Better Livelihoods from livestock in rural Laos

By Dr. Anne Drew

IMG_4347smallDr. Anne discussing body condition of a goat with Mr. Phok, one of the Village Veterinary Workers.

Sepon is a remote district in the extreme west of south-central Laos, just 40 km. from the Vietnam border. With my husband Thom, I’m here for 4 ½ months, assisting with a project called Resilient Livelihoods for the Poor(RLP), in which Vets Without Borders is partnered with Health Poverty Action, a British-based NGO that has worked in Laos for 23 years.
RLP in Sepon works with 400 extremely poor families in 25 ethnic-minority villages, to start them in income-generating enterprises of their own choosing. Nearly all of the families chose small livestock enterprises, and most of these chose goats. The goats are a hardy local variety, much prized for meat for special occasions, and excellent demand exists for them here and just across the border in Vietnam.
In my capacity as Animal Health and Nutrition Adviser, I’ve been assisting the Lao Livestock Health Adviser, Choummala, a graduate of the Veterinary program at the National University. Over my first 8 weeks we conducted an animal health survey in the project villages, evaluating the health and productivity status of the goats, pigs and poultry, in the second year of the project. We visited a random selection of households in each village and conducted a short interview, with questions about reproduction, disease and losses, and feeding. Then we examined the animals and collected fecal samples for quantification of parasite loads. We treated any sick or injured animals that we found as we went.
The goats obtain all of their feed by free-range browsing now in the dry season, but in the rainy season are sometimes kept in for cut-and carry feeding. Ill health and losses are often caused by parasitism, injuries, and sadly, theft. Young kid mortality is also high. These results highlight appropriate education and interventions to increase the success of the enterprises.

IMG_3978smallMs.  Choummala interviewing Ms. Huay about her goats as she works at the loom under her house.

Since mid-March we’ve been implementing an advertising and vaccination/deworming campaign in each project village. We call an evening meeting and after introductions, show 2 videos on the rationale for vaccinating and deworming livestock. These were produced in Lao by CARE International, but we had voiceover in Brou, the minority language, added. Discussion of the videos and personal experience follows, with prizes for participation. We’re also promoting the services of the three Village Veterinary Workers trained by the project, and explaining the need to charge for the service – so the activity will be sustainable. Then, starting early the next morning, we move through the village in 2 teams, treating animals at as many households as will accept the service. Starting early enables us to find the animals and the owners still at home, and avoids the intense heat in the middle of the day.

IMG_4158 1smallMr. Muey in Latuengnai, presenting his goat for examination.

Government counterparts from Livestock and Fisheries, Rural Development, Labour and Social Welfare, and Planning and Investment participate, so the work goes quickly. We vaccinate against devastating endemic diseases: goats for Foot and Mouth Disease, cattle and buffalo for Hemorrhagic Septicemia and FMD, pigs for classical swine fever, chickens for Newcastle, Fowl Cholera and Fowl Pox, ducks for Fowl Cholera and viral enteritis.

IMG_3310smallAnne and Thom (with assistants not shown) treating a septic goat with a maggot-infested wound.

A durable calendar noting important times for livestock care and sales and promoting the VVWs was produced, and one is given to every village household.Participation by project households has been excellent, as they are already aware of the procedures and benefits. Non-project livestock keepers are coming on-board in smaller numbers. As more families see and understand the benefits, we hope that every biannual campaign will see increased participation.

IMG_5105smallMs. Choummala recording vaccination/deworming date, and next treatment date, on a calendar promoting livestock health care.

IMG_5886smallThom restraining a young bull for vaccination.

IMG_4993smallThe vaccination team in Palongnai village, with VWB volunteers, 2 Village Vet Workers, Ms. Choummala, government counterparts, and the village goat group leaders on the right.

IMG_5853smallMr. Phon, one of the village Vet Workers, vaccinating a goat for FMD.


Animal Health Training in Laos

By Thomas and Anne Drew

GoatA goat recovering from injury after being stuck in a vine.

Anne and I made an early start for the first day of Anne’s Animal Health Survey. We started in Mai village, the most remote of all our project villages at 70km.away and very near the Vietnamese border.  That day, as often after, the survey took longer than expected because we were asked to treat sick animals as well. The very first house had a goat that got its leg trapped in a vine and was missing for almost a week until the owner found it. The goat had broken the bone and sloughed off a lot of skin, and the leg was healing in a deformed shape. Anne treated it with antibiotics and pain meds, as it was nursing a young kid that still needed the milk;  but she advised the owner that he should sell it for meat in a few months as it would be difficult for it to do well through another pregnancy. We went back to check it about 10 days later, and the leg was dry and the swelling reduced.

Goat HouseA goat house built in a vegetable garden.

At another household I gave Mr. Phok, the village veterinary worker, a hoof trimming lesson, and gave him his own Swiss Army knife. I pick these up second hand from those confiscated at Halifax Airport Security check. They make great gifts, and can help the VVWs to perform a needed service.

anne4Dr. Anne Drew and Mr. Phok examining a goat.

One of my jobs has been to take lots of photos of the team at work. After a great village lunch of purple sticky rice and jaew  (spicy chili dipping sauce), BBQ fish, eggplant and pureed greens we visited 4 more goat farmers in Salan Tai village and at the last one saw a great example of a creative use of resources. His goat house is built in his vegetable garden and he has planted things the goats wont eat on their way in and out: onions, cucumbers, pumpkins and herbs. The manure drops down and feeds the garden, everything was lush even though it is the dry season. It was beautiful!

One Health in Uganda

By Jamie Neufeld with Kyla Kotchea, Veronica Pickens, and Shauna Thomas

Photos by Kris Chandroo and Jamie Neufeld

July was by far our busiest month working on a variety of projects. We rarely reached home before it was pitch black, and the sun seemed to rise earlier and earlier with each passing day. Along with our vaccination campaign, we had two reusable menstrual pad training days, two community wellness education days with our nursing and nutrition colleagues from the University of Saskatchewan, paravet training day, and the goat pass-on, which we have been working towards all summer.  Thankfully, July also brought project supervisor Dr. Claire Card to Uganda, which provided us interns with invaluable learning opportunities in the field and help with organizing paravet training day and the goat pass-out.

