By Kasadee Allan, Andrea Messina, and Karen Yetman
Veterinary Students, Atlantic Veterinary College
Mambo vipi? (What’s up) Our Swahili words are coming along nicely thanks to the help of locals, farmers, and our amazing driver, Paul. Besides the Swahili, we are also learning so much about cow comfort, diagnosing pregnancy in cows without the aid of an ultrasound, and many diseases that we do not regularly see in Canada. During our second week we are beginning to recognize where we are, especially in relation to Mount Kenya, and we are also feeling more comfortable in Kenya as a whole as we continue to work with farmers throughout the Meru region.
The week started with a question-and-answer seminar in Ex-Lewa with our biggest attendance yet — 71 farmers. The farmers found a bit of shade to sit in while we answered their very interesting questions. After the seminar many farmers brought their animals to us for a mini walk-in clinic where we helped identify reasons for poor heat detection and swollen lymph nodes. Also on Monday, we were presented with a case of traumatic reticulopericarditis (TRP), which is the first case of TRP that we had ever diagnosed. Another question-and answer seminar was held in Ngusishi on Wednesday. At the second seminar, we, the UPEI vet students, were able to step up and answer more of the farmers’ questions ourselves. The seminars have been a great opportunity for us to freshen up on topics and learn how to help the Kenyan farmers with their unique challenges.
We all love working with the dairy farmers here in Kenya, but this trip has given us many opportunities to step outside of our comfort zone. On Tuesday, we were able to travel with a new asset to Farmers Helping Farmers (FHF), Dr. Victoria Bowes, who is an avian pathologist as well as a small poultry flock specialist from British Columbia.
FHF has provided materials for chicken (kuku) coops and multiple incubators to help promote feeding eggs to children as a source of protein. While in Kenya, Dr. Bowes is examining these coops for possible improvements and assessing the outcome of the first hatches from the incubators.
Shadowing Dr. Bowes was a great experience for all three of us! We have had limited poultry experience, and now we feel more comfortable assessing chicken coop structures. We were also able to develop some (kidogo) poultry pathology experience as we examined why certain eggs did not hatch so that improvements can be made to the incubators and their management in the future.
The highlight of our week was the walk-in clinic held in Nkando. The relationship between FHF and UPEI with the Nkando dairy groups is fairly new and this was the first ever FHF/UPEI cattle walk-in clinic held in this area. Despite this area being less than an hour’s drive from the region we are normally working in, the landscape is vastly different. The farmers in this area face additional challenges, as seen by the failed crops in the field due to limited water availability. Lack of resources, including few veterinarians or vet techs in this region, have made farming there extremely difficult. However, we are that hopeful with the new Nkando partnership with FHF/UPEI, we can help the farmers improve their dairy management despite their daily challenges.
We left the house at 6:30 in the morning, hoping to get ahead of the rush, but the Nkando farmers were already waiting with hundreds of cattle prepared to be dewormed, with many of them hanging around afterwards to be seen by our two veterinary teams (see below).
The cattle crush immediately had cows and bulls moved into it until it was full, and the crush was not empty a single moment during the day. A special shout-out to Stephen Chandi a FHF employee, and Ben Vos, a former PEI dairy farmer, who led the team in deworming almost 700 cattle! Countless bottles of injectable and pour-on dewormers were used and many needles were utilized on the way to deworming all of these cattle, but it was well worth it.
As the deworming team worked to move cattle through the crush, there were two teams of veterinary personnel, led by Dr. John VanLeeuwen, dairy cattle specialist, and Dr. Jill Wood, PEI chief veterinarian officer and dairy farmer, ready and waiting to treat those that needed veterinary assistance. They were supported by translators Leah and Brian (FHF Kenyan staff), George Kobia, a local animal health technician, as well as us, the UPEI vet students.
Many of the diseases we treated were similar to those that we saw at the previous walk-in clinic, including many tick-borne diseases such as East Coast Fever and Anaplasmosis. We also spotted a new tick that we had not yet seen, which can also carry diseases that can be dangerous to cattle. We continued to improve our hands-on skills and one of the students (Kasadee) even had an opportunity to drain an abscess for the first time. We were busy throughout the day rushing between examining the cattle and running back to the truck for treatment. One goat (mbuzi) even snuck through and was treated for an abscess. It was a full and gratifying day where we were able to help a lot of sick cattle and help provide support to the local farmers.
The day was long (returned home at 6:30pm) and hot (30 degrees Celsius) with many layers of sunscreen re-applied by all the FHF-UPEI members. We were all drenched in dirt and sweat by the end of the day, but we tried not to complain as we knew there were many farmers who had walked miles just to bring their cattle to us. Despite the harsh and dry conditions, we were pleasantly surprised by the relatively good body condition of the majority of the cattle, likely because they usually had some local breeding, such as Zebu, Brahma or Boran.
It is amazing how the people in this region have learned to adapt to their specific conditions and raise healthy cattle despite their challenges. Seeing these farmers and what they have done for their cattle already, it gives the FHF/UPEI group confidence that the Nkando dairy groups will be willing to learn and improve with the training soon to be offered.