Two Posts from Kenya

June 5, 2016

By Katy White, UCVM Veterinary Student and VWB Intern

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

This was a long but interesting week. We had many farm visits, a school visit, two birthdays, and welcomed a visitor to our team. Emily, a veterinarian from Kenya who is starting her masters program with the Atlantic Veterinary College, came to see how the results of Shauna’s research are being applied. We had a series of unfortunate events that made some things more difficult than need be but thanks to the good humour of our team everything stayed fun! We have now finished more than half of our first visits on farms and have even completed all visits with our first farm. Here is a short recap of some of the more interesting moments of our week.

Monday:

After visiting several farms for construction we were feeling good about the small but effective changes we had been making. As we came to our last farm of the day though we realized our construction skills were going to be tested. The farmer had put in a cow shed that was offering shelter but was challenged by the fact that it was on a hill. As a result, there was no cow stall and so the cow had no where dry and comfortable to rest. Faced with the idea of constructing a cow shed from scratch I think we were all a little nervous. However, with some direction from Ephraim, our appointed foreman, and a little hard work we put in a completely new stall. It was rewarding to see our efforts validated when the cow checked out her new stall shortly after  finishing it. I think we will all be excited to see how our efforts have paid off at the next visit.

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A happy Shauna, Julia, Ephraim, Priscilla, and Katy after completing a cow stall from scratch!

Tuesday:

Another day of construction and some interesting veterinary cases cumulated with a lesson in cow handling. At our first farm of the day we saw lumpy skin disease. The cow was recovering and had been seen by a local vet but you could see the remains of nodules on her face. Lumpy skin disease is relatively common here and can be prevented with a vaccine and insect control. We also saw a case of endometritis, a uterine infection likely caused when the cow’s retained placenta had been pulled the week before. When a retained placenta is pulled it can cause damage to the uterus, making it vulnerable to infection. In this case the cow was not clinically sick, so supportive care was recommended and we educated the farmer on retained placentas. On our final farm visit of the day I learnt a lesson about heifers in heat. After giving a friendly heifer a scratch on the neck I diverted my attention to removing a low end board from her stall. Much to my surprise she decided she wanted a bit more attention and attempted to mount me. After a bit of a scuffle I came out with no more than a couple hoof prints on my scrubs, guess I will learn to pay more attention in the future!

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Shauna and Priscilla talk to some farmers about the benefits of the change in stall design we made for their cow.

Wednesday:

This was a day of lessons in the trials of Kenyan transportation. The day started with Shauna being called early to check on a friend’s cow with milk fever. Unfortunately, on her way back to pick us up for our day of work they got a flat tire! Not only was the tire flat, but so was the spare. With Ephraim and Shauna stuck on the side of the road with two flat tires, we had a bit of a slow start to the day. After 3 hours our trusty ‘80s era Toyota corolla, endearingly named “Hustler”, was back on four tires and we were set to start the day. Shauna wanted to stay around to be able to check on our friend’s cow if need be so Julia and I were off on our first solo mission. Finally on the road we were anxious to get started. It took some work to find our way to the farm (with no address we sometimes spend a bit of time driving around on dirt roads asking for help), so we were relieved when we made it within walking distance. Too bad our car had another flat tire! Luckily, Ephraim had the foresight to get our spare patched before heading back out on the road and by the time we had completed our visit we were good to go again! I don’t know what we would do without Ephraim…

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Our trusty car: the hustler!

Thursday:

With the chaos of the day before we had to add an extra farm visit to this day. Luckily, we had an extra set of hands with one of Shauna’s friends from previous year’s work. Kamau works in a position similar to what we do helping farmers improve their dairy practises. Many hands make light work and he was a very helpful person to have around. Before we knew it another day flew by. Julia and Ephraim also demonstrated their athleticism when a temperamental cow decided she didn’t want us changing her stall any more. Once they were safely on the outside we finished the stall, and I think the cow was secretly thankful.

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A couple of calves looking their best for a chance at some Napier grass.

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Two tired but happy interns after another day of construction.

 

Friday:

After a day of second visits educating farmers on nutrition and reproduction we visited a local all boys senior high school. One of the farmers in our project is a teacher there and asked Shauna to come teach the boys on cow comfort and care in Kenya. The boarding school has a small dairy and swine farm and boys from each year have classes in agriculture. We were slightly surprised when we showed up and they suggested that we might give a small talk to the whole school on the importance of education. “Don’t worry there are only 600 students!” Despite the practise we are getting in public presentations, I think we were all relieved when they decided to stick to the original plan of only 40 interested agriculture students. Shauna gave a great talk and the students were really interested and asked great questions. Many of their families have dairy farms and they all wanted to help their parents improve their practises at home. They also insisted on selfie before we left!