PHOTO 1Dr. Claire Card with our friends from Vetoquinol.  From left to right: Vik Nimbkar, Claire Card, Kristopher Chandroo, and Kelsey MacNeil.  Photo courtesy Kris Chandroo.

The reusable menstrual pads training day focuses on empowering young women and the value of education.  Before coming to Uganda, hearing that young women miss school every month when they have their periods was a concept that was difficult to grasp. How can something so natural prevent young women from receiving education?  However, hearing about challenges in the household made the situation a bit more sensible; some families eat one meal a day, have over five children to pay school fees for, and certainly cannot afford the disposable menstrual products that we take so for granted in the western world.  The objectives of this project, which was spearheaded by WCVM student and VWB 2015 intern Sarah Zelinkski, are to provide girls with reusable menstrual pads so they never have to miss school because of their menses again, to emphasize how education is directly correlated to making more money and having fewer, healthier children, and that girls can do everything just as well as boys – oftentimes even better! The training days took place at Kihwa Primary School and Nyamuanja Modern School and were received with much enthusiasm.  The girls learned how to sew their own reusable liners, care and wash instructions, and left with a liner and shield set that were sewn by friends and family members in Canada.

PHOTO 2 (1)Girls at Nyamuanja Modern School sewing their reusable liners.

We were incredibly fortunate to have University of Saskatchewan nursing and nutrition students in Mbarara this summer who were invested in the wellness of our community members. Because of their interest and efforts, we were able to provide community health days to two groups, Kahenda and Kishuro.  Kahenda is a secluded, difficult to access community where the population is elderly and cervical cancer and syphilis are of great concern.  Many children are malnourished, as many grandmothers raising grandchildren are unaware of the different dietary requirements between the two life stages.  Kishuro is a large community that asked for further education in nutrition and first aid training. For both days, our nursing and nutrition colleagues were right on target with providing pertinent training and education, consultations, and cooking demonstrations that used local foods to make tasty, nutritious dishes. To add to this One Health experience, many of the nurses and dieticians spent time with us in the field vaccinating, tagging, and deworming goats, graduating as expert goat wranglers. Shauna and I spent a day in the hospital’s labour and delivery ward and assisted with our first ‘human calving’, an experience that confirmed our pursuit of veterinary medicine.

PHOTO 3 (1)University of Saskatchewan nutrition students starting off the community health day under the acacia tree with the members of Kishuro.

Last but certainly not least, the goat pass-out. The five days leading up to the goat pass out day were some of the busiest days of summer. Pens of potential beneficiaries had to be checked, goats for sale needed to be located, tested for brucellosis, purchased, and transported to the FAOC site where the event occurred, and contracts and goat keeping records printed. Once all of the goats were on site, each goat needed to be dewormed, vaccinated, sprayed for ticks, and photographed for our records. The stress from transporting goats and mixing animals from multiple sellers made for a variety of physical ailments, so the animals were closely monitored and treated when necessary. We performed supermammary teat removals, trimmed hooves, and treated ringworm and deep corneal abscesses. We were happily joined by three people, Kris, Vik, and Kelsey, who were sponsored by Vetoquinol and present for the paravet training day and goat pass-out.  They enriched the experience with sincere interest in the communities and beneficiaries, knowledge of veterinary medicine, humour, beautiful photographs, and lots of help with the goats. After only two days together, we were sad to see them go.  At the pass-out ceremony, beneficiaries received one or two goats depending on level of need along with a notebook for goat record keeping.  Contracts outlining the pass-on scheme and proper goat care were signed, and the day ended with the spectacular site of red dirt roads speckled with traditionally dressed women and men walking their new goats home, some up to twenty kilometers away.

PHOTO 4All attendees of the goat pass-on day: Beneficiaries and their children, community paravets and chairpeople, VWB interns, University of Saskatchewan nursing and nutrition students, and our guests from Vetoquinol.  Photo courtesy Kris Chandroo.

PHOTO 5Hellen Tumwine from Rutsya with her new goat at the pass-out.  Photo courtesy Kris Chandroo.

In conclusion, success of the VWB goat pass-on project is rooted in working closely with the community members and trying to tackle the challenges they face, whether it be animal related or otherwise.  Upon starting our internship in May, we dove into a One Health experience that developed our interprofessional, veterinary, and communication skills.  We are thankful for this opportunity with VWB and to have had Dr. Card as our passionate and informative project supervisor, and for the generous donors who purchased the goats for pass-out day.  We owe so many thanks to our translators who became dear friends, and to the community members who graciously welcomed us into their lives.

thumbnail_PHOTO 6 (1)Ten-year-old Batorine with his sister, Lynette.  Batorine stays home from school to help farm beans, matoke, and fruit.  With the help of goats, we are hopeful that Lynette will have the opportunity to attend school.

Final Thoughts & Goodbyes

Text and photos by Katy White, UCVM Veterinary Student and VWB Intern, and by Julia Nguyen, OVC 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.

Our project here in Mukurwe-ini has come to an end. It is bittersweet to be finishing our time here as we have had such a great summer. Filled with many amazing adventures and lots of good work, we feel very lucky to have been selected as interns this year. We are happy to have completed such a successful project and met so many amazing people. However, these last three months have flown by and we can’t believe the time has come to say goodbye. Through our youth project we gave seminars to nearly 400 people on 40 farms. 55% of the people who attended the seminars were women and 51% were youth. The 40 youth farmers we worked with saw improvements in their milk production, and the majority of them have become really engaged in getting more youth in the area interested in dairy farming.

Blog 9 - 1Image 1: Feeding a blind rhinoceros at the Ol Pejeta animal sanctuary was one of the many adventures that added to making our trip a memorable one!

