Exploring Kenya and making connections

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By Lee Wesselius

Hello everyone,

A couple weeks ago, the vet team decided to switch things up and join the nutrition team in the field at the Nkando school which is located a fair ways away from where we are located in Naari. We all piled into the back of the Gypsy and headed to the much drier Nkando area. We watched (and helped a bit) the nutrition team do their school assessment and checked out the greenhouse at the school which was very well maintained.

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The nutrition team hard at work – Madi, Hannah and Sarah

This greenhouse is very important for the school since they were basically only feeding maize in their githeri due to how dry the area is, but now they are feeding a much more balanced githeri with beans, greens and orange vegetables included. While at the school, we also got to play various games with all the students. We also learned that snakes live in the area, but thankfully we avoided any encounters as Hannah and I are terrified of snakes.

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Lee playing soccer with some kids


On the vet side of things, we have been visiting lots and lots of farms still. We had one case that stood out however.


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Dr. Remmy Mugambi explaining deworming dosages to some farmers

We were visiting a farm that had a cow that wasn’t coming into heat but was being fed well. Upon a rectal exam, we noticed the cow had a softball-sized cystic ovary. This was way bigger than normal as a normal ovary is closer to a grape in size. In order to solve this problem, we administered a GnRH hormone to induce ovulation and recommended some follow up injections.


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Ashley and Lee giving an injection


To celebrate Canada Day here in Kenya, we decided to go hiking up one of the monster-sized hills in the area. Once at the top of the hill, we took a few shots with the Canada flag and enjoyed the view before heading home. This hill is unique in that we saw a few other people at the top of the hill since it is a common place for people to go to and pray. In addition, we also saw a few cows that people will walk up the hill to graze.


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Lee, Madi, Boniface (a house helper), Hannah, Ashley and Remmy celebrating Canada Day


I hope you all had a great Canada Day. After working hard for the first month and half, we were in Mombasa in Eastern Kenya for a few days to have a little relaxing break.



Learning on the farm

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by Hannah Creaser

This is Hannah from the 2018 Nutrition team. Every day that I spend here I am fortunate enough to learn something new and one day last week was no exception! On Monday, the nutrition team had the opportunity to spend the day with the veterinary students visiting local farms. I walked into this experience knowing almost nothing about dairy cows and actually managed to walk away with a fair bit of knowledge! Growing up in rural New Brunswick, I was often around farms but never actually had the opportunity to visit one so this was a very exciting opportunity for me.

The first farm that we visited had an eager farmer named Gatwiri, who spoke very good English. She was excited to hear that we were students as she herself had taken agriculture at a local college so she wanted us to get the most out of the visit as possible. She was the very proud owner of three cows and a calf and said that she had hired people at one point to take of them, but wanted to make sure that they were getting the best care possible so she took over the job herself. Lee, Ashley and Remmie (a veterinarian who is works for Farmers Helping Farmers) discussed nutrition, cleanliness, reproduction and the comfort of the cows with Gatwiri.

The vets soon learned that two of her cows had not shown signs of heat in several months and it was determined to be because the cows were too thin. Remmie and Ashley performed a rectal exam to determine if the cow was going to be ovulating soon or not. It turned into a very exciting moment as Ashley actually found her ovary during a rectal exam! I think I can speak for all of us that we were extremely proud of her. I was just happy to be there to snap a picture of the moment.

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Ashley performing a rectal exam on the cow to see if she was going to be ovulating soon. This was the first time that Ashley was successful find an ovary.

After the rectal exam was complete, the vets wanted to check the cows for mastitis, which is done by collecting a small sample of milk from each teat on the cow and then adding a solution which will cause the milk to gel if positive. Lee offered to let both Madison and I collect a sample from a teat. As it was my first time milking a cow, I needed a little bit more direction than some of the others; however, after a few attempts I was successful!

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My first experience milking a cow

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Lee checking for mastitis, the cow tested negative


As we were wrapping up the visit, we all wanted a photo with Gatwiri. Although we went to other farms that day, this farm- and this farmer- in particular stood out to me not only because she was so kind, but also because she was so genuinely interested in not only her own learning, but also ours.
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One last photo with Gatwiri before we left to go to the next farm. Missing Madison who graciously took the photo.


This opportunity spent visiting farms was a wonderful example of the many inter-professional/ learning opportunities that have presented themselves to us during our internship here. One thing that I have realised is that no intervention is completely separate from another. So when the vets go visit a farm to talk about ways to get the most milk from the dairy cows, it means that they can sell more milk to the dairy and that they and their children can drink it more milk! When a farmer is able to sell more milk to the dairy, it means that she/he has additional income. If they have additional income, it means that they can buy more food, which is where the nutrition team comes: we provide education on which foods are nutritious (or not) and how to prepare healthier meals from the food they grow and buy. I have really come to realize that even when our interventions seem very disconnected, that they are actually integrated and, together, can make a difference for rural Kenyan farm families.  

