Me again! We’ve officially completed 100 farm visits from our randomly generated list, and perhaps now would be a good time to describe what it is that we actually do on these shambas…
First of all of course we have to get permission from the farmer to use their information in our project. Krista and I don’t really take part in this step because it’s usually in Swahili and, therefore, way over our heads. Once they’ve agreed to participate in the study we get to work. Most often the talking is again done by either Dennis or Joan, but sometimes one of the farmers will speak enough English that Krista or I can do the survey with guidance (and assistance!) from one of the others. When that is the case we ask a series of questions about the animals, their health, feed, living situation etc, and then we give the farmers a handout and talk to them about several topics related to animal husbandry. Otherwise we focus entirely on the cows and youngstock. We take their height and estimate their weight using the girth of their ribcages, then we give them a body condition score and thorough physical exam. If they’re zero-grazed cows, meaning they don’t leave the stall area, we take a blood sample to be used for lab tests later, and we measure and assess the stalls. For pregnant heifers and all cows, we do a rectal palpation to assess ovary status or confirm pregnancy, and we give hormone injections where required. For milking cows we also do a California Mastitis Test and treat any quarters that are infected. Finally, if deworming is needed we either do it for them or leave them with some dewormer to use at the appropriate time. Usually the whole process goes very smoothly, and we can be in and out of a farm in an hour, but sometimes there are more animals, the questionnaire takes a while, or the animals aren’t as cooperative as they could be.
For example, the other day at our last call of the afternoon, we were all very pleased to see that the farmer had only one cow and one heifer. They weren’t zero-grazed (so no blood and no stall measurements) but the woman had them corralled in a small pen. We all heaved sighs of relief that our last farm would be quick and easy, and Joan and I climbed into the pen with the halter to restrain the cow while Krista took notes and Dennis did the survey with the farmer. The cow really was quick and easy, she was fairly quiet and didn’t fight the halter at all, and while she did dance around a bit during the rectal palpation, we’re getting pretty used to keeping up. The heifer, on the other hand, was the craziest specimen of milk producing bovine I think I’ve ever seen! She must have been part Zebu and part wildcat.
We tried being nice, we tried being sneaky, we tried chasing her around the 20’ by 20’ pen for a quarter of an hour, we tried lassoing her, we tried to corner her, we even had Krista, and Dennis in the pen to help. I honestly don’t know how we finally caught her, but she ended up with a rope around her neck dragging Joan around the enclosure until we got her tied to a post. Usually at this point the animal will calm down, once it realizes fighting won’t free it. Not this girl. She spun and kicked, and twisted till she nearly did herself an injury. The only information we were able to get was an approximation of her height and weight and a body condition score based on what we could see from a safe distance. And then, for reasons I will never understand, we decided that it would be a good idea to follow protocol and use an oral dewormer on her. In hindsight I think using the pour-on variety that we usually reserve for lactating cows would have been a better idea, but I’m sure this way was much more exciting!
Unfortunately, our Valbazen syringe only holds 6mL (normally just treating young cattle) and she needed about 14, so Joan had to be quick on the refill once Dennis, the farm owner, and I had the heifer restrained. Dennis lunged for the head and got her in a head lock while the farmer lady grabbed the halter rope and held on for dear life. I grabbed a hind leg to keep her from jumping. Or at least that was the theory, and on most animals that would’ve been enough, but Joan only had 12mL or so into her before chaos broke loose. I swear I’ve never seen a cow do a flip before that day, but that is exactly what she did. She kicked out with both back legs and landed on her back, neatly breaking the holds of all three restraint personelle and giving Dennis a good kick in both shins at the same time. But she got herself really tangled in the rope as she did it so we had to let her go to stop her from hurting herself…She never did get the last 2mLs of Valbazen, but we just couldn’t compete with a somersaulting cow!
Krista preforming a rectal palpation.