We have high hopes for the future of this project in the coming years. The extension team at the Wakulima Dairy have been instrumental in helping us reach out to farmers, and we were lucky to have them join us on several farm visits. Through the help of a recent donor we were able to buy Mastrite (an udder wash and teat dip) for the youth farmers who excelled through our project. The hope is that their farms can be used as demo farms where the extension team can continue to hold seminars over the next year keeping the youth engaged until a new group of interns returns next summer.

Blog 9 - 2Image 2: Katy teaching about cow comfort at the last seminar of the project. 

The work we did on farms was truly rewarding for us. There is a sense of satisfaction that comes from giving someone knowledge that will help them to create a sustainable and stable future. However, as much as we were rewarded through our teaching, we also found that each and every day contained a learning opportunity for us. On a personal level we both found that our communication skills improved a lot. Learning to interact with people who don’t share your language or culture can sometimes present challenges. However, with patience, a good sense of humor, and an excellent translator nearby; any language or cultural differences soon melt away. We also became much more proficient in our cow handling and milking skills. Without a chute system, convincing a temperamental dairy cow that you have her best interests at heart while you are trying to take her temperature can make for an interesting afternoon. With three months of practice, we have found we are much more practiced in the art of “cow whispering” and can milk with the best of them!

We also learnt a lot about the challenges of small scale dairy farming here in Kenya. As we mentioned in a previous blog post, dairy farming in Kenya is a full time job. Farmers have to be up at 5:00am for the first milking, spend the morning getting their children to school, complete all the necessary chores on the farm, and gather forage for their cow before the next milking around noon. They often also have another job that they then go to, or have to tend to the many other animals or crops present on their farm. Working these types of hours can be discouraging when you are getting a poor milk return from your cow. However, the Kenyan farmers we have worked with are some of the hardest working people we have ever met. This mixed with their passion for dairy farming and interest in improving is bound to help them see improvements in the future. Especially if programs like ours continue to help educate farmers in the small changes they can make to see large returns in milk production.

Blog 9 - 3Image 3: One thing we will definitely miss about Kenya is all of the delicious fresh fruit!

On a broader scale we also learned about working in international development. The youth project was based on the premise of One Health. Creating a healthier future for communities, by creating solutions for animal, human and environmental health. This project really showed us how making simple changes on a small scale can make a big impact in a community. By improving the welfare of single cows on small scale dairy farms, you can improve monthly income for an entire family. When the education that helped make that change is spread through the community, you start to see economic stability spread throughout the area. The partnership with the Wakulima Dairy was formed over 20 years ago. Small improvements to single farms may have seemed relatively inconsequential then, but now the Wakulima is a booming dairy that processes 35,000 kg of milk every single day. With over 6,000 farmers it has helped make Mukurwe-ini a great place to live for Kenyan farmers. It truly shows that small changes with the right goals can make big difference to families and communities in developing areas.

As with any project in a developing country, we could not have made these last three months happen without the help of many people. This project would not have been successful without the help of the staff at the Wakulima Dairy, especially their extension team. The extension team selected our 40 youth farmers, helped us coordinate getting project supplies, and assisted in ensuring our seminars run smoothly. We are so thankful to have them and Gerald Kariuki, ex-coordinator of the Dairy, helping us with any issues we faced that seemed a little over our heads.

Blog 9 - 4 (1)Image 4: Posing with the staff of the Wakulima Dairy at our farewell party. The support of these people was instrumental in making our project a success. 

Our team in the field consists of our translator Priscilla Muthoni, and our driver Ephraim Mutahi. We are so thankful to them. Without their help many farmers would not be able to understand us, and we wouldn’t have been able to navigate to the many different villages we travelled to. Together we have shared many laughs, and got to know each other well. They have become our Kenyan family and our days were made brighter by working alongside them.


Blog 9 - 5Image 5: Katy, Ephraim, Priscilla, and Julia with our trusty transportation “The Hustler”. Without these two, our work would have been a lot less fun, and a lot less productive!

We are very thankful for those who have made our stay in Kenya feel like a home away from home. Samuel Karanja is our wonderful chef who ensures we are well fed during the busy work week. In addition to experiencing his amazing meals, his friendship and company allowed us to feel as comfortable and as safe as possible. We are truly happy and thankful for his work. We also must thank Ruth Wathiha, a wonderful woman that hand-washes our laundry. She is very kind, sweet, and a loving mother of two boys. Her work for us is almost invaluable, as we work long days and get quite dirty on farms. We very much appreciate her work and the warmth with which she welcomed us to Kenya.

Blog 9 - 6Image 6: Julia, Samuel, and Katy on Julia’s last day in Mukurwe-ini. We are sad to say goodbye to Samuel’s amazing cooking and good company!

Blog 9 - 7Image 7: Julia, Priscilla, Ruth, and Katy. These women are inspirational both in their work and home lives. Their families are lucky to have such amazing women taking care of them, and we feel privileged to know them.

We would not have been able to travel to Kenya and participate in this service project without the support of the following charitable organizations: Veterinarians Without Borders Canada, Farmers Helping Farmers and The Sir James Dunn Animal Welfare Centre. We are thankful for their partnership and support in facilitating the growth of student veterinarians, like ourselves, and One Health initiatives in developing countries. Finally, thank you to all of our friends, family, and donors that have supported our project during the last three amazing months. Please know that this project was more than we could have hoped for, and that your support helped make real change for the families we worked with here in Kenya. It is with hope that we look to the future and say not Kwaheri (goodbye) to Kenya, but instead Tutaonana (see you soon)!

Blog 9 - 8Image 8: Thank you to everyone who supported us on our journey to and time in Kenya! It wouldn’t have been possible without each and every one of you.