Canadians fight the Kenyan cold

by Madi Brauer

Illness has struck the intern home last week, as Ashley came down with a bad cold and was bed ridden for a day. The next to catch the cold was Hannah, who spent many days coughing and sniffling at home interviews and school assessments/seminars. I personally thought I had dodged this bullet, as many days passed after the two girls fell ill, and I still felt fine. I was wrong!

After our long drive to and from Nkando primary school for the assessment, I developed all of the classical symptoms of a cold. I believe the dusty dirt roads were a catalyst to my chest congestion that quickly formed that evening.  I required one and one-half days of bed rest, leaving Hannah and Sarah to conduct a school seminar without me, before I regained my strength. Ashley, Hannah and I are all now on the mend, each of us only sniffling and coughing a few times a day. We were hopeful that the worst was over, and that this Kenyan bug had left the household for good. That is—until Sarah lost her voice!

As I sit here now writing this blog post, Sarah sits next to me sipping “dawa” (ginger, garlic and lemon tea) unable to speak due to the congestion in her throat, Ashley and Hannah leave the room periodically to cough and sniffle while they sit, and Lee sits working on his laptop, perfectly healthy. We are all waiting for this cold to take its next victim; will it be Lee or Remmie?

Despite the irritating cold symptoms, we are all in good spirits and enjoying Kenya and all of its experiences. On Sunday, we took a trip to the Lewa conservancy with Salome, an employee of Farmers Helping Farmers and hiked to an amazing waterfall.

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From L-R: Salome (Farmers Helping Farmers), Lee (vet team), Madi (nutrition team), Remy (vet team support), Hannah (nutrition team), Ashley (vet team), Sarah (nutrition team support)

Half of the group nearly ‘hacked up a lung’ from all of the hill climbing, but we all had an amazing time and got to hear an elephant far off in the distance trumpet; an experience Ashley and I crossed off of our bucket list!

This Kenyan cold cannot keep these Canadians down!

Madison Brauer


‘Catching hands’: helping farmers in Kenya grow their knowledge

Wednesday, 20 June 2018

Reflecting on a month in Naari, Kenya

by Ashley Kroyer, AVC student

Monday, June 18 marked four weeks since arriving in Naari, and a whole month of being in Kenya. Dr VanLeeuwen has returned to Canada and as of today, Lee and I have visited 45 smallholder dairy farms.

Thinking about already being a third of the way through this internship has me thinking about things we are witnessing, about what’s been difficult so far in living here, about what’s been so easy, and about the mark this country is leaving on me.

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Congratulations, it’s a girl! This heifer was born the evening before the day of our visit. Female calves are celebrated because they will grow to be milk-producing dairy cows!


Here in Naari, wakulima (farmers) – especially those with only one or two ng’ombe (cows) – depend on their cows’ health and productivity in order to sustain themselves, their families, and their homes.

Producing more of high quality maziwa (milk) means making a better food and earning a greater pay, and more income means enough funds to buy more food, send children to school, and afford medicines. When the farms do well, the homesteads grow. Class attendance grows. The entire community grows.

By partnering with Naari Dairy to do research, these projects from UPEI and Farmers Helping Farmers are helping to set a knowledge foundation that farmers need to reach these goals of healthier animals and greater yields.

The chairman shared an analogy last week while he shared his gratitude for the contributions of these projects and the training sessions:  “When a child is learning to walk, if she has the will and you catch her hands, she will do it.”

So, we are “catching hands” – taking science and information readily available to us and making it accessible to the farmers.

Relaying the information is only part of the whole job, though. The hardest part is left to the farmers themselves:  walking.

They must be willing to use the new information and skills, make changes, and sustain them. The 45 farms we’ve visited have included those which have received cow nutrition training, or reproduction management information, or both. Some have been instructed on stall design and cow comfort, and others still served as “research controls” which received no educational visits from the teams over the past three years.

In each of these groups, Lee and I have witnessed good examples of management and husbandry as well as poor ones. What I’ve come to realize is that the background of the farmer – for example, her education level, her family history of farming practice – together with her willingness to work and change in order to improve, has the most influence over the condition of her animals, the success of her farm, and the success of our visits.

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“My name is Gatwiri. It means feeding the animals, and that is what I do.”

“Farmer Highlight”: Jane Gatwiri

Last week, we met Jane. Her farm was included in our “never visited” group and stands out to me for a few reasons.

First, it was the first farm Hannah and Madi had chance to visit with us. To everyone’s delight, they did a great job with collecting milk samples for our CMT!

Second, Jane had studied agriculture so was already full of her own knowledge on rearing animals. Visits like this are my favorite – Lee and I have more opportunity to interact and to speak in English, and the farmer engages us with many questions and obvious interest in what we are teaching.