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Selfie at the Kaheti High Boys School.

 

Saturday:

Today we had our first seminar. Shauna gave a talk on nutrition and cow comfort, Julia on reproduction, and myself on mastitis prevention. Every farmer who comes to the seminar gets a book on dairy farming in Kenya, and the hosting famer who we have previously worked with gets their cows dewormed. Overall, the seminar went really well and it was nice to see how our work can come full circle. The farmers who come to seminars work together to help each other improve their practises, and demonstrate how dairy farming can make an excellent livelihood. Engaged youth are creating a sustainable future for themselves, and in the end both the cows and the people benefit. A true example of One Health!

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Priscilla and Katy teaching about mastitis prevention at the first seminar of the project.

We finished our week by going out for lunch with our entire team to celebrate Shauna’s 30th birthday! The people we work with are amazing and truly make every day we spend here better than the last. I feel very lucky to get to work such a fun group of people and know that this project is better for having them all involved. Who knew work could be so fun? To add to the fun, we have a few adventures planned for the next month: a trip to Ngare Ndare forest for a canopy walk, climbing Mt. Kenya, and visiting Amboseli National Park in southern Kenya. Stay tuned for more!

May 27, 2016

Back to School and Second Farm Visits

By Julia Nguyen, OVC Veterinary Student and VWB Intern

This week we re-visited some farms for their second visit and continued to visit other farms for the first time. We also visited two primary schools to teach lessons on animal safety, the prevention of zoonotic diseases on farms, and on the transmission and prevention of rabies.

On farm, the second visits focused on how well the farmer is maintaining the stall and if any improvements needed to be made. Maintaining a clean stall is important to the hygiene and comfort of the cow as well as to the quality and quantity of milk production for the farmer. The discussion will then lead into proper cow nutrition as well as calf nutrition. We emphasize providing constant water and forage availability to their cow(s) as well as proper mineral and dairy meal supplementation according to their stage in lactation and milk production. Proper nutrition is the basis of bovine health, productivity, and will also allow the animal to show signs of heat more prominently thus allowing the farmer to continue producing a calf and more milk. At the end of our second visit to farms, we give farmers a dairy farming handbook to read over before our third and final visit where we would hold a seminar to teach about the basics of dairy farming, ideal management and what practices have worked well on that farm.

On two separate days, we visited Ichamara Primary School and Mweru Primary School. Both schools are twinned with primary schools in Canada, through Farmers Helping Farmers. Katy and I taught a one hour class on the prevention of zoonotic diseases with handwashing techniques, proper cow handling, and the transmission and prevention of rabies infection. All the students were so attentive, respectful and welcoming. The lesson first began with introductions using a game to get to know the students’ names and what animal they have at home. After the lesson, we passed out cases for groups of students to go over and answer questions about how a specific illness or disease transmission could have been prevented and why it occurred in the first place. All of the students picked up the concepts well and were able to apply them to the cases. We said our goodbyes and thank yous at the end, which were reciprocated with lovely applause and flower hands of appreciation.

The combination of visiting youth dairy farmers and teaching at primary schools this week has emphasized the goals of our work here in Mukurwe-ini, Kenya. Our goals being to engage youth and provide them with knowledge and practices that are in the best interests for community health, the animals involved, and future generations.

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A cow checking out her improved stall. The small changes make a big difference in how often the cow decides to lay down and her overall hygiene.

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From left to right, Priscilla (translator), Beatrice (farmer), and Shauna (veterinarian, PhD candidate) are discussing cow and calf nutrition during our second visit to Beatrice’s farm.

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During our second visit, if the farmer has any cats or dogs we also deworm them if the farmer allows. We dewormed this kitten as well as three other dogs on this farm. All deworming medication is generously donated by Vetoquinol pharmaceuticals and private veterinarians.

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Katy and I teaching at Ichamara Primary School in their grade seven class.

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Katy and I teaching at Mweru Primary School in their grade six class.

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Selfie from Ichamara Primary School

Meet the Students — Kenya

Planned Project:

Collaboration between Farmers Helping Farmers and Veterinarians Without Borders Canada is helping to improve dairy cow management, productivity and animal welfare for smallholder farmers in Mukurwe-ini Kenya. Over 6000 farmers sell milk to the local Mukurwe-ini Wakulima Dairy Ltd. (MWDL), which is an integral source of income for many women and their families in the area. FHF has partnered with the MWDL for 20+ years to improve agricultural production as a foundation for sustainable community development, with the assistance of VWB over the past 6+ years. The 2016 project at the MWDL will be a service project based on years of research and work in this region. Past research results will be used to improve farmer knowledge and milk production. Specifically, youth farmers will be recruited and trained to help train current and new youth members of the MWDL in order to sustain the dairy as the current population of member farmers is aging. In addition to educating dairy farmers the 2016 internship will build on last years pilot project of One Health education in primary schools in the Mukurwe-ini area. The One Health topics will include topics such as how to identify and avoid transmission of diseases between animals and humans, such as Rabies.