The Ex Lewa Dairy Co-op

Katy White, UCVM Veterinary Student and VWB Intern
Julia Nguyen, OVC 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 week we had a change of scenery and spent three days in the region of Ex Lewa visiting dairy farms in the area. The community began as a settlement project back in the 1970s. Farmers Helping Farmers volunteers have been visiting and doing work with the Ex Lewa Dairy Co-Op and their farmers since 2010.  Currently, the Ex Lewa dairy has 300 members actively selling milk and they collect an average of 1600 L of milk per day which is sold to the larger Meru Central Dairy. The Ex Lewa Dairy is much smaller compared to the developed dairy operation we are used to working with in Mukurwe-ini. Though there are fewer farmers in Ex Lewa, the practice of producing milk as a source of income is growing. They have great potential in being able to profit from dairy farming since farmers have large plots of land, therefore the ability to grow good quality forages for their cows and even make silage for the dry seasons.

Blog 8 - image 1Image 1: The vast fields for farming in Ex Lewa contrasted the dense green hills in Mukurwe-ini.

Blog 8 - image 2Image 2: Julia discussing mastitis prevention and cow comfort with Leah translating during an on-farm seminar.

We spent our days in Ex Lewa visiting dairy farms, making small improvements to cow stalls, and holding seminars for interested farmers. Most farmers in Ex Lewa are grazing their dairy cows, which presents management challenges and animal welfare concerns. We centered our seminars on the benefits of changing to a zero-grazing system. Zero-grazing systems allow the farmer to control the environment of the cows. They can ensure that the stall is kept clean and comfortable, preventing mastitis and increasing milk production. They can also ensure that the cows are given ready access to high quality forage, and are offered free choice water. Cows that are out grazing during the day have an inconsistent diet and water access is limited. The farmers here are doing well with the system they have but by making the switch they would see a big increase in their milk production. We were very impressed by the interest farmers have expressed in dairy farming. They are obviously very active in trying to improve their milk production and so by implementing some of the small changes we recommended they are likely to see large benefits.

Blog 8 - image 3Image 3: Julia discussing the minor changes farmers can make to their cows’ resting stall to improve cow comfort. In the photo, she is demonstrating the “knee test.” We ask farmers to fall to their knees within the stall to test if the stall base is too hard (knees get hurt) or too dirty (knees get wet).

Blog 8 - image 4Image 4: We made changes to this cow stall. First, we removed end boards to ensure enough head lunge space for the cow. Then, we adjusted the neck rail based on the cow’s height and position within the stall to prevent the cow from passing too much waste at the back of the stall. And finally we ensured the stall base, had soft tilled soil with straw bedding on top of it, to provide cleanliness and comfort for when the cow is resting.

Blog 8 - image 5Image 5: A group photo after a successful seminar! We also distributed dairy handbooks to the newest members of the Ex Lewa Dairy.

We billeted at a dairy farmer’s home, her name is Mercy Makena. She has a very warm and welcoming home. What made us very happy to learn is how well she is managing her cows. She is very knowledgeable about many of the topics we discuss on our on-farm seminars. She works very hard to make sure her cows have access to water and forage all the time. We made minor changes to her cows’ resting stalls by removing end boards and adjusting the neckrail, and after one day she informed us the cows were seen resting more throughout the day! This made us very happy to hear and she was very grateful for our work and recommendations. We even recommended her as a demo farm to the chairman of the dairy, as she will make a good role model for other farmers in the area. With only two cows she is an excellent example of how good care of two cows can be much more profitable than mediocre care of many cows. One morning we saw how much she is excelling when we took her milk to the local milk collection site about 1 km away. All the farmers in the village take milk to the same collection point so we met many of the farmers in the area. Mercy was among the top sellers in terms of kg/cow/day. Her hospitality and love for dairy farming has made our stay in Ex Lewa a great experience, as well as increasing our love for Kenyan food!

Blog 8 - image 7Image 6: One morning, Katy and I walked the full milk can to the collection site. This is one of the ten milk collection sites for the dairy. While waiting for the milk truck, we greeted other children and farmers bringing their morning haul to the collection site.

Blog 8 - image 6Image 7: In these photos, milk is being weighed, recorded and then pooled into larger cans.

Blog 8 - image 8Image 8: Mercy Makena, our lovely billet host, dedicated mother of two girls, and passionate dairy farmer!

Fridays with Feddy

By Shauna Thomas,  VWB intern and OVC veterinary student.

Feddy Nambooze, widowed at 32 years old without even a high school degree and five children to look after. For any woman across the globe this sounds like a terrible situation, made worse in countries where widows are stigmatized and out casted from society as failures. The unfortunate reality in Uganda is that this situation is far from the exception to the rule; one could go so far as to say it is normal. In our time here in Isingrio district, Uganda, we have met countless widows who have worked unfathomably hard to provide for their family, and fight against the stigma so unjustly cast upon them. From the moment we met Feddy, we could tell she was something special and every encounter since then has only grown our respect and adoration for her. Fortunate for us, she invited us to her home one Friday night to talk and spend the night as her guests. A captivating women, humble by spirit and hardworking by nature, this is her story……

Photo 1Feddy Nambooze, 60 years old.

Although modern day Ugandan society is still highly oppressive to women, it has made moves in a positive direction. Thirty years ago, however, Feddy, a 14 year old girl having just completed grade seven, was coming home to the reality that she would no longer attend school no matter her drive or desire to learn. A family of 9 children, five girls and four boys, her father (as most men at the time) felt that it was a waste of money to educate girls and only the boys would complete high school.  At the age of 20, Feddy was married with one child on the way. After 12 short years and five daughters, her husband passed away leaving her widowed and the sole provider for her children. At the time, her family was living in a town called Ibumbo in a house built the local way. Made out of mud, sticks and grasses, her two room house would leak and wash away when it rained. When asked about her mindset at the time she admitted it was hard to feel anything positive, saying it was “the worst time of her life”. Thankfully, she persevered and was able to move herself and her children to her current location in a village named Kyabutoto.