Her farming practices required some minor adjustments, but she was easily able to understand where changes were needed and exactly how they would help her cows feel and be “better”.  

Finally, it was on her cow that I felt my first “real” ovary! (I’m ignoring the cystic ovary I palpated first with Dr V – being so large, that one feels like it is cheating a little!) and everyone, Jane included, shared in my mini-celebration.


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My secret of what I really do on farms all day. Photo evidence of how I’m obviously trying hard to avoid fleas…

Now, let’s change the pace a little. After all, we aren’t only working! “What about living ‘Kenyan life’?” you ask?

Well, I told you last time that my adjustment felt instant and effortless, but I’d be lying to you all by saying there haven’t been some small challenges.

For starters, I’m still less than thrilled about the cold, and though I’m less vocal with the complaint these days, my “poor, cold Canadian” label has stuck. Sarah has even let me borrow a warm wool hat. Who knew I’d be needing that in June?

New foods and a new environment have brought with them new tests for my immune system – with a 24-hour battle with stomach upset and one head cold now on the mend (dancing with kids at the fair was asking for it…), here’s hoping I’m toughened up for the rest of the summer.

Lastly, the language barrier creates for me a very personal challenge every day. Not being able to lead with questions and discussion on farms where no English is spoken leaves me restless, and I’m frustrated when I’m limited to greeting and playing with small kids, or the slow process of saying things in English, having it translated to Kimeru, have the farmer respond in Kimeru, and then have that translated back into English. They said my patience would improve while in Kenya – they were right, by necessity.

So how am I coping? I sit by the fire, tuck my toes into Jennifer’s hot pepper slippers, and drink hot dawa (“medicine”, a tea of ginger, lemon, garlic, and honey) from the biggest mug I can find. On farms, I distract myself from dialogue I cannot understand by looking around the farm, taking photos of flowers, and finding baby animals to play with. As for the kids, I do my best with smiles, waves, and “mambo!” (like, “what’s up?”).

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“Mama Patience” gifted us with miwa and asked to take a photo of us and her eldest child, Patience, our new “little sister”.


Thankfully, I have more that’s been easy than what’s been a little hard. The selection committees for our internships couldn’t have known what a great job they were doing in choosing this year’s teams, but – no exaggeration – we are all getting along so well! Life at home is incredibly comfortable. Six of us spend each evening congregated in the living room chatting over chakula (a meal),  sharing stories from the day,  and huddling together watching a bit of Harry Potter from Hannah’s computer screen before bed.

In Naari, I am growing my Kenyan family by the day. The chairman honored me last week by telling visitors at a meeting, “Look at my daughter here. She will return to Canada, do well and graduate, then we hope she will return to Naari and we will build a house for her”.  Ladies at the dairy greet me every morning with hugs and every evening with “Ashley, tell us good news and what you’ve learned today!” I’ve “christened” a cow with her name and an ear tag, I’ve gained a little Kenyan sister, and Remmie and our driver, Ndereba, say that with every new word I learn, I am becoming more of a “Meru-ian”.

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Case day with the dairy vet techs, Ben & Magda! (Left to right: Lee, Magdalene, Ashley, Remmie. Benard missed the photo!)


Sending love and hugs to Canada!


Week 3 with the Vet Team in Kenya


By Lee Wesselius

Hello everyone. We had quite the eventful last week. It’s my turn to provide the summary. The week started with a relaxing weekend visiting the Ol Pejeta conservation park where we had the opportunity to see many different types of animals. We stayed in tented rooms that were within 50 meters of the area where the animals could freely roam which led to us having an amazing view of a rhino nursing its young in front of us one evening. We went on a safari drive and saw many different animals such as lions, elephants and giraffes all in their natural habitats. Unfortunately, we just missed out on seeing a cheetah.


A baby rhino nursing

After doing some of our herd health management advice visits on farms on Monday,  we travelled to the nearby Buuri dairy on Tuesday and met with a few members of the board. The vet and nutrition teams will be working more with the Buuri group in the future, along with a program evaluation team.

As part of our trip to Buuri, we collected blood samples from the coccygeal vein (tail vein) or the jugular vein from a representative group of cattle in different zones. The blood samples will then be analyzed in Nairobi for presence of Bovine Viral Diarrhea virus (BVDV) and antibody, a common virus in Canada that can lead to abortions, pneumonia, diarrhea and other problems. This was a great experience for Ashley and me, as I have only done a few blood collections on cows, and it was the first time for Ashley.

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Myself and Dr. John collecting a blood sample


On Wednesday, we travelled to several farms in the Naari region to administer a vaccine for BVDV, Bovine Respiratory Syncitial virus (BRSV), Parainfluenza-3 (PI3) and Infectious Bovine Rhinotracheitis (IBR). This injection is given subcutaneously (under the skin), by tenting the skin and inserting the needle in the raised area. In the afternoon, we had a meeting with some board members of the Naari dairy as Dr. John was leaving the next day.