Meet the Team:

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Katy White is a 1st year veterinary student from Banff, Alberta. She is currently studying at the University of Calgary and is interested in large animal medicine. Katy has worked with horses, sheep, cattle, and companion animals in both Canada and New Zealand. This will be her first trip to Kenya and she is very excited to have the chance to experience the culture, work with farmers in the area, and help with teaching.

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Julia Nguyen is a 2nd year veterinary student at the Ontario Veterinary College, and is from Toronto, Ontario. Julia has worked with small and large animals, as well as wildlife. She is interested in food animal medicine. This will also be her first trip to Kenya and is looking forward to all the internship has to offer, while also making a meaningful contribution within the community

Katy and Julia will be working under the supervision of Dr. Shauna Richards a PhD student at the Atlantic Veterinary College and board member of Farmers Helping Farmers. Shauna has been doing her PhD work in Kenya for the last 3 summers, and recently returned in February from volunteering with Vets Without Borders to assist smallholder dairy farmers in Kenya.

Why Did You Want to Volunteer in Kenya?

Katy: I view the VWB/FHF internship program as a unique opportunity to grow my career as a veterinarian in training, while also learning about a new culture and place. I plan on practicing as a rural vet when I graduate and I believe that the challenges I will face while working in east Africa could help strengthen my versatility, my personal confidence, and my mental fortitude. I think that the more diverse my experiences are in my formative years, the more prepared I will be for unexpected or adverse scenarios when I start my professional career. Prior to veterinary school I spent a year living and working on a cattle and sheep farm in rural New Zealand. I have seen first hand how important good animal husbandry is, especially when you are working with animals that your family relies on for a living, and the importance a strong community bond can play in maintaining health herd and a healthy human population. While in high school I took part in a Habitat for Humanity program in rural Honduras. We spent two weeks in Honduras helping with the construction of a new elementary school. Being exposed to a new culture was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life and one that I would like to repeat. As a high school student I found that I learned more from my trip than I could give back, and I think this program would be similar, though I hope that now I have the skill set to give to help improve animal, human, and environmental health while in another country.

Julia: I applied to volunteer with Veterinarians Without Borders because I want the opportunity to help both animals and people at once. By fostering the relationship between humans and animals in developing countries, I hope to learn about how other groups of people live, how they interact with animals and how this influences their way of life. I hope that my clinical experience, interpersonal skills and motivation to help address public health issues will help enhance the project. Experiencing first-hand how impoverished communities maintain a sustainable lifestyle will most definitely change my worldview, and will most certainly be a humbling experience. In summary, I want to participate in this program to help and give back to communities in a developing country and in doing so grow and learn as a person and a future veterinarian.

What Are You Expectations for this Summer?

Katy: I expect this summer to be quite the adventure. The reading I have done on Kenya’s rich history and culture has fuelled my excitement. From all accounts the people of Kenya are generous and friendly. I hope to be able to create new friends while contributing to the worthwhile work of Veterinarians Without Borders and Farmers Helping Farmers. I have been impressed by the results of this project from the last two summers and hope to be an effective member of the team. Veterinary school has impressed upon me the importance of One Health initiatives and I want to contribute to creating a healthy sustainable future for the people and animals we work with. Alongside my excitement I also feel nervous for any challenges that we may face. I know that part of working in a rural areas means adapting to situations where you do not have access to certain tools that you are used to. However, while I anticipate to there to be a few road bumps along the way I believe that Shauna, Julia, and I will make a good team and overcome any challenges we face together.

Julia: My expectations for this summer are to experience a truly immersive education in One Health by being able to help nurture the relationships between humans, animals and their environment. I expect life in a developing country to have its cultural challenges, feel homesickness and the challenge of experiencing a ‘new normal’ for the summer. These are challenges that I will face head-on and I am confident that this project is nothing less than an amazing opportunity and experience. I am excited for the new friendships and connections I will be able to make with people from across Canada and internationally. I am nervous about language barriers but I see this as a challenge in order to further develop my communication skills and learn a new language. I hope to make the most of this internship and make a contribution to the smaller steps for a greater solution within the communities of rural Kenya.