Saturday, 22 August 2015

Last blog of the summer by Maggie Grover

Last blog of the summer!
Maggie Grover, August 10, 2015

It is hard to believe that 10 weeks has gone by so quickly and that our internships have ended. The final few weeks were not only busy with finishing up the projects, but also full of new, fun experiences.
I (Maggie) also had a chance to visit the Meru side of Mount Kenya and help with the Farmers Helping Farmers (FHF) project that has been started there. As Mira and Sarifa have previously mentioned, it was really interesting to see the differences in the management styles of cattle in this area, as well as such a new and rapidly growing dairy with such a promising future. Some of the major differences I noticed were that most farmers have larger herds of cattle, graze their cattle, and use more natural breeding as opposed to artificial insemination (AI). These different management practices resulted in different health implications; the tendencies I noticed were that the grazed cattle were in better body condition, but had considerable number of ticks, and I even saw one that had severe skin cancer from sun exposure.
While there, I also had the opportunity to spend an afternoon with the two Atlantic Veterinary College students (Emily and Krista) at the Mother Maria Zanelli Children’s Home, which is run by the Sisters of St. Theresa’s. I was extremely impressed with the facilities and the staff, and we had a lot of fun helping out with meals and playing with the children…they were very excited to learn “Red light, green light” and “Hot potato”!
Photo 1: Maggie (back) and Emily (front) with a group of children showing off their “Hot potatoes” (donated homemade dolls from PEI) at the Children’s home in Meru.

When I returned to Mukurwe-ini, Emily came with me. It was a great week for her to visit, as we continued working on farms from the nutrition project, while also having the chance to accompany a local veterinary technician on his calls. The Wakulima Dairy has one veterinarian and four technicians whose services are available to members; it is a great system in which farmers can use their credits to pay for these services. Patrick is one of these technicians, and was kind enough to let two students (per day) accompany him for a couple of days. It was very interesting for us to see how veterinary services work in this area; in general, the veterinarian is usually called to challenging cases, and the technicians are called to treat the more common problems and to do AI, which is the primary method of breeding in this region. Despite being extremely busy (visiting 10-15 farms/day), Patrick was an amazingly patient and informative teacher and we learned so much in such a short period!
Photo 2: Maggie helping treat a cow for metritis (infected uterus) following calving.

That week, we also taught at our last primary school. Once again, I was blown away by the attentiveness and enthusiasm of the pupils and the questions that some of them had, which demonstrated some impressive critical thinking. As veterinary students, these teaching experiences have been invaluable to us. Not only have we been able to share knowledge that we are well versed in and that we believe is important in the daily lives of these children, but we have also been able to strengthen our communication skills while being inspired by the motivation and studiousness of these children. At the end of the lesson, we were actually told an unfortunate story of a women in the area who died of rabies only a few years ago; this tragedy really reinforced the fact that the diseases we taught about are very relevant and of real concern.
Photos 3 and 4: Students at Mweru Primary School going over the review activity on zoonotic diseases.

After teaching, we had the opportunity to spend the night billeting with some local farmers. Both Joyce and Esther are directors at the Dairy and were gracious enough to host two students each in their homes. It was a really enjoyable time full of cooking, meeting friends and neighbours, and engaging conversations! We also toured their farms, checked their cows for mastitis, and discussed some ideas for changing stalls to improve cow comfort.
 Photo 5: Mira helping Esther cook our delicious dinner
Photo 6: Maggie and Mira have morning chai (tea) with Esther (right) and her friend Mary (left).