All too happy to move on from talking about that time in her life, Feddy described to us in detail the steps she took to get from a bare, hilly plot of land to the concrete, decorated house she has now. To begin, she innovatively decided to dig up the hills to use the clay for bricks and to flatten the land at the same time. At this time her family had built another temporary local grass house until they could afford anything more. As an early member of the women’s group in Kyabutoto, she was one of the first people to be a recipient of the goat pass on project (2006). She explained how she sold the initial goats to pay for her daughters’ school fees, as many of our beneficiaries do. What has separated her from many others in the project is her forward-thinking. Using her group’s revolving fund (microfinance scheme), she invested in four more goats, selling and buying as needed after this. Although many people in Canada may interpret this investment strategy as the obvious/logical next step; it is not often the first choice made by women in rural Uganda. For people who live so day-to-day due to extremely limited funds and resources, the idea of taking out loans and investing in something long-term like goatherds is a challenging concept. This initiative allowed her to have enough money (although nothing extra), to support all five of her daughters through high school and then each into a trade (tailoring, salon etc). The way she spoke about putting her daughters through school was very matter-of-fact; for her, education was not a question, it was fundamental to a successful life.

Photo 3Feddy’s house to the left with the Isingiro district in the distance.

By this point in the conversation I had already lost count of the number of times she spoke of and emphasized how thankful she was to have been a goat recipient from the VWB pass on project.  From the start of her goat rearing time she had one goal: to have a home with electricity. She explained how room-by-room from 2006 to today she built the beautiful three-room concrete home we were sitting in. We were fortunate to get to take this walk down memory lane with Feddy, seeing her facial expressions and tone of voice change as she recounted her successes as well as her shortcomings. Especially notable was the look of pride she emitted when she pointed us to the light bulb in the ceiling and said all her hard work had paid off.

As a humble person by nature, it was harder than expected to get Feddy to talk about all of her training and current positions. The key to that box was when she pulled out a notebook and we started asking specific questions about the notes she has written and instructions in the book.  The secret to it was that she clearly didn’t want to talk about herself, but if asked about what she did for other people or the work a group she led was doing, she had endless things to say. A great leader is someone who is confident in themselves but focused on the greater good of a group. A list of the leadership position Feddy holds follows: Kyabutoto chairperson and Paravet, Nyamuanga secondary school board member, Parish co-ordinator, PTA representative, Village health team worker, Kakona health center nutrition facilitator, social worker trained in child protection and most recently a councellor for Kaberebere Town Council. All of these responsibilities she has on top of being the sole provider for herself and Rosette, the grandchild she looks after. It took me a few moments to pick my jaw off the floor after hearing just how many roles of responsibility she holds. Prior to this, I just believed she was a hardworking woman with some serious drive and a good head on her shoulders; when really she is the female version of Superman! Maybe a tad dramatic but when you see first hand how someone has worked so hard from the ground up all the way up to the top, you can’t help but be heavily inspired.

Photo 4Genuine conversations, genuine smiles.

Flipping through her training books, we stumbled across a chart with traits listed and a scale of 1(best) to 5 (worst) beside them. Feddy explained how every night she sits down and rates herself on each of the traits. She reflected that, “You can’t be 100% at everything, but you can certainly try.” We were shocked to see how low she had ranked herself in many categories such as empathy, confidence and availability. Thinking about it now, It has became clear that this is part of the key to her successes; never being completely satisfied forces her to seek education when possible, seize every opportunity given and continually expand her horizons. Alternatively, she says her key to success is always putting into practice what you learn, for many of us this is easier said than done. This 60-year old woman, without so much as a high school degree, is my definition of a life-long learner.  Throughout the entire conversation with Feddy, I was searching for her to slip some word or phrase that would capture her personality and move any reader the way she has inspired me. In reality, this wasn’t possible. To try to capture someone; their struggles, their triumphs, their complexities, in a few words strung together would only take away from their story. As we were wrapping up to leave Feddy’s, her youngest daughter (a 20-year-old named Claire), piped in that the only role model she ever needs is her mother. It struck me then that someone dosen’t have to be well known to accomplish great things, something as simple as being a single person’s role model is one of the greatest legacies you can leave. So many strong women across the world are examples of these everyday unsung leaders. A simple conversation on a Friday evening allowed me to meet one of these very special women, and her name happens to be Feddy.

Photo 2Feddy’s list of qualities and her ranking of herself in her reflection journal.


A Kenyan Veterinarian’s Work

Text and photos 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 week we spent a day with Patrick, one of the veterinary technicians from the Wakulima Dairy. In Kenya, veterinary technicians have extensive training and are licensed to treat animals so long as they work under the indirect supervision of a veterinarian, reporting on the cases they have seen each week. Dr. Auyub is the lead veterinarian at the Wakulima Dairy, and there are two other technicians that work under him.

Over the course of our day, we saw some very interesting cases. The day started with a case of foot rot, as common an ailment here as it is in Canada. In Kenya, it is especially common in cows who do not have an adequate resting stall. Without somewhere clean and comfortable to rest, the cows spend more time standing on hard ground or in manure, making them prone to foot rot. In this case, we treated with topical and intravenous (IV) antibiotics, pain control, and advised the farmer to keep it as clean as possible.

Blog 7 - 01Julia, Patrick, Ephraim, and Katy after a successful day of veterinary work in Mukurwe-ini.

The first farmer we saw had also had cases of East Coast Fever and babesia on his farm in the last year. Both of these are tick borne diseases that are seen more commonly in Kenya than Canada. Tick borne illness is especially common in cows that graze out where they might be in contact with wild animals. However, in the Mukurwe-ini area most cows are zerograzing, meaning they stay in their stalls all the time and farmers bring forage to their cows. It is suspected that cows here get tick borne illness from hay that is harvested in higher risk areas and then sold to local farmers.

Blog 7 - 02The lead legged tick, seen here, can be a vector for diseases like East Coast Fever and babesia.

We had follow-up visits with two other farmers who had cows that were recently diagnosed with East Coast Fever. The cows presented as pale, depressed, anorexic, and with decreased milk production. Their temperatures were over 40oC. They also had petechiae (small internal bleeds presenting as red dots) across their gums. The lymph nodes in front of their front and hind limbs were significantly enlarged. Successful treatment depends on early diagnosis and luckily in these cases the treatment Patrick had offered 48 hours earlier was enough to make significant improvements in both cows. For future prevention, applying a tick-killing spray (such as permethrin) every seven days will be essential.

