Another interesting week in Kenya for the vet team

By: Hanna Hone and Chantel Doyle – QES Vet Interns
June 16, 2019

It sure has been another interesting week here in Meru County! Monday was another day with Bernard where we got the opportunity to diagnose and treat two severe mastitis cases. Both presented with systemic signs, significantly swollen udders, and what looked like yellow serum for milk. We hope that our treatments of anti-inflammatories, antibiotics, constant “stripping” and TLC will have the cows feeling better soon.  Thankfully Bernard has promised to keep us up to date on their progress, but little did we know that this would be just the start of the week’s theme: unique cases. 

pic1 IMG_2660Bernard, Hanna and Chantel stopping for a pizza break 

For the remainder of the week we continued to visit farms in Buuri while fighting to keep the gypsy in working order! Each day Chantel got an extra arm work out with the deteriorating non-powered steering, but honestly with all the delicious food we eat around here, she wasn’t complaining.

While our summer’s priority is the BVDV study and adding animals to the trial, we still take any given opportunity to treat any animals in need, including cats and dogs. This week we came across a couple of barn kittens with mange and were able to provide some relief by treating them with an Ivermectin injection. Our Ivermectin is formulated for large animals of course so adjusting the treatments for small animals gave us the opportunity to work on our dosing skills; great practice for the clinical work in our upcoming third year at AVC. We also discovered an adult dog whom was subjected to band castration: the application of an elastic band at the base of the testicles for the purpose of ceasing the testicle’s blood supply, resulting in castration. Cases like this are often a result of a lack of knowledge on animal welfare, and, after we explained the issues to the owners, they agreed to allow us to remove the band and provide pain relief, with our promise to return and perform a proper surgical castration. 

pic2 IMG_2536Hanna and Chantel giving a little extra TLC

This week’s cow cases encountered during our day-to-day physical exams and farm visits were a confusing mix of interesting and heartbreaking. First, we saw a cow with a unique blindness caused by a golden opacity of the lens, and another with a growth on her rump due to excessive sun exposure and, at least partially, photosensitivity that would likely be due to the consumption of certain weeds containing photodynamic agents. 

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Golden eye

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Hyperkeratosis aka “Bark Butt”

We also ended up on a farm where a cow had been treated previously for bilateral corneal opacities with no improvement, and also had a recent history of abortion. Now the cow presented with a fever, ulcerations on her vulva, teats and muzzle, bilateral corneal opacity, significant nasal and ocular discharge, foamy saliva, and significant hematuria (aka. blood within the urine). With this specific combination of symptoms our top differential diagnosis was Malignant Catarrhal Fever, a serious, contagious disease. 

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Potential MCF teat ulcerations 

Upon reaching these differentials we jumped into action, disinfected our equipment and ourselves, and made it clear to the farmer that the property should be on quarantine. We explained the need to be vigilant in not allowing the infected cow to interact with any other animals including their sheep and goats that would also be at risk. We were unable to visit any other farms that day, as we needed to disinfect our vehicle as well. We did our best to notify the dairy, local farmers and technician who previously treated the cow and made the important calls to report the findings to the local government veterinary entity. 

Finally, the case that was by far the most emotionally difficult for us was a 400 kg cow with a fractured distal hind limb. The veterinary technician that had seen the case initially decided to cast the leg. This decision left many questions in our minds about who is responsible for taking care of the livestock of these farmers, and the quality of the veterinary services available. The veterinary technician figured that a cast worked on calves, but did not realize that in larger cattle, casts do not provide sufficient stability for bone healing, and therefore such fractures in adult cows are not treatable. The trusting owner tried her absolute best to keep her cow going, but with no potential for a good ending. We explained this to the owner and that the humane thing to do was immediate euthanasia to end the suffering and to allow for a dignified death. 