At the end of the week, we also had a chance to visit the University of Nairobi Veterinary School. We had a great tour of the facilities, and even got to try some yogurt made by the Department of Food Science that shares the campus. The campus was fairly quiet, as the veterinary students are out on 2-month rotations around the country; in Kenya, this is part of the curriculum for all students in second to fifth year.
Last week marked our final week of work, but we were fortunate to continue having new opportunities! The Dairy has several extension officers whose roles are working with and educating farmers in different topics. On Tuesday, Sarifa and I attended a training session that Elias, one of the officers, was holding for a new group of farmers. Farmers can come together and form a group (this one had 10) that can then request free training on subjects of their choice. This particular day, the topics were on cow comfort and calf nutrition, and we were excited (but a little surprised!) to get to teach the portion on cow comfort.
The following day, Mira and I accompanied Elias to several farms to see some silage making. In the past year, the Dairy has invested in several new chaff cutters that are available (free of charge) for members to borrow to make silage. In addition, when a cutter is borrowed, an extension officer also comes and helps/teaches the farmer the entire day that they are making the silage! This investment certainly seems to be paying off, in the past year, the number of farmers making silage has gone from 40 to over 200! This is very exciting as it means more reliable feed sources during dry periods, which translates into increased milk production and increased profits. It was really interesting to see the process on different farms, since each farmer has to work with what they have available and what they can afford. We saw a wide range of storage methods, from 200 kg bags to 1 tonne plastic-lined crates, to 2 tonne pits! 
Photo 7: Elias (left) and Susan (right) packing maize silage into a bag that will fit 200 kg.
Photo 8: Mira checking out one of the crates that Elias is packing approximately 1 tonne of silage into.

Elias also brought us on a tour of the Dairy’s Demo Farm. This is a plot of land that they acquired just over a year ago and on which they are now growing several crops including Calliandra, sweet potato vines, desmodium, maize, and Napier grass. The crops are used for both educating the farmers, and growing seeds to provide to members (again, free of charge!)
Seeing Elias and the other Wakulima Dairy extension officers at work these two days and learning about all the services they provide to farmers was really impressive and inspiring. It was very evident that they really care about their jobs and that farmers are benefiting from their help.
On Thursday, Mira and Sarifa had the opportunity to accompany Patrick on calls again, while Shauna and I visited the final farms of the nutrition project. These last visits brought the number of farms I had been to up to nearly 150 and yet, I continued to be moved by the eagerness and generosity of the farmers.  In fact, while not surprising, it was definitely a nice treat to finish off the visits being invited into one last farmer’s home for chai and food!
Photo 9: Enjoying some chai and lunch at Supa Café, our favourite spot in town. From left to right: Maggie, Shauna, Priscilla, Jeremiah.

Friday was my final day in Mukurwe-ini, and it was definitely a great end to an amazing summer! The morning was spent helping our chef Samuel prepare a huge spread of Kenyan food including chapatis, Mukimo (potatoes, greens, and maize), beef stew, chicken, and stir-fried vegetables. That afternoon, we had a party to thank all the incredible people (and their families) that we have been fortunate to work with this summer. The party extended well into the evening, and was a blast of delicious food, heartfelt speeches and thank you’s, and bittersweet goodbyes. It was really nice to have a chance to express our gratitude to everyone, including (but not limited to) our awesome drivers, talented chef, skilled translator, incredible laundress, and all the wonderful employees of the Dairy.
Photo 10: Sarifa, Samuel, and Matthew (Shauna’s husband) working hard preparing food for the thank you party.
Photo 11: Maggie making mukimo for the thank you party.

This summer was truly a once in a lifetime experience. I began the internship with the hopes of helping farmers improve their milk production and maybe learning and improving a few skills myself, but in the end, got so much more. As student interns, we did get to share the knowledge we have from our schooling, and were extremely fortunate to actually see some nearly instantaneous results; extension officers told us that one farmer went from getting 8L to 15L of milk/day solely as a result of the stall changes we made to improve cow comfort. However, I had no idea this experience would be such an exchange of knowledge; for everything that we taught, there is no doubt in my mind that we received 10-fold back in return. In the past 10 weeks, I have learned more than I could have imagined about veterinary medicine, farming, teamwork, communication, Kenyan culture, and being resourceful, generous, and appreciative for all the wonderful people and things in my life. On behalf of Mira, Sarifa, and myself, I would like to offer my sincere thanks to all those that made this unique opportunity possible, including all those who donated time or money to our fundraising, Veterinarians Without Borders and all their sponsors, Farmers Helping Farmers, and all the wonderful people we were privileged to work with in Mukurwe-ini!