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Dr.John taking a blood sample

The next day, we said our goodbyes to Dr.John as he was leaving to begin his travels home, which left Ashley, Dr.Remmy and I to fend for ourselves. On our very first farm, we encountered a cow with milk fever. Milk fever occurs right after parturition when the need for calcium increases and the cow is unable to match this increase. This leads to the cow lying flat out and unable to stand. Right before we arrived, a vet tech had already treated the animal by giving the animal an IV injection of calcium and a subcutaneous calcium injection to increase the calcium levels. The IV injection will lead to a quick increase in blood calcium levels, while the subcutaneous injection will be slowly absorbed. Since there wasn’t much we could do at that time, we carried on with our herd health management advice visits on farms that did not have a personal farm visit through our project yet. We came back to the milk fever farm in the afternoon to check on the cow and get it up so that she wouldn’t get muscle damage from lying down too long.

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Dr. John waving goodbye

On Friday, Ashley and I had the opportunity to accompany the Naari dairy vet tech Benard on several clinical cases. We saw a case of East Coast Fever and a case of Anaplasmosis. Two diseases transmitted by ticks that are commonly seen in Kenya but not in Canada. Benard also bred a few cows by AI and dehorned a cow using a dehorning wire.

This was the first opportunity for Ashley and I to witness dehorning using this method. We also visited a farm that had over 50 cows and was milking around 30 of them. The farm used milking equipment for milking the cows (not by hand like most places here), and had tractors for the field work. For Kenyan standards, this was a large farm as most farms we visit only contain a handful of cows.

All in all, we had quite an eventful and enjoyable week. Stay tuned for next week’s blog from the vet team…

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Ashley, our driver Ndereba, myself and Benard off on some calls



Nutrition team serves up ‘super githeri’ and positive food messages

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L-R: Hannah Creaser and Madison Brauer, Queen Elizabeth Scholars nutrition interns, and 3 of the Joy women’s group members who helped cook, serve and teach!

Hi everyone! Hannah and Madi here- the 2018 nutrition interns working with Farmers Helping Farmers and Queen Elizabeth Scholars.   

Monday, May 28 was a very busy, exciting and fun filled day working with the folks at the Naari dairy. When we learned about an all day dairy seminar at the Naari Dairy Farmers Cooperative Society, a key partner of Farmers Helping Farmers (located nearby), the nutrition team seized the opportunity to speak in front of over 500 farmers!  

Since the dairy was providing rice to the participants after the seminar at 2 p.m. (with a small amount of beef), we decided to add a small (1/3 cup) of healthy ‘super githeri’ to the meal so that we could reinforce our nutrition messages.

In case you haven’t heard of it, ‘super githeri’ uses whole grain (mpempe) maize, soaked maize and beans to soften them and improve nutrient availability, a 1:1 ratio of maize and beans to increase protein, and at least one green and orange vegetable.


“Super” githeri

We decided to use a small portion so that the work would be doable in one morning, and would not require more space to cook.  

On Sunday, we got the 10 kg of maize and 10 kg of beans from a local market, and spent a good amount of time removing the small stones from the beans before we soaked them overnight at the dairy.  

We then spent the morning at the dairy preparing the githeri with our leaders or “champs” from the Joy women’s group. Preparing the githeri was a fantastic but exhausting experience as it involved being surrounded by 10 open pit fires that were constantly billowing smoke into our eyes, the hot African sun beaming down onto our sensitive Canadian skin, and learning to chop numerous kilograms of vegetables without a cutting board (minor cuts and blisters formed!).


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Hannah Creaser and Madison Brauer getting lessons on how to cut kale the Kenyan way.

Working with the Joy women’s group was an excellent experience: if it weren’t for them, the githeri likely wouldn’t have come together, and would be nowhere near Kenyan standards in terms of taste and texture. The women taught us the ins and outs of Kenyan githeri and were patient with us as we struggled to cut the carrots as thinly and precisely as they were. The women treated us like their pupils and were happy to pose for many photos with us.

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Smoke billowing from the many pots of rice and the large pot of githeri that were cooking

The seminar started an hour late-at 11:00 a.m.- so our presentation time was moved from 1:00 to 2:00 p.m.  When it came time to speak, the group of us filed in to the hall and were very warmly greeted.

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Introducing the vet and nutrition teams, and the Joy women

The start of our presentation went smoothly and uninterrupted.  After our prof Jennifer introduced the session, Hannah stood up and received some laughs when talking about avoiding traditional tea at mealtimes to increase iron absorption.

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One of the new 2018 champs presents one of the messages

Salome, one of our Farmers Helping Farmers employees was there not only to help organize the seminar and food preparation, she also was invaluable in translating our messages from English to Kimeru to ensure that everyone in the audience was understanding them.  She was an amazing help since she knew the women well and the dairy group.