This week definitely had its share of ups and downs but one thing was made abundantly clear: the quality of veterinary services in rural Kenya is quite variable, depending on the experience and quality of training in service providers. Some areas are lucky to have fully qualified veterinarians and/or veterinary technicians who provide good service, while other areas are deprived of quality veterinary care, leaving opportunities for modestly trained animal health providers. Farmers sometimes don’t realize that the “daktari” treating sick animals in their area is not actually a qualified veterinarian or veterinary technician. For example, we have heard, and now seen, that some daktaris treat with antibiotics when they are not indicated, and others have given steroidal anti-inflammatories to a pregnant cow which then caused abortion. This realization emphasized the importance of the continued presence in the region of Farmers Helping Farmers and our veterinary program from UPEI, along with the amazing education that they provide to farmers and animal health providers. Fortunately, there are great people like Bernard that get a proper history and provide a thorough examination before recommending treatment, and also utilize their time with the farmers to provide advice on cow comfort and care. 

Overall it was a long week that tested our ethics and resilience but also re-ignited our passion for the veterinary profession. To finish the week off, we spent our Saturday working from home doing data entry on the porch and enjoying the company of our adorable “lawnmowers”.

pic6 IMG_2543Work hard, play hard


Hanna & Chantel


Talking to Kenyan women about food

by Julia Heckbert

Hi Everyone!

This week our nutrition team had to modify our schedule to accommodate the midterm break for the primary schools. As a result, we had a week packed full of home visits with women from the Destiny women’s group. After completing 37 interviews, the houses start to look the same with the same furniture and the same farms. However, we had the opportunity to switch it up this week and assist Julie with her new Masters project.

In order to assess the needs of the community, we arranged to meet with five members of the Destiny women’s group who have children of school-going age. The purpose of this particular meeting was to obtain feedback and opinions of a food frequency questionnaire to be used for class 6 students next year. While Julie presented the questionnaire to the women, myself and Haley took notes in order to keep track of all the ideas presented.

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Julie engaged in conversation with the women while Haley takes notes

While tracking the discussion, it was difficult at times to stay focused. One of the adorable children in the room decided my shoe would make a great toy. He began putting the shoe on his foot and attempting to walk around the room. While his mother tried to stop him, I kindly let her know that it was okay and we all laughed. This small entertainment kept the mood light and conversational.

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Throughout the session, the women were very engaged and provided insight into the traditions of children cooking in the home. We learned that after the age of 12, boys are no longer found in the kitchen and it is the girls who typically learn to cook. We also realized that some of the foods on the list were viewed with a negative perspective. For example, since pumpkin is fed to babies and cows, older children claimed to dislike the food. This reminded me of apple sauce in Canada and its association with baby food. Learning this information helps us to consider food taboos and traditions that aid in tailoring the questionnaire to their community.

In order to obtain various perspectives we also interviewed six more women from Kambabu women’s group.

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While sitting on a wooden bench (that was not very stable), we again presented the questionnaire and asked the women to think of the questions from the perspective of a class 6 student. Although this was a different group of women, we found similarities between the answers. Even though they lived in different areas, the traditions and gender roles were the same. Women and girls are still expected to cook and boys and men are still expected to eat more.

One unique topic that was brought to our attention was the concern that students would lie about their intake. The consumption of meat is representative of a higher socioeconomic class, so students may overstate their consumption in order to appear more well off. We assured the women that the children’s answers would be confidential and written down as opposed to discussed in order to maintain anonymity. This seemed to lessen their concern and we hope that with a thorough explanation to the students, this will not occur.

We have been lucky thus far to meet such lovely women that are willing to share their ideas. No matter where we go, we are met with gracious people who thank us for our efforts even though they are the ones who need thanking. We have learned to say thank you in both Kimeru (the local language) and Kiswahili and we use both constantly to make sure they know our appreciation.

This week we gained insight into the reasons behind food choice and what is expected of class 6 children. I realize that back home in Canada, most children do not have to cook at such a young age and are given less responsibility. The 11 and 12 year old students here seem very independent and capable of not only helping out in the kitchen, but also assisting with younger children. When their assistance is needed, children in Kenya may have to grow up faster in order to contribute to the family.

After talking to the women this week, I am interested to see whether the class 6 students will come up with the same feedback next week. Comparing the perspectives of children and parents should enable us to thoroughly assess the needs of the community and also become more aware of their beliefs regarding nutrition. Discovering Kenyan foods and food practices has been very educational thus far, but I think we still have a lot more to learn!