Photo 12: Group photo with all our wonderful colleagues and their families
Photo 13: The 3 student interns with our amazing laundress and friend, Ruth and her son Cedric.

Thursday, 6 August 2015

VWB student Sarifa: a Trip to the North - the Naari Dairy

A Trip to the North: the Naari Dairy

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

 Naari Dairy Farmers Co-op Society

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 Screen house (top) vs greenhouse (bottom). Notice how the tomato plants in the greenhouse are bigger than those in the screen house.

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

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

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

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

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

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

 Beautiful drive to and from the Ngare Ndare Forest.


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

Walking to a farm near Mukurweini.

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

Wednesday, 22 July 2015

Week 10 with the Naari Dairy Group – by Emily Egan


Week 10 with the Naari Dairy Group – by Emily Egan

It’s been a while since I wrote a blog…And so much has been going on I don’t even know where to start!

We’ve been hiking on Mt Kenya, white water rafting on the Tana River, mountain biking in Segana, we’ve seen cows with cystic ovaries, endometritis, gangrenous mastitis, we’ve eaten tilapia (whole!) and some very strange and wonderful fruits, we’ve been to church several times, and we’ve watched the Lion King at least three times! It’s been a truly incredible summer…

Over the last 10 days or so, we’ve had an opportunity to spend some time with the highschool students who are here from PEI. We spent a morning with them at sports day at Buuri Secondary School, which was a lot of fun even though we were definitely not wearing the appropriate footwear! They also came out with us to visit a few local shambas and get a taste of how farming is done in Naari. And yesterday we went with them to the Naari Dairy Co-operative and Geoffrey gave us all a tour of the facilities there. The students all seem very enthusiastic about all of it and asked lots of good questions at the dairy. They appear to be having a great trip and making the most of the amazing opportunity!

Work has been going very well, we have only a handful of farms left to visit for the study, and then a few “freebies”. Over the last few weeks we’ve had a rotation of students from the other project staying with us, which has been very fun, plus it means Krista and I get to relax while the new girl does blood draws and palpations!

While Mira was here, we went on an adventure to the Lewa Conservancy to visit one of her friends who lives there. The directions we had to go on were the most amazing I’ve ever seen, and included instructions like “left 100m after euphorbia hedge” and “past more farms/rocks/s**t, turn right”. Obviously, we got very, very lost and it ended up taking us 3 hours to get to the house. Took us 20 minutes to get home. But the conservancy was gorgeous, and the people were lovely. We got to go for a swim in a spring while baboons played in the trees overhead! Even the drive was nice because it meant we got a great tour of the area!

Sarifa has visited us twice, and we’ve had a great time with her. She and I both bought milk cans from the dairy to take home as souvenirs, and I have to say that it was the best shopping experience I’ve ever had! We got to climb on the pile of feed sacks to reach the top shelf where the cans are stored. Talk about shopping till you drop!


Last weekend she was here and we all went with Salome, a FHF employee, to see a waterfall and suspension bridge in the Ngarendare forest. The water in the pool at the base of the falls was a beautiful silty blue and the falls were amazing. The park ranger told us that elephants visit the pool by sliding down the hills on their rumps. I was really hoping an elephant would come out of the woods and demonstrate, but no luck! And the suspension bridge through the treetops gave us a wonderful view of the surrounding area. At the end of the day we drove back through the Lewa Conservancy and pretty much had our own mini safari! We saw giraffes, zebras, antelope, and even a rhino way off in the distance! Our guide had incredible eyesight and could spot animals so far away that they looked like little specs of dirt on the window to me! And to top off an incredible day, we went to Jennifer’s for a sleep over and a delicious dinner with the group of high school students visiting from PEI.


Sarifa left this morning and Maggie was dropped off. As yet, we haven’t had any super exciting occurrences during Maggie’s stay, but I’m sure that will change! We did manage to visit 4 farms today and all the farmers were very generous. The first gave us a chicken (our fifth this summer!) which we then carried around for the rest of the day. The second fed us a very tasty lunch and tea, the third gave us hot milk (a first for me!), and the last gave us more tea. We are all very well fed and appreciative!