It was not until Esther, the chair lady of the Joy women’s group stood up to discuss having a 1:1 ratio of maize and beans in githeri did people in the audience start hissing and booing. Traditionally, the ratio of maize and beans is 2:1 in githeri, and although this may not sound like a huge change to us Canadians, I equate it to someone telling me to use whole wheat noodles in my Kraft Dinner for health reasons (not happening!)

It was a great example of how there is so much culture entangled in the food that we eat, and that our food culture is not easy to change. After Jen, our prof, got up and reinforced what Esther had said, those objecting seemed to calm down.  

Madi was the fifth speaker to deliver a message on mukimo, which is a dish comparable to mashed potatoes. She again reiterated messages such as using a 1:1 ratio of maize and beans, adding greens, and adding a source of vitamin C to the dish to increase iron absorption. This time it was better received.

After the messages had been delivered, Sarah Muthee, a recent Master of Science in nutrition grad from UPEI, stood up and spoke about her research findings.

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Hannah speaking to the large crowd with Salome translating English to Kimeru

Again, people were eager and interested to learn what she had found for results. For both of us (Hannah and Madi’s), it was our first time talking in front of that many people. It was nerve wracking, but also incredibly exciting! It was such an amazing opportunity to reach so many people in the community with our nutrition messages AND let them taste the food as proof healthy food can taste good.

After our presentation wrapped, we served the super githeri that took almost a full day to prepare.  There were two lines: one for men and one for women.

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A group of dairy women enjoy their food after the dairy seminar

It was wonderful to walk around after serving to watch people enjoy our dish, especially the women who would benefit most from the higher iron content.

Overall it was a hit, and we received a lot of positive feedback.  All the work and stress was well worth it!

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Joy women head home after a very busy day!


Photo 11. Jennifer congratulates Sarah on presenting her master of science research findings on the effectiveness of train the trainer nutrition ed on diet and food security

Sarah and Jennifer- Sarah just completed Master of Science in Nutrition!


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Hannah Creaser, Dr. Jennifer Taylor and Madison Brauer smiling after a successful day



Experiencing “firsts” in Kenya

by Ashley Kroyer

Monday, 4 June 2018

“In China there is a saying, ‘If you wake up in the morning and go to sleep in the night having learned nothing, curse the day’. Today, I have learned so much”.

Last week we visited the home of an engineer who now, in his retirement, keeps milking cows on his farm. He described to us with pride how much he enjoys them, even allowing them “exercise time” in the sun every week. He was keen in asking questions and eager to learn of how he was managing his animals well and how else he may improve. We completed our visit with him sharing this quote with us – the words having made a huge impact with me –  and then cutting 5 tall pieces of miwa  (sugar cane) as a thank you.

Today marks two weeks since arriving here in Naari, Kenya, and I have learned more in 14 days than I ever expected. Under the supervision and guidance of Dr VanLeeuwen, Lee and I have visited almost 30 smallholder dairy farms in this area to learn (and to advise) about issues with cow nutrition, reproduction, and comfort and hygiene. Having limited prior experience with cow health and management, much of this information is completely new to me and I am experiencing many “firsts” here in Kenya!

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Caption: Dr John VanLeeuwen discussing checkpoints for assessing cow comfort with our Kenyan veterinary friends (left to right) Serem, Remmi, and Benard.

On Day 1 of training, I did my very first rectal palpation – an easy one, on a cow 7 months pregnant. A giant womb and fetus were there to meet my hand, and I learned about detecting “fremitus” (palpable turbulent blood flow in the uterine artery) as the demands of the growing fetus increase. Lee and I practiced scoring body condition, and I learned how to milk a cow so that we could test her milk for mastitis (udder inflammation). I learned next about what it means to “dry off” a cow (to stop her milk production late in gestation), providing her system with a rest prior to calving. This farmer had a cow giving too much milk at dry-off – 17 kg/day which is a good problem to have – and so we advised to go back to the poor feeding management from a few years ago for this cow to reduce her milk production. On the second farm, we were presented with a cow showing no signs of estrus or “heat” (such as vaginal discharge, mounting, and increased restlessness) for more than 3 months after having a calf. On palpation, Lee and Dr V were able to detect a “CL”, or corpus luteum, as evidence that the cow had recently ovulated, despite not showing any obvious heat behaviour. With further investigation into her nutrition, it was diagnosed as a “silent heat” , which I learned can be attributed to a mineral and energy deficit. The fix? Feeding more dairy meal as well as more mineral supplement. On the third farm, Lee and I had a turn at estimating weight, measuring with a weight tape to confirm our guesses, and then calculating a dose of deworming medication. This farmer was preparing silage, so I also had a chance to learn about how this process of fermenting forage material will preserve it and ensure feed is available through the dry months (now until October).


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Caption: Lee “preg checking” this cow with a rectal palpation of the uterus.