Blog 7 - 03Julia attempting to carry a load of Napier grass similar to the weight of those we mentioned in last week’s blog.

Two other farmers we visited were part of the youth farmer project we are running. On our second visit to their farms, we perform physical exams and California mastitis tests (CMT) on farmer’s cows. When we find positive CMT results or any other abnormal findings, we recommend follow-up with local veterinarian professionals like Patrick. The prevalence of mastitis is much higher in Kenya than in Canada. The majority of the farms we visit have at least one cow with subclinical mastitis. When cows have mastitis they give less milk, the milk is of poorer quality, and farmers have the added expense of treatment. Prevention through proper hygiene is one of the main things we are educating farmers about on our visits. An intramammary antibiotic given in the affected teats helps to prevent an increase in severity of the infection and stops spread to other quarters. We are currently working with the dairy to ensure they are using appropriate antibiotics to treat infections and prevent antibiotic resistance.

Another common thing we have to educate farmers on is the importance of mineral feeding. Though most farmers are feeding mineral, they are often feeding it inconsistently and in inadequate amounts. Cows are often getting less than a third of what they are recommended to receive in a day. As a result, farmers here struggle with their cows not coming into heat, low milk production, and illness associated with mineral deficiency. In addition, dry cows (those who are not being milked in the two months before calving) are often being fed milking cow minerals resulting in milk fever. Through the course of our day, we saw a calving cow presenting with milk fever and vaginal prolapse, as well as a mineral deficient heifer. By helping to educate farmers on proper mineral feeding hopefully we can prevent the need for emergency veterinary visits like the one we had to assist on.

Blog 7 - 04Another successful seminar, where we discussed mastitis prevention, reproduction, nutrition and cow comfort.

We also responded to a call from a farmer who reported a difficult calving. When we showed up it was evident that the cow was in the middle of an abortion, and needed assistance to pass the fetus. Once the fetus was pulled we estimated that it had stopped developing at the 7-month stage of pregnancy, likely due to an intrauterine infection caused by a natural bull breeding. Most farmers here use artificial insemination (AI) to get their cows pregnant but some still have their cows bred by a bull making them prone to infection and injury.

AI is performed by a veterinary professional and with Patrick, we visited 3 farms for AI. Without ready access to internet, it is hard for farmers to know which bulls they want to breed to, so they trust the veterinarian to make the decision for them. Patrick choses the sire based on conformation, genetics, and owner preference for imported or local semen. He makes his decision on the farm after talking to the farmer about their cow. To time the breeding, the veterinarians rely on farmers to recognize signs of heat. This is something we work with farmers on during our seminars. Occasionally when a farmer is struggling to get their cow pregnant, the veterinarians will use hormones to help time breeding but for most farmers, that option is out of the budget.

Blog 7 - 05Patrick performing AI on an Ayrshire cow.

Through the course of the rest of the day, we also saw a dog with kennel cough and dewormed each of the animals we saw. We also talked to a farmer about a recent anthrax outbreak in her area that had resulted in one human death. This was tragic news for everyone involved, but it is because of the support of Patrick and the other Wakulima Dairy veterinarians that the outbreak was handled before it turned into an epidemic. Spending the day with Patrick really highlighted the importance of veterinarians not just to animal health, but also to human health. By helping people keep their animals healthy, the veterinarians here are directly improving the health of the farmers and their families.

Blog 7 - 1Katy and Julia with two slightly unhappy puppies after a tandem deworming!

Blog 7 - 06Katy and Julia  at Chania Falls in Aberdares National Park where they took a chance to explore on their weekend.

Kenyan Dairy Farms

Text and photos by Katy White, UCVM Veterinary Student and VWB Intern
Julia Nguyen, OVC 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 past week Kelsey Goodick, a FHF intern, visited us from where she has been working in Naari. It was nice to have an extra set of hands as we had a big week full of some challenging construction projects. While on a walk one afternoon to the nearby river Sagana, Kelsey asked us what surprised us the most about being in Kenya. At the time we both remarked about how many people live in the “rural” area of Mukurwe-ini. It was a surprise to us to be living in such a populated area, when we expected something more rural. Of course in a country smaller than Ontario with a larger population than Canada, rural has a bit of a different meaning. Over the course of the week, and a visit to Nairobi, I think this question highlighted some of the other differences we have noticed here in Kenya and got us thinking about them. Specifically, the way an average dairy farm works is much different than in Canada.

Blog 6 - 01Julia, Katy, and Kelsey at the river Sagana, a beautiful place for reflection, and an important water supply to the Mukurwe-ini area.

The average farm we have encountered in the Mukurwe-ini area has only one or two cows, and is managed by a single person or family. It will often have other animals such as chickens, goats, sheep, and dogs or cats. The cows are housed within wooden cow sheds. Within a typical cow shed there would be a feed bunk area, a resting stall, a milking stall, and the cow’s open “alley way”. The cow’s manure and urine is often collected and piled or pooled outside the cow shed and composted.  One farmer we met, Solomon Waribu, was in the process of installing a biogas system whereby he could use his cows’ waste to produce gas to use in his home.

Side note: While in Nairobi this weekend we visited the Kibera slum, an area of four square kilometers with a population of 1.6 million people. Kibera has eight different biogas facilities that collect human waste to create fuel. For 40 KSH, people can hook up to the fuel created and cook their meals.

Blog 6 - 02An average dairy shed here in Kenya. We actually constructed the stalls in this shed from scratch!

The farms in Mukurwe-ini are zero-grazing farms, meaning that the famer has to harvest all of the food the cow eats and bring it to her. This helps to minimize parasite borne illness and ensure the cow’s daily nutritional requirements are being met. The farmer is required to grow, harvest, transport, and process the forage entirely on their own. Since the land area of a single farm is often quite small (about 1 acre), farmers often have to lease land elsewhere to grow their crops. Once they harvest their crop (using a machete) they have to transport the forages of foot or by boda boda (motorcycle). We are always in awe of the amount of forages or water that farmers are able to transport on their own. Walking several kilometres with 100 lbs of napier grass on your back is no small feat! In addition, water supply can be an issue. Some farms do not have direct water access so they must rely on rainwater collection tanks or travel to rivers to fill containers and bring water back to their farm.