A visit to a Kenyan fair

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Julie, UPEI MSc. student and dietitian, riding a camel

by Haley MacKenzie
June 14, 2019

Hello again, this is Haley. Today marks one month (28 days) since we landed in Kenya! In regard to work, we have completed meal assessments at three primary schools, interviewed 23 women from two women’s groups, completed one ‘train the trainer’ food based nutrition education (CHAMPS) seminar, and one nutrition seminar for a women’s group participating in a Rotary International Project in Nkubu, about an hour away from where we live. Our prof Jennifer Taylor is happy with our progress, and so are we! 

Last Tuesday through Saturday, the National Agricultural Show was taking place in Meru Town at Chuka University. Julia, Julie, and I decided that we would like to go, and Dorcas offered to join us with Melissa.  Julie is a Kenyan dietitian and an incoming UPEI Master’s student; Dorcas is our translator who graduated from Chuka only a couple of years ago; and Melissa is the three-year-old daughter of one of the Farmers Helping Farmers employees in Kenya, Stephen Mwenda. We were lucky that we had the chance to escape work on a Saturday and learn more about the Kenyan culture. I was especially excited coming from a produce farm to learn about the agricultural technology being introduced in Kenya. Unfortunately, our fellow veterinary students could not join us as they were busy with work.

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The nutrition team and Melissa!

As soon as we stepped out of the car, Melissa was bombarded by men and women, handing her sunglasses, a plastic windmill, and a balloon on a stick, placing a balloon hat on her head, and even going as far as to beginning to paint her face! She felt overwhelmed by the attention and we removed the toys from her and moved through the crowd. We were approached by a new vendor selling these toys about every 10 minutes as we walked towards and through the fair, making it impossible for us to leave empty handed. Consequently, Melissa left the fair with a windmill, new sunglasses, and her face painted!

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Little Melissa getting her face painted

To my surprise, the fair resembled P.E.I.’s Old Home Week more than I had expected. There was a section for farmers, businesses, and other Universities to display their agricultural innovations, as well as a section for children with inflatables and rides, and a Kenyan-style cafeteria. The first discrepancy I noticed was that the vendors were drawing customers in with displays and loud music. I was very impressed by the displays of Kiirua and Meru County, complete with a model of Mount Kenya, cement roads, homes and power lines. One man motioned us over to complete a test-run of a new security system engineered by his school for Kenyan farms. He handed me his phone and asked me to walk across where the sensor had been placed. As expected, a loud siren began ringing and his phone received a text alerting him that someone has trespassed. Only ten seconds after the text was sent, his phone began to ring as the system further alerted him of the potential danger. We found this system interesting because, although it is a good idea, it did not seem practical with the number of stray cats and dogs that might wander across the sensor and the close proximity of neighbours that may be awoken by such a loud alarm. Nevertheless, we were happy that they invited us to take a peek at their new system 

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Display of the Town of Kiirua

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Display of farm and greenhouse

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Diverse selection of fruits and veggies for sale

After walking through the ‘business’ side of the fair, we continued towards the shops and rides. Throughout the fair, we noticed that many vendors had transplanted vegetables and fruit just for this week and others had bouquets of flowers to draw people in. Rather than carnival workers motioning for us to play their games, as is commonly seen at PEI’s fairs, we experienced many small shop owners selling beads and jewelry, men selling sausages, and children selling suckers, sodas, and candies. As we had expected, we were the only white people at the fair. After spending a month in Kenya, we’ve gotten used to being stared at and often being the center of attention. We heard “sister, sister” and “mzungu!” many times, as the Kenyans tried to gain the business of the only white people at the fair. On three different occasions, Julia and I were asked to pose for a picture with other fair-goers and their families. We happily obliged, as children and even adults are often very excited to see us. 

The carnival and rides section of the fair included a small Ferris wheel, inflatables, a child’s roller coaster, and tall swings. Melissa wanted to go on the Ferris wheel, so Dorcas accompanied her as three men tucked them into their seat and began the ride. Only about two spins later, Melissa was crying to get off. This is when Julia and I realized that the ride was being completely controlled by the men spinning the wheel. To stop the ride, the men simply jumped on the wheel and used their weight to slow the ride to a halt! Melissa wiped her tears and pointed to the high swings, indicating that she was ready for the next ride. Knowing she couldn’t handle such a big ride alone, Dorcas offered to join her on the caterpillar roller coaster instead. We continued past the rides towards the field which was littered with people riding camels, horses, and little electronic cars. 

