extension program to train farmers on these best practices. We have a group of 40 dairy farm leaders who have been involved with the extension part of the program for the last two years, and each leader has their own group of farmers they lead and support. More on the seminars to come throughout the summer!

Typical Dairy Cow in Kenya

After we arrived in Mukurwe-ini we spent a few days meeting the local team members: Priscilla and Susan, our translators, Ephraim and Jeremiah, our drivers, as well as many people at the Wakulima Dairy that we will be working with this summer. We also had a chance to tour the dairy and the local feed mill to see how things run behind the scenes.

Here we are getting a tour of the Wakulima dairy, seeing how the milk is tested and processed

After spending the weekend settling in and preparing, our first seminars started on Monday. Every day we go out to a different host farmer’s farm, where they invite some of their neighbours to participate in a seminar focusing on dairy cow nutrition, reproduction, mastitis prevention, and cow comfort. It has been great to meet with the farmers, they are all eager to speak with us about their cows and are very engaged during the seminars. After the seminars we visit individual participants farms, and have a chance to give them feedback on their stall construction and feeding programs. We have even had the chance to wield a hammer and nails to help with making the stalls more comfortable.

Teaching a seminar for a group of dairy farmers – Priscilla is translating for us!
Enjoying Kenyan tea after a seminar

We have also had the chance to experience a very Kenyan tradition – tea! Tea here is made with loose tea leaves (grown about an hour from here), fresh milk and water, and all boiled together with plenty of sugar. You almost can’t go anywhere without someone offering you this sweet drink, which is great on a cool, rainy day!

As part of our first blog post, we would like to introduce ourselves.


Teaching about improving cow comfort through proper stall design

Hi! My name is Aiyanna, I have just finished my first year of school at the Ontario Veterinary College. I am interested in practicing mixed animal medicine in the future, and so am very excited to be here this summer working with dairy farmers to improve their milk production. This is my first trip outside of North America, and it has been quite the experience so far! My favourite part has been getting to see Kenya’s gorgeous countryside – the mountains and valleys are breathtaking. I also really like meeting the farmers and seeing how interested they are in improving the wellbeing of their cows – they are very interested in the seminars, and it is so rewarding to work with them. Our in-country team has done an amazing job helping us get settled and encouraging us in our seminars, which has really helped us get comfortable with the material. I am thankful to be part of the Vets Without Borders Team Kenya this year, and I am eager to see how the rest of the summer plays out!


Doing a physical exam on one of the farmer’s cows to ensure it is healthy

Hello! My name is Alexandra and I have just completed my second year of Veterinary school at the OVC. I am currently interested in pursuing a veterinary career in mixed animal medicine or specializing in surgery. I am ecstatic to be a part of Vets Without Borders and feel so privileged to be here in Kenya helping dairy farmers on a daily basis. I have always been interested in outreach programs where I am able to use the knowledge I have learned in school to help others and really make a difference in their lives. My favourite part of Kenya so far is the people. Everyone I have met so far is so welcoming, so happy and so appreciative of how this program has already helped them so far. I cannot wait to see what is in store for us these next 3 months!


Hello! My name is Elle, and I am a third-year journalism student at Humber College. As a communications specialist in Kenya on behalf of VWB, I’m completing a variety of tasks during my placement, such as interviewing the community’s dairy farmers (to track the progress of VWB’s project in Kenya), assisting the local dairy co-op’s communications department and documenting the experiences had by my team. And that’s just a start!

As a journalist from Canada, working in Kenya has definitely been an adjustment. The extra travelling, working with a translator and identifying possible barriers to completing my tasks are a few examples of the changes I am working through. This will all likely be a continuous learning experience up until the day I leave, as change usually takes time (and patience!). Though it’s been gradual, I’ve been pushing myself past some of my comfort zones here and am growing as a result. Hopefully this growth is reflected in the work I help produce for the dairy co-op and for VWB back home in Canada. I know I have a long way to go and am eager to do this project justice by documenting it as best I can. The information I’ve already gathered from farmers I’ve spoken with has proven to me that VWB’s presence in Kenya is considered important and wanted by many. Here’s to a productive and adventurous summer!

We have also had 2 veterinarians, Gerald and Kelsey, with us for the past two weeks to help us become comfortable with the seminars. Gerald is a dairy vet in Canada, and this is his second time in Kenya. Kelsey is a new graduate and has spent 3 months in Kenya in 2016 working on a similar project in the Meru region of Kenya. With their extensive experience we are sure they will prepare us to do a good job this summer. We had to say good-bye to Gerald this week as he had clients in Canada waiting on his return – he will be missed, but we feel that he has done an excellent job getting us settled in Kenya and preparing us for this summer. Kelsey will be with us for another two weeks to further help us with the seminars.