Blog 6 - 03A local woman carrying napier grass to her cow back home.

To prepare for the dry season, some farmers are able to make silage. Indeed, this is one of the key ways a farmer can ensure that their cows’ nutritional needs are being met year round, and it is something we strongly encourage on our farm visits. This begins with a large harvest of maize and other forages, then everything is chopped into small chunks with the use of a chaff cutter and packed into silage bags. The protein and energy of the forage is preserved through the ensiling process making it an excellent feed for cows. Silage and other forage is then fed to the cow several times throughout the day. Farmers’ component feed their cattle here, meaning that forage is fed separately from dairy meal, minerals and other supplements. This is different from Canada where cows are fed a balanced total mixed ration containing everything the cows need in a day. While a nice idea, it would be very hard for a Kenyan famer to determine the proper balance of nutrients need in a TMR and so it is easier to ensure the cow is receiving everything she needs by feeding separately.

Blog 6 - 04Peter Ndegwa (a farmer in our project) preparing forage with a chaff cutter for the ensiling process.

Blog 6 - 05Finished silage bags ready and waiting to be fed to nearby cows.

Since this is all a very labour intensive process, farms with more cows often do poorer than smaller farms. The more cows you have, the less each cow gets to meets its daily energy demands. Making milk is a very energy demanding process, and so if a single cow is getting the proper amount of food she can make much more milk than several cows whose energy demands are not being met. A good dairy farmer in the Mukurwe-ini area is producing an average of 20L of milk per day. Milking is done entirely by hand and collected into stainless steel cans. Milking one cow from start to finish will typically take about ten minutes. The farmer will then walk with the full can or cans to the nearest milk collection point (up to a few kilometres away). Here the milk is weighed and collected into larger milk cans which are then transported to the dairy. Farmers are paid for their milk every month. The rate is about 35 KSH per litre of milk, that’s equal to 45 Canadian cents per litre of milk.

Blog 6 - 06Farmers wait with their milk containers for the afternoon milk pick up. There are two pick ups per area per day. One in the early morning around 5:00am, and the other shortly after noon.

Blog 6 - 07A milk collection station, you can see here how the milk is weighed before putting it in general collecting tanks for transport to the dairy.

The differences we see in Kenya highlight how dairy farming is a lifestyle here as much – if not more – than it is in Canada. In most cases it is more than a full time job, but when farmers are successful they can make a decent living off a small dairy farm. One that will allow their children to go to school, and ensure there is food on the table every night. Being part of a supportive dairy group, that ensures a steady income, makes all the difference for the families we work with. By helping them to increase their milk production even a little bit we are working to make that living even more worthwhile. Plus, we get the bonus of improving animal welfare on farms, making new friends, and working with passionate and hardworking farmers in the process!

Kenya Halfway Point Favourites

Text and photos by Julia Nguyen, VWB intern and OVC veterinary student, and Katy White, VWB Intern and UCVM veterinary student.

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.

It’s just over the halfway point of our internship in Kenya. We have visited 27 out of a total 40 farms. We have completed all three visits to 22 of the farms. The past two weeks’ work has been broken up by two adventures. We climbed Mt. Kenya, and travelled to Amboseli National Park to go on safari. This has given us some time to reflect on our experiences so far.

Blog 5 - 01Katy and Julia at the top of Point Lenana, the third highest peak of Mount Kenya. Point Nelion is featured in the background.

Blog 5 - 02Hippopotamuses and elephants seen during our Amboseli National Park safari!

One of our favourite moments about visiting farms (especially on the third and second visits) is seeing how the small changes we make are creating real improvements in cow comfort and milk production.  For example, on one farm we made the minor improvements of increasing lunge space and creating a softer stall base. On our second visit the farmer informed us that the cow has been resting more frequently, and that its daily milk production had even increased by one kilogram. This is the kind of news we love hearing. We can often see how much cleaner the cows are from not resting in the dirty alley way, or witness cows resting comfortably in their clean and dry stalls. In addition, to seeing and hearing about good changes to their farms, we have enjoyed getting to know the youth farmers within our service project. Most are very welcoming of us, and very engaged in learning better practices. One exceptional farmer, Solomon Waribu, has been elected Wakulima Dairy Director for his area since being in our project! We are looking forward to the remaining farms left in the project, and hopeful the work we are doing is engaging more youth and female farmers; improving their farming practices to have a healthier cow and a better livelihood.

Blog 5 - 03Here we are posing with the group of farmers who attended the seminar on our third visit to Solomon Waribu’s farm. Each has the dairy farming handbook and three calliandra seedlings we distributed.

Blog 5 - 04Two cows resting in their stalls on Tirus Mukuria’s farm.

Some of our favourite people involved in the project have been integral to its success. These very important people are: Priscilla our translator, Ephraim our driver, Gerald and the extension staff at the Wakulima Dairy, and of course Shauna our project leader. Without Priscilla, Ephraim, Gerald and the Wakulima extension staff our project would not be possible. Priscillia is an exceptionally friendly person and she makes each day brighter. She gets along really well with all of the farmers we meet, and helps to make sense of what we are teaching through clear translation. Ephraim is a real renaissance man. He helps us with anything and everything that comes up, whether that be hammering in a tricky nail, calming down a temperamental cow, or getting “the hustler” safely up steep muddy roads that seem impossible to climb. Gerald helps us coordinate all of the small details that can be hard to organize, especially when you don’t know the area or the language well. He worked for years at the dairy and with the extension staff of Wakulima has helped connect us to all of the farmers in our project. We are very lucky to have such hard working and welcoming people to work with here in Mukurwe-ini. Ruth (the wonderful woman who does our laundry), Samuel (our amazing chef), and Jeramiah (our trusty back up driver), are also all integral in ensuring that our days run smoothly. Each one of them brightens our day every time we see them. They have made it feel like home away from home.

