By: Chantel Doyle and Hanna Hone
Queen Elizabeth Scholar Vet Interns – June 10, 2019
During our third week in Meru County we experienced even more of the Kenyan culture. We spent a day with nutrition girls- Haley and Julia and Dr. Taylor- for a “Champ session” with the Gatima Women’s group in Kibirichia. We were warmly welcomed by all of the women with their bright, beautiful smiles and kind eyes. They taught us how to chop veggies in the Kenyan way – using just their hands and sharp knives wielded with impressive speed and precision. Safe to say we were not naturals but luckily there were no casualties, we got better as the morning progressed, and despite the giggles, the women appreciated our effort. Plus it’s a great skill to have.
The rain thwarted our plans to stay and dance so we headed for home a little early but the Gypsy had different plans. We ended up stuck in the mud and gaining a true Kenyan experience while working to get it out… in our dresses… in the rain. It felt just like home in the winter storms, African style!
To avoid being caught in the slippery Buuri mud again, we visited farms within the Naari Dairy district for the remainder of the week. Although it was chilly and misty, the rocky roads were passable in Naari, and the views were breathtaking so there were no complaints from us.
Calf in the mist
While in Naari, we were graciously gifted a few different Kenyan treats that were quite new to us, like guava and sugar cane. We also visited multiple farms in close proximity to one another and got to know an entire family of brothers, uncles, in-laws, children and cousins. The children were a riot and enjoyed listening to their heartbeats with the stethoscope, and investigating our white skin, tattoos and hairy arms. It was nice to see the collaborative effort of these neighbors sharing tips and tricks, and the friendly competition for the best farm pushed them to do better.
In the Gypsy
This collaboration was in contrast to another farm we visited where family conflict resulted in ineffective farm management. This farm opened our eyes to how important teamwork and community really is, and what happens when it is not there.
The great thing about collecting data in Kenya is that every time you go to a farm you do more than just physical exams and blood sampling. We are always encouraged to examine any animal that the farmers are concerned about whether they be exhibiting signs of illness, not showing heats, or any other matter that requires a little investigative work. These cases are very helpful in the development of our diagnostic skills and give us the opportunity to practice and demonstrate proper animal handling. For example, when we entered one farm, we noticed a little bull calf with a swollen prepuce. After completing our research work, we decided to examine the calf and, through palpation, discovered an umbilical hernia! We recommended surgical intervention and hope to follow up over the next few weeks.
Our days here also often involve surprises. One day, after finishing our scheduled farms we still had an open vaccine vial with multiple doses we did not want to waste so we decided to pop into an extra farm. By chance, the farmer had candidates for our trial and was very willing to hear advice on management because, on top of other things, he had three-year old heifers that were yet to show any signs of heat. At first glance they were in good body condition but their living arrangements were less than optimal. They waded up to their knees in manure and lacked any proper place to lie down. We explained that the most reliable sign of heat is standing to be mounted and no heifer is going to stand without being comfortable or having stable ground. Cow comfort was the farm’s major issue and being able to address this with a farmer who was so willing to learn was very rewarding.
We experienced our first solo farm visits without Dr. John this week as he returned to Canada. Although the thought of being here without his guidance is extremely intimidating, we found a new confidence in our abilities over the last few days. With the first three weeks of training, Dr. Daniel (the Kenyan vet implementing the research project) by our side, and Dr. John on speed dial for emergencies (yeah!), we feel well prepared to take on the challenges of the summer head on!
Chowing down on farm-fresh sugar cane