From the fantastic support we’re receiving from our in-country team to the welcoming (and curious!) members of the community, our transition from Canada to Kenya has gone quite smoothly overall. Though we now feel settled in, there’s still much ahead of us this summer!

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.”



Whirlwind summer in Kenya!

After a whirlwind summer in Kenya, the time has come for our final blog post. As our time here draws to a close, we want to acknowledge the hard work and dedication of our Kenyan family, without whom this project would not have been possible. Each member of our team has been essential in helping us reach our goals. We are so grateful to them for welcoming us into a new country with open arms.photo1(placeafterintroparagraph)
With their help we have worked directly with over 500 farmers and taught over 40 seminars. A total of 54% of the farmers we worked with were women. We were able to increase our impact this year by visiting more farms than in previous years to provide one-on-one training. This allowed us to teach farmers not only about the importance of raising calves, but also about feeding a milking cow, construction of an appropriate place for cows to rest, milking hygiene, and much more. By working one-on-one with farmers we ensured their individual needs were met to set them up to succeed.
To ensure our project was sustainable, we also taught 20 staff members at the Mukurwe-ini Wakulima Dairy Ltd. about the best ways to raise a calf and take care of a dairy cow. These training sessions were based on years of past research proven to be useful in this region. This group of staff is responsible for training dairy farmers, so countless more farmers will learn about how to dairy farm more sustainably to ensure improved livelihoods.
We also visited 5 schools and taught 360 primary aged children about Rabies prevention, how to avoid dog bites, staying safe around farm animals, and how to ensure you don’t catch a disease from an animal. These students go home and teach their siblings and parents about this information, creating an even larger impact on the community surrounding staying safe around animals.
These are just some of the large impacts our work had this summer in Mukurwe-ini, but as we previously mentioned, none of this would be possible without our Kenyan family. Therefore, to end off our summer, we would like finish this blog by sharing some details about our great team that we had the pleasure of working with every day.
Ruth Wathiha provided us with laundry services to ensure we had clean clothes every day for working on the farms. Without her help, it would have been very difficult for us to maintain good biosecurity practices while working with the livestock here. Ruth is from the Mukurwe-ini region of Kenya and lives with her grandma, husband, and three year old son, Travis. Ruth has been working with Veterinarians without Borders since 2010. In addition to her small laundry business, she is a well-established entrepreneur, operating a fruit stand in Ichamara as well as a flour, sugar, and fat shop in Kimondo. In her spare time, Ruth enjoys listening to music and playing with Travis. Ruth loves working in the Ichamara region of Kenya because of its pleasant climate and peaceful atmosphere.

Samuel Karanja, our very talented chef, was inspired at a young age by his uncle who was a successful chef at fancy hotels in the Nairobi area. Samuel completed his secondary education in Nanyuki and attended Nyeri Technical Institute for 2 years for his culinary training. He has been working with VWB/VSF for the last 3 years. Although he faces challenges such as limited availability of ingredients in Mukurwe-ini and less than favorable cooking conditions, his ingenuity pays off with his delicious meals and the well-deserved compliments he receives. He loves his childhood home of Nanyuki and credits his mother’s guidance for his successes. Samuel’s goal is to work abroad in Canada for a few years and ultimately return to Kenya to build a fancy restaurant of his own in Nanyuki. In his spare time, Samuel likes to watch movies and the cooking channel, listen to music, go swimming, and make new friends. Aside from his cooking skills, he has given us invaluable insight into understanding Kenyan life, and has become a great friend.

Priscilla Muthoni was our enthusiastic translator who has been working with VWB/VSF since 2012. She speaks 3 languages – English, Swahili, and Kikuyu. Kikuyu is her native tongue, which helps us to connect with the local people. She was born in the Mukurwe-ini region and grew up on a dairy farm. Of her many chores on the farm, milking cows was her favorite, and this cultivated an interest in the dairy industry. She completed her post-secondary education at the Dairy Technical Institute in Naivasha and then worked as a laboratory technician doing quality control at local dairies. She is well versed in dairy cow care and Kenyan farming practices, providing background knowledge and a Kenyan perspective to each situation we encounter. Her favourite part of the job is helping to make a difference in the dairy farmers’ lives. In her spare time, Priscilla enjoys going out with her husband and 3 children to volunteer with the less fortunate. Priscilla was a vital part of our team, especially in connecting and building relationships with the farmers we teach. Every day with Priscilla was a delight as she is so personable, funny, and easygoing.