We were sad to bid Shauna goodbye as she recently left to return to Canada. She was an excellent teacher and made every day of work fun. We both felt lucky to have learnt from someone so passionate about the work they are doing. Her research here has found sustainable solutions for dairy farmers that can be implemented easily, while providing real returns for the farmers and their cows. It was obvious how happy the farmers were to work with her based on her easy rapport with everyone we met. We are excited to continue on the work she has been doing, and look forward to a future reunion. Good luck with your last chapter Shauna, and thank you for all your support!

Blog 5 - 05A group shot from Shauna’s last day in Mukurwe-ini. From left to right: Jeramiah, Ruth (and her son Travis), Ephraim, Shauna, and Priscilla.

Blog 5 - 06We also have wrapped up all of our school visits! Thank you to the class 8 students (pictured here) at Gikondi Primary school for hosting us and letting us teach them about zoonotic disease, proper biosecurity on farm, proper cow handling, and dog bite and rabies prevention. They were our last school visit of the summer.

A Day in the Life — VWB Uganda: Part 2

Text and and photos by Jamie Neufeld, VWB intern and WCVM veterinary student, with Kyla Kotchea, Shauna Thomas, and Veronica Pickens

In this second installment of “A Day in the Life” Jamie Neufeld shares more stories from the Goat Pass-on Project in Uganda.  The biggest day of the year for the project — goat pass-out day — is coming up on July 20th and the Uganda team is looking for donations to help purchase the goats.  If you would like to contribute, look for the link at the bottom of this post. Editor

photo8Unique and her unnamed puppy beside the goat pen in the backyard.

Unique, granddaughter to Akatete chairperson Margaret, is one of he many children who has benefitted from the goat pass-on project. Her family is able to afford school fees and she eats three meals every day. We were able to spend time with Unique when Margaret prepared us a delicious lunch that included matooke, groundnut sauce, posho, rice, chicken stew, pineapple, and watermelon. Outside of school hours, Unique plays soccer and helps tend to the goats and chickens.
Photo caption: Unique and her unnamed puppy beside the goat pen in the backyard.

photo9In Uganda, many schoolchildren share their soccer field with goats that are out grazing for the day. Here, Shauna draws blood from a goat held by Veronica while inquisitive students from Kihwa Primary School watch the action.

So far, we have taken blood samples from over 700 goats in 11 of the 16 communities we hope to visit. We test the blood samples for Brucella abortus and Brucella melitensis. Brucellosis causes abortions in goats, therefore negatively impacting the farmer’s livelihood, and is zoonotic, meaning it can be transferred to people and cause infertility in women. Normally, we would advise vaccinating the animals that test negative and culling the positives. However, due to an East African shortage of the vaccine and additional legality issues with importing it, we are unfortunately unable to vaccinate for Brucellosis this year. Instead, we will emphasize the importance of culling positive animals and continue vaccinating for clostridia.
photo10New WCVM graduate Dr. Kyla Kotchea guides Jane, the paravet for Kikokwa, through the process of drawing blood from a young goat belonging to Kakazi Vangi while Veronica restrains. Vivian holds supplies and young Moses catches me with my camera out.

Each group has a paravet, which is a group member trained to perform basic veterinary services to goat owners for a fee. Having paravet services not only provides a business opportunity for members, but contributes to project sustainability by having a person educated in goat health who is capable of draining abscesses, deworming, castrating, and treating illnesses to keep the herds healthy. Throughout the summer, we involve the paravets as much as we can to develop their skills and solidify their reputation as capable, skilled individuals. When Dr. Claire Card arrives in July, there will be a training day to further educate the paravets and expand their skill set.
photo11The seventh grade class from Kihwa Primary School performing a song that sang:
“Give the children freedom,
Freedom gives the children peace,
Please give the children peace.”

On June 16th we celebrated Day Of The African Child at Kihwa Primary School. It was a beautiful and informative day filled with games, singing, dancing, poetry, acting, and speeches. This holiday celebrates children, how far their rights and education has come, and promotes awareness to the child abuse still occurring in Africa, including kidnapping, child sacrifice, incest, malnutrition, abandonment, and rape. The performances by the children felt especially powerful, as in the western world our elementary school assemblies are often light-hearted and comical, while the second grade Kihwa class recited a poem about protecting the children from child abuse. One part of the poem said, “Stop kidnapping us, stop raping us, and stop hurting us… God made you and God made me, so just let me be me.”
Photo12The start of the 400m girls sprint at Kihwa, which was won by Florence, the girl in the skirt.

Nine times out of ten we come home from the field exhausted and covered head to toe in dust, only to take a short break before entering data, filling out paperwork, or testing blood samples. The days are long but our hearts are full. It has felt surreal to work on an established project and see firsthand how it betters the lives of people, and has been humbling to be so graciously received and welcomed by the community members. Plus, I think we all love goats at least a little bit now, and there may or may not be talk of opening small ruminant practices in the future.
photo13Kids are quickly moving up in the rankings for cutest baby animal, but have yet to outcompete kittens.

photo14We had a lot of fun taking blood from Kakazi Vangi’s goats with Vivian, paravet Jane, and Vangi’s children, Jimmy, Inna, and Moses. In this photo, she was laughing at how we were rocking the kids and singing to them like babies (it was the end of a long, hot, day).

In conclusion, we have seen how two goats plus education about animal care can make the difference between two and three meals a day, having a water tank, being able to afford a solar panel, and paying for school fees. If you have felt inspired by this project like we have, we would like to invite you to purchase a goat, or put money towards one, for the goat pass-out on July 20th. Each goat costs about $60 Canadian, and our goal is to pass our sixty goats this year. If you donate before the pass-out day, you will receive a photo of the beneficiary with your goat, and information about the individual’s household.

100% of the money you donate will go towards purchasing goats:

With sincere thanks,
Jamie, Kyla, Veronica, and Shauna