The last 10 weeks have been a whirlwind of new experiences and great adventures with wonderful people, I feel so privileged to have been able to meet so many amazing people and learn from them some small part of Kenyan culture, farming, and community.

This is my last week in Naari, and I will certainly be sad to leave, but more adventures await and I’m very excited to visit Mukurwe-ini and see how things are done on the Vets Without Borders project!!



Tuesday, 14 July 2015

VWB student Maggie: The Mukurweini Adventures Continue: Weeks 6 and 7

The past few weeks have been filled with a mixture of farm visits, teaching and learning opportunities, exchanges, and hands-on opportunities; I (Maggie) cannot believe that it is already mid-July and that we have only 3 weeks left!
Last week was somewhat of a milestone, as we finished up the welfare project we had been working on since arriving, and started on the second part of Shauna’s PhD, which focuses on nutrition. It was also Sarifa’s turn to head on exchange to Naari, so last Monday, after a full day of stall constructions, pregnancy checking, and deworming cattle, she set off with our other driver, Jeremiah. Jeremiah is a local taxi driver in the area, who has been working with Shauna for the past 3 years. He has been a great help to us when we need a second vehicle, and also a great addition to our construction team (one of my favourite lines of his has been “the Nail Man has arrived” – in reference to our abysmal skills with a nail and hammer, and his superior ability to get the job done much more efficiently and accurately).

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

Last Wednesday, Mira and I had our first teaching experience at a local primary school. The school was Ithanji, the one we had visited in June. It is a fairly small school, and we had planned on teaching classes (equivalent to Canadian “Grades”) 6,7, and 8. However, when we arrived, the room was quite full, and some of the children looked younger than we were expecting…we found out afterwards, that all the classes except one were there! Considering how many students and what a wide range of ages were present, it was really incredible how attentive, well behaved, and engaged the students were. We had spent a lot of time creating a lesson plan that followed their curriculum, but also emphasized things that we feel are very important to human and animal health. In the end, this plan included material on “One Health” (how the health of the environment, animals, and people are all connected and can affect each other), how to recognize signs of disease in animals, how to prevent the spread of diseases, and then some more specific information on the zoonoses (diseases that can be spread from animals to humans) rabies, brucellosis, and diarrheal diseases.
Overall, we felt that the whole experience was a great success, and the feedback we received from the teachers was extremely positive; they even requested to keep the teaching aids we had made. It was also nice to hear teachers and students discussing how they would share all the information they had learned with friends and family at home. For me though, the most rewarding part of the day was walking outside afterwards and seeing a group of girls practicing the handwashing technique we had taught them (at the hand washing station built by Farmer’s Helping Farmers!). 

Maggie and Mira teaching students and teachers at Ithanji Primary School proper handwashing techniques.

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

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

Learning to change a flat tire!

The next day, we started visiting farms that have been part of a nutrition project that Shauna started in 2013. This project has looked at the effects of different feeding methods such as feed types and amounts, and their effects on growth of calves, and reproduction and milk production of cows. This year we are doing physical exams on the cows and any of their calves (now 2 year old animals) that are still present on the farm, while Shauna gathers more information about their health and reproduction. The study has found some really interesting results and it is nice to be able to give some feedback to the farmers on practical and economical ways that they can feed their animals in order to maximize profits for themselves and the animals’ health.
That same day, we also visited a farm that one of the local veterinary technicians put us in contact with. This farmer had a cow that had clinical mastitis and he was drying her off (stopping milking to give her a rest before her next calf due in September). Mastitis treatment is generally done via intramammary infusions, where an antibiotic is put into the affected teat(s). Since this cow had not responded to previous treatments we decided to give her a different dry cow treatment. Dry cow treatment is often more effective because the type of antibiotics used are able to stay in the udder for a longer period of time compared to when a cow is still being milked. This visit provided us (the students) with a great opportunity to practice giving intramammary infusions, and also discuss management practices that the farmer could use to reduce the risk of mastitis for his cows. On a side note, he also had the largest heifer that I had ever seen!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some of the farmers also had many more cows than we are used to seeing, and it was very interesting to see how they manage these larger numbers. A common problem farmers face in Kenya is feed shortages during the dry season, and this can be especially difficult when there are more mouths to feed. Recently, there has been a growing interest in making silage, which is fermented, storable feed, to help with this problem. Kamau has done a great job working with his farmers to teach them about this, and one of the larger farms we visited had just built brand new silos to start making and storing silage in.
Coincidentally, as I am writing this blog, the farm where we are living on is actually in the process of making its first batch of silage. This farm also has a large number of cattle (~20), so this is an exciting step to ensuring there will be forage available for the animals, even when crops aren’t growing well during the dry seasons.