The next day – believe it or not! – introduced me to more firsts. With much excitement, I was able to palpate an ovary! Granted, it was “cystic” (enlarged), but it’s better to start off easy, right? With a mix of excitement and apprehension, I gave my first intramuscular injection of GnRH, a hormone to stimulate the cystic follicles of this ovary to break and for this cow to return to a normal hormonal cycle. I learned about various causes of abortion, where we discussed freemartinism (when a female calf twins with a male), and advised about feeding adequate colostrum to newborn calves to avoid “failure of passive transfer of immunity” – calves need the maternal antibodies provided in the first milk to give them early protection and the best start at life. The last visit of day 2 provided us with an opportunity to learn and advise about improving cow comfort on a farm. After all, happy cows are healthy cows that make more milk! We learned 12 checkpoints to consider in a stall – from the condition of the roof to the condition of the floor – and how to recommend changes that will encourage cows to stand and lay appropriately in their stalls for better comfort and hygiene.


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Caption: “Kids” of all species like to watch when there are strangers on the farm!


Our first Saturday evening in Naari brought us our first “patient” – a 2-week-old lamb we found in the yard, away from the flock. Thin, hypothermic, and weak, he was carried inside the house to warm up. Taking full advantage of a teaching moment, Dr V directed Lee and I through a quick physical exam – collecting temperature and heart rate etc. – to assess how critical the situation was. I had little success encouraging him to drink and we did not have any dextrose solution to administer or a stomach tube to force feed, so he received a couple shots of medicine and we left him wrapped in a towel to rest while we figured our options for dextrose and stomach tubes. Our next challenge presented soon after: seizures. Teaching us about different causes of seizures, Dr V administered vitamins in hopes it would help with any deficiencies and I sat under my kikoi (wrap) monitoring the little guy. We concocted a home-made concentrated sugar solution (in place of the dextrose solution), thinking the little guy may have been at such a deficit to have fallen into insulin shock. To everyone’s delight, the seizures stopped. We tried to rig up a stomach tube from a cleaning bottle pump hose. When the lamb began to vocalize some time after that, we became more optimistic, only to realize his vitals had become weaker. Our little “Mukimo” (named after one of our favorite Kenyan dishes) didn’t make it through the night. On Sunday morning, I did the necropsy with a visiting student from Vets Without Borders. The post-mortem exam is crucial in answering questions about “what was wrong?”, and provided us with all the evidence we needed to diagnose starvation. While I struggled for a while thinking of what we could have done differently, I was comforted in knowing we had been able to learn a lot about neonatal critical care, and that he had been warm and shown the best love we could offer prior to his death.


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Caption: Practicing my stethoscope skills, monitoring heart rate on “Mukimo”.


With the days that have followed, we’ve continued to learn more and more. We’re becoming more confident in assessing the cows and their environment, along with what questions to ask and what suggestions to make. We attended a seminar at Naari Dairy and – taking a day off from the cows – I learned about all of the work that goes into cooking githeri  (a stew of beans, maize, and veggies) for 500 people! (Shout out to our nutrition team!)  I’m learning a new word or two in Swahili each day – today, for example, mayai means egg and ndizi means banana. I’ve tried new foods and took a turn at preparing sukuma  (kale). We visited Mother Maria Zanelli Children’s Home to help serve breakfast and I had my heart stolen by little Lester – the breakfast “winner”!


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Caption: Breakfast winner! Lester and I were the first to finish not one – but two – platefuls


Finally, I had the most wonderful and emotionally overwhelming couple of days with our crew at Sweetwaters resort in the Ol Pejeta Conservancy –  90,000  acres of wildlife conservation area. My lifelong love of “The Lion King” and obsession with Africa took over and I squealed inside watching rhinos and their calves, elephants, giraffes, buffalo, zebras, and lions! Watching the sky brighten behind Mount Kenya at 6am, with waterbucks grazing just in front of our tent, it hit me again that I am in Africa. This summer I am living on the continent that, as a 10 year old, I dreamed of visiting! I am growing my veterinary education, connecting with new friends – Kenyan and Canadian – and immersing into life on this side of the world. I couldn’t be happier.


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Caption: Our team on the equator – crossing back over to the Northern Hemisphere after our weekend safari. (left to right: Sarah, Hannah, Madi, Lee, and Ashley).


Sending love and hugs to Canada!




First impressions

May 26, 2018

The first week of work in the Naari region has been absolutely amazing. For our first day of work we went to one of the local schools, Muuti-o-Nthunguri, where myself and the other nutrition student, Madison, collected the relevant information to perform a nutrient analysis on the food being served to the students. It was extremely interesting to see the process and the steps taken to prepare food for over two hundred children. Although we learn about it in class, it is entirely different thing to see it in action. The thing that I found most impressive was that all of the cooking was done by only two people!  