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Ephraim Mutahi was our very impressive driver. Amidst the bustling pedestrian and vehicle traffic, he was successful in getting us where we needed to be quickly and efficiently, and his faithful car Shira always made it up the most intimidating hills. He has been working for VWB/VSF since 2013 and really enjoys the opportunity to be a private driver because it’s dependable employment. He has worked as a matatu (local bus) driver in busy Nairobi, but prefers the more peaceful life of Mukurwe-ini. He says his biggest challenge as a driver is competing with the many other drivers in the area for customers, but it is worth it because his job allows him to provide for and work close to his family. Ephraim is a pastor and a father of 3, often providing us with daily wisdom and cheesy dad jokes. He loves spending time with family, volunteering on the school board, and taking time to bathe his cow, Maggie. He says, “When you have a big heart, you always have time to do more.” Ephraim feels lucky to have been born in Kenya because the country is free and the landscapes are beautiful. Our daily drives with Ephraim were always an adventure, and we looked forward to his exciting wardrobe choices.

In addition to the team we worked with daily, we would like to thank Gerald Kariuki for coordinating our partnership with the Mukurwe-ini Wakulima Dairy Ltd. as well as the local community. He has been a valued liaison for VWB/VSF for many years and we are all very appreciative of his efforts. We also appreciate the following individuals for their many contributions to our work:
Extension staff from the MWDL – Charles, Elias, James, Eunice, Jeremiah
Veterinarians from the MWDL – Patrick and Ayub
The administrative, lab and management staff at the MWDL.
Henry and the staff at Sportsmen’s Safaris in Nairobi who supported us during this project.
We would like to thank our wonderful supervisor Dr. Shauna Richards for her knowledge and guidance throughout our placement, Veterinarians without Borders Canada for their sponsorship of this project, Farmers Helping Farmers for their continued collaboration, and the Sir James Dunn Animal Welfare Centre for their generous financial contribution. Last but not least we want to extend a special thank you to everyone back home who donated their time, services, money and encouragement for us to be here. None of this work would be possible without you!

photo6(placeafterthanksparagraph)Our team with friends and family in Mukurwe-ini at our Canada Day celebration

This project is supported by VWB/VSF Canada with funding from Global Affairs Canada.
#KenyaBelieveIt #Dairyfarming #Cowsforlife #Vetsinthemaking #VetsWithoutBordersCanada #FarmersHelpingFarmers #Drinkmilk #TeamPotato

Getting down to work in Kenya

Muriega! (“Hi all” in Kikuyu, the local language spoken in Mukurwe-ini)


The three of us visiting the Giraffe Centre in Nairobi, which is part of the African Fund for Endangered Wildlife Kenya Ltd. 

We would like to formally introduce you to the VWB team Kenya!
We are a mini force of three. Kelly Hammond (photo left) is a vet student from Manitoba heading into her second year. She aims to work in mixed animal practice after graduation and is very interested in contributing to sustainable agricultural practices on a global scale.  Megan White (photo center) is a Registered Vet Tech and agricultural student from Alberta. This is her second trip to Kenya, and she is excited to see how veterinary medicine contributes to human and animal welfare in developing nations.Alina Gardiner (photo right) is a vet student from Ontario heading into third year.  Alina wants to work in a bovine practice after graduation, so she is thrilled to be on the dairy team andto collaborate with Kenyan farmersto improvethe health of their calves.

We’re sure all of you (especially our families) are wondering what we have been up to! The internet is not always reliable here, so we are extra excited to share our experiences through this blog.

We have just arrived in Mukurwe-ini, our final placement destination, after spending the past week with Dr. John VanLeeuwen and The Farmers Helping Farmers team in Meru learning the ropes and acclimatizing to the farming techniques here in Kenya! We were able to practice our physical exams, body condition scoring and pregnancy checks under the watchful eye of Dr. John.

This summer we will be working with women and youth members of the Wakulima Dairy Ltd. We will be hosting seminars focusing on dairy calf health and welfare and making small changes and recommendations on farm. In addition, we will be visiting primary schools to educate children about zoonotic diseases and hygienic practices related to animal handling. Our overall goal is to help educate dairy farmers to improve the health of their animals and promote a sustainable livelihood in their communities.

Kenya is a beautiful country, and we have taken at least 500 photos each, but have included just a few of our favorites from the past week below.

Photo2smallOne of the many calves we examined with the beautiful scenery of Naari in the background.


In the last week, we have had to get creative with restraint techniques. Alina is holding a cow while Kelly listens to the heart as part of a physical exam.


Alina performing a pregnancy check of one of the cows in Meru with Dr. John’s guidance. 


Photo 7: A small 6-month-old calf. With the help of Dr. John and the other vet students we gave nutrition recommendations to the farmer to help with normal growth.

#VetsWithoutBorders #FarmersHelpingFarmers #Kenya #Cows #Vetsinthemaking

This project is supported by VWB-Canada and the Sir James Dunn Animal Welfare Centre