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

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

Maggie feeding little Maziwa.


This past week, I was fortunate enough to spend time working on a smallholders dairy project in Naari, Meru County. Farmers helping Farmers, the Prince Edward Island NGO that started working with the Mukurweini dairy nearly 20 years ago, also works with other co-operative dairies in Kenya. VWB-Canada partners with Farmers Helping Farmers to offer veterinary and other services to their partner dairies. Due to the success of the Mukurweini dairy, Farmers helping Farmers is now working alongside new and developing dairies throughout the Mount Kenya area to provide valuable knowledge and support so that these dairy co-operatives can grow in a sustainable and profitable manner. The Naari dairy has recently partnered with Farmers and Helping Farmers, and this summer, several Canadian veterinary students and Kenyan veterinarians are conducting research on cow nutrition and health as part of a baseline survey in this area. My visit to Naari was a wonderful opportunity for me to gain exposure to smallholder dairy farms in another area, and for me to appreciate the opportunities for development of the smallholder dairy farming in Kenya. And both Maggie and Sarifa will also be visiting Naari as well! So I packed my bags and off I went to the other side of Mount Kenya. 
Mukurweini countryside

Visiting Naari and the Meru area was an eye opener for me for a number of reasons. Meru may only be about three hours away from Mukurweini by car but the landscape changes drastically from tropical and extremely hilly to flat and arid. Accompanying these geographic differences is a change in the way cattle are farmed. There are more beef cows in Meru and dairy cows are often found grazing in fields rather than being zero-grazed (where food is cut and brought to the cows in their pens). This presents different challenges and benefits for the farmers. For example, grazed cows are more likely to acquire ticks harbouring diseases, and farmers must dip or spray their cattle with acaricide, a chemical that kills ticks, much more than zero-grazed cattle. However, the benefit of Meru’s flat and less populous landscape means that farmers may be able to graze their cattle along roadsides and in pastures more, thus reducing the work of having to harvest and carry forage for their animals. But in both Naari and Mukurweini, cattle are a very important source of income and pride for farmers.
The Naari dairy is what I imagine the Mukurweini dairy must have been like 20 years ago. It is hard to paint a picture of the two dairies, but I will compare and contrast them to give a sense of their differences. The Naari dairy was started in 2010 after a ten-year hiatus when the co-operative fell apart. Now, the dairy is under new management and the growing success of this dairy is attracting more farmers and investment. The Naari dairy has seven employees and has a bulk tank where milk is stored before being shipped to Meru as milk is not processed nor sold at the Naari dairy. There are 500 farmers that supply milk to the dairy and milk cans are collected each day by several donkey carts and motor bikes. By contrast, the Mukurweini dairy has 6,500 farmers supplying milk to the dairy. Milk is collected by trucks at collection points before being processed on site and then sold on to Nairobi. The Mukurweini dairy might currently be larger and more developed than the dairy in Naari, but they both started in the same place; thirty years ago, the Mukurweini sold only 32 litres on its’ first day in business!
 The possibility of improvement and development of the dairy industry in Naari and other smallholder dairy farming regions in Kenya is tremendously exciting. Having a good dairy co-operative is extremely important for smallholder dairy farmers, as a well-functioning co-operative dairy can provide loans, veterinary services, and farming education to its’ members. By learning from the successes and challenges in developing the dairy in Mukurweini, Farmers helping Farmers (and future Veterinarians without Borders interns), can transfer this knowledge to new areas like Naari and continue to research best farming practices that benefit both farmers and their animals.

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

Milk cans in Naari