After all of the relevant information had been collected, we had the opportunity to spend some quality time with the students. One of the first things they asked for was a song, so myself and Jennifer Taylor, my professor, sang “You Are My Sunshine”. I have to admit that it was a bit nerve-racking to have 50 or 60 children staring up at us as we sing.

Our second day was spent completing our first four interviews. Each of the women greeted us with warm smiles and big hugs before we entered into their homes. Fridah, one of the women that we interviewed was so eager to show us all of the knowledge that she had learned over the course of the past two years that she was answering someone of the questions before we even asked!

Meet the 2018 Queen Elizabeth Summer Scholars

Meet the Queen Elizabeth Scholars spending the summer of 2018 with Farmers Helping Farmers in Kenya!



Hello everybody! My name is Hannah Creaser, or “Anna” here in Kenya. I am a fourth year food and nutrition student and dietetic intern at the University of Prince Edward Island. I am originally from Upper Kingsclear, which is a small community outside of Fredericton, New Brunswick. This is my second time abroad but my first time on the continent of Africa!

The first thing I noticed upon coming to Kenya, is the amazing work ethic of the local people, especially the women. One example of the incredible work ethic of women here is that on top of spending their days keeping their shamba (garden) and caring for their families, some also create gravel as a means of income.  This is done by taking a hammer and breaking a rock into smaller pieces. As you can imagine this is incredibly time consuming, tedious and strenuous work. This is only one of numerous examples of the amazing work ethic here to make enough money to survive. I look forward to seeing more examples. I am very excited to start my work here with local schools and women.




My name is Madison Brauer and I will be going into my fourth year of foods and nutrition at the university of Prince Edward Island this fall. I am from a very small town in northern Alberta where my parents and two younger siblings reside on our acreage. This summer I am working towards becoming a dietitian by doing my population and public health internship placement in the Naari region of Kenya.

The thing that has stood out to me the most about Kenya so far is the beauty of the landscape. The various types of trees, shrubs and flowers are unlike anything I have ever seen before. Because of the heavy rains the region has received in the past two months, everything is extremely lush and green. The dirt here is red, it may even be more copper in colour than the famous PEI dirt! The contrast between the bright green plant growth and the red dirt is exquisite and is making for some wonderful photographs. Each day I wake up and look outside I admire the beauty of our yard! I am looking forward to seeing and capturing images of more Kenyan landscapes.



My name is Lee Wesselius and I will be entering my third year of veterinary medicine at the Atlantic Veterinary College. I am from River Glade, New Brunswick where I grew up on dairy farm. I am looking forward to spending the summer providing help to Kenya farmers and getting the opportunity learn about Kenyan farming and culture, and to run all summer in the country that dominates the global running scene.

One thing I’ve noticed so far in Kenya is how friendly and helpful the Kenyans are. Most of the Kenyans will come up and introduce themselves or wave to you when walking or driving by. Also, they are very grateful when provided advice and will sometimes offer food or tea as a way of thanks. One of the first days here, a vehicle got stuck and everyone that was nearby, including myself, stopped to help push it out. I am looking forward to getting the opportunity to work with these wonderful individuals all summer.



Hey, everyone! My name is Ashley Kroyer and I am from Centreville, Newfoundland. I am entering my third year of veterinary medicine at the Atlantic Veterinary College. This summer, I am interning with UPEI and Farmers Helping Farmers under the supervision of Dr. John VanLeeuwen here in Kenya, Africa! I am most excited for such a unique opportunity to learn cow management and medicine and to be immersed into this new culture and way of life.

Africa is embracing us, and I personally feel my transition to Kenya so far is going very well. I’ve come eager to observe and interact as much as possible with everything new – people, food, markets, language! I am happy to have already made some dear Kenyan friends in only the first few days being here. We were and continue to be so welcomed by everyone we meet – hearing “Karibuni” (welcome to all) every day! And the food!? As fabulous as the people. Finally, I am pleased to discover our Kenyan friends are most willing (and wonderfully patient!) to help me learn Swahili (Kiswahili – one official language in Kenya) and Kimeru (spoken locally in Meru where we are living). All in all, I am having a lot of fun! I made my first ever farm visits today with our team and am so encouraged and motivated for the adventures coming up! Stay tuned to our stories, they’re sure to be great.


A successful, rewarding trip to Kenya

Report: International Smallholder Dairy Health Management Rotation 2018kenya 2018 john 1

By: Dr. John VanLeeuwen

The January 2018 trip was a very successful trip again, with many animals receiving treatment or prevention interventions, many farmers being educated or assisted, three Canadian veterinary students and a Canadian vet receiving training in treatment and health management of dairy cattle on smallholder farms, many Kenyan animal health personnel receiving continuing education, and six communities increasing in animal health, self-sufficiency, and quality of life due to our veterinary activities. During this visit, we worked with farmers of the Ex-Lewa Dairy Co-op (ELDC), Buuri Dairy Co-op (BDC), Ngusishi Dairy Co-op (NDC), Kiamaruga Dairy Group (KDG), Lunuru Dairy Co-op (LDC), Naari Dairy Co-operative Society (NDCS), and Wakulima Dairy Ltd. (WDL). There is a very strong desire for veterinary services and extension in these areas. The details of these activities are described in this summary report.

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On January 19th, 2013, the “vet team”, including myself, and three senior vet students, Ashley Butt, Stephanie Hatayama, and Jaimee Gillis, left for Kenya with many suitcases and boxes full of veterinary medicine. Prior to leaving, various veterinary pharmaceutical companies provided product support for the project. These products were greatly appreciated by the veterinary team to enable them to provide suitable treatments for the animals that they encountered. The remaining products were left with the dairies to use after our return to Canada. This team was joined a veterinarian, Dr. Gerry Smith from Alberta, who heard about our work in Kenya and wanted to work with us for the last 10 days of our 3 weeks in Kenya. He was volunteering with Vets without Borders in Tanzania, working primarily with poultry and beef cattle, as per his experience in Alberta, but wanting to expand his experience with dairy cattle in Kenya

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While in Kenya in 2018, the veterinary team checked over 150 animals from over 100 farms over the 3 weeks. At each farm, numerous neighbouring farmers congregated, sometimes with a cow or calf in tote, to observe and ask questions regarding their cattle. It was estimated that over 800 farmers received health management information and/or services from the efforts, a new record. The major health problems observed included infectious diseases, parasite infestations, udder infections and insufficient nutrition, leading to low milk production, poor reproduction and inadequate growth.

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The Canadian veterinary students learned a lot from the Kenyan veterinary students, animal health technicians and veterinarian, particularly about life in Kenya, and the great challenges of international development work, self-sustainability, veterinary medicine and producing & marketing milk in poor, remote areas of Kenya. The Kenyan veterinary students, technicians and veterinarian learned about life in Canada and about some of the pertinent new techniques and theories of dairy cattle health management that are the product of recent research. Kenyans have limited access to recent research findings due to journal fees and internet “challenges”. The Kenyans also received practical experience on the diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of common animal diseases and dairy management problems encountered in East Africa.

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The California Mastitis Test was not being used in Buuri or Ngusishi, with many episodes of rejected milk due to poor milk quality. There was strong need for extension and seminars in the new areas. We left them a CMT paddle and CMT solution to help identify mastitis, and trained them on how to use it, referring to relevant chapters in the Dairy Handbook. The Handbooks were handed out to farmers attending our seminars who did not have one yet, and they were as popular as ever.

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As with other years in Kenya, one highlight of the trip was the “walk-in clinic” for cattle in the Mbaria Market area near Kiirua where animals could be examined and treated if they were sick, or simply treated with a dewormer if they were healthy and not recently dewormed. When we arrived, there were already 20 cattle waiting for us. And that was a sign of things to come. Fortunately, we had a great system going, very efficiently moving cattle through the handling facilities, with help from other members of Farmers Helping Farmers. The final tally was over 350 animals dewormed and 50 sick animals examined and treated in one (long) day.

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Highlights of the trip are numerous but here are a few. It is always encouraging to hear about the higher milk volumes that the Dairy Groups are collecting. In particular, the Naari Dairy Group has increased volumes to 4,800 Kg/d, and the Ex-Lewa Dairy Group is now up to 2,400 Kg/d. It was also great to see a new cooler, generator, and associated equipment delivered to the Naari Dairy Group, and hopefully they will have the equipment installed and in working order in short order. Another highlight was talking with Margaret Nyangaru of the Karima WG in the Kiamaruga Dairy Group area. Before she went to our seminars, all calves died, cows frequently got mastitis, and had poor production and reproduction. Cows would not get pregnant, so she would sell them for meat. Since the seminars, she has had no calves die, no mastitis, good reproduction, and good production. One cow never gave more than 12 kg/d before seminars, and that same cow gave 42 kg/d after implementing seminar information. She says she used to make more money in coffee than milk, but now it is the opposite. She lives in another region of Kiamaruga than where the seminar was, but she came especially to that region to hear us talk since she wanted to learn more from us. I took her photo, and asked if she would allow us to share her photo and story in Canada, to which she agreed. A great story. A board member at the Kiamaruga Dairy Group said that he has seen milk production go up and mastitis go way down in the area. This was all very gratifying.

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It is always wonderful to go to Kenya to work with the Kenyan people. They are so appreciative of what we offer, and are such happy people, despite living in poverty. This attitude certainly helps us to put things in the right perspective, and to really appreciate what we have in Canada.

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I look forward to going back to Kenya again to continue to assist these dairy groups toward self-sufficiency. Thank you again to all our supporters for your assistance in making this all possible.