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The amusement rides at the fair

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Dorcas and Melissa enjoying the ride

By this time, we were searching for a spot to eat at the Kenyan-style cafeteria. The Kenyan-style cafeteria included a ‘food road’ with multiple tents containing vendors selling mainly fried foods. This was tough for Julia and I as vegetarians, as most vendors were selling dishes containing meat. We settled on French fries and chapatis, as those were really our only options. After we finished eating, I noticed that the lady running the food business also had a cotton candy machine. Excitedly, I hopped up and bought a stick from her to share with the table. Cotton candy is a staple at the fairs that I grew up going to, so I didn’t expect to find it sold here and wondered how it would compare. Apparently the two Kenyans, Dorcas and Julie, did not expect it either as neither had ever heard of cotton candy! They were turned off by the idea of eating something called ‘cotton candy’ and were hesitant to try it. They each took a small piece and gave us the same disgusted look saying that it was too sweet. Julia and I were surprised that they didn’t like it, as we have seen many Kenyans chewing sugarcane which we find is much sweeter! Melissa, however, loved the treat and was yelling to us across the table to pass her more. Kids are kids—whether you are in Kenya or Canada!

Overall, the fair was a lot of fun and I am very thankful we had the opportunity to visit. Most weekends are spent catching up on our blogs, writing reflections and projects for internship, and coding data, so this was a nice break. I wish we could have spent more time learning about the new technologies being introduced by Kenyan farmers and universities, but the vendors were often busy talking to other fair-goers and we had a small child with us who was anxious to see the rest of the fair. Nevertheless, the agricultural fair gave us a chance to compare the fairs that we are familiar with in Canada to the traditions here in Kenya. 


Dancing, singing, and more cow recommendations

By: Hanna Hone and Chantel Doyle – QES Vet Interns – June 16/19

During this past week, we returned to the Buuri Dairy in the hopes that the weather would cooperate and keep the roads dry enough for us to get around. While joined by the chairman and fellow Buuri Dairy staff, we fought through the light showers and made it to a couple of farms in the morning before the Gypsy needed a mechanic consultation.

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Chantel patiently awaiting the Gypsy’s check up

At the farms that morning we noticed that, while a farm may have a good design and present well, examination of the animals can paint a slightly different picture. The lack of animals lying in the stalls while chewing their cud, poor body condition, unnoticed previous illness and injury, and lack of showing heats all reflected areas the farm could improve. We saw cows with blindness, an old fractured hook (hip bone), and mastitis but thankfully we were able to give recommendations before leaving. We learned the farm owners were rarely present, making it clear that oversight and incentives for good workers is key to maintaining a productive and healthy herd.

We took off the following day to enjoy the local primary school music festival; a gathering of local school children who performed songs, dances and spoken verse. We were welcomed by the head schoolteachers and mobbed by school children that were excited to shake our hands and show us their prepared performances. Their elaborate costume of straw skirts, face paint and bangles paired with their authentic enthusiasm was an enjoyment for all!


Traditional African dance performed by the school children

We were impressed by the confidence and pride with which they presented their performances, and we tried to bop along to all the music (to the spectating kid’s amusement). It turns out that clapping at the end of a class performance is not customary here, but that didn’t keep us from trying to show our support with a quick eyebrow raise and a head nod as per Kenyan tradition… and maybe a tiny clap, we couldn’t help ourselves. We made our rounds to the various performance areas for the different age groups. It was an interesting insight into the local culture but we were ready for clear skies and more farms for the rest of the week.

The remainder of the week was spent visiting Buuri Dairy farms. We realized just how wide the scope of their coverage is, as well as how quickly the Kenyan landscape can change. We had gone from jungle forest to desert in just a short distance and each landscape presented its own perks and challenges for the farmers.


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Daniel, Chantel and Hanna getting some shade under the Acacia tree


The gypsy chronicles continued but that didn’t dim our spirits! We navigated the roads with the help of farmers and we were able to add many more animals to the research, despite being distracted by the many puppies, kittens, lambs and kids at each farm. We continued to be offered more tea, sugar cane and fresh oranges than any one person could consume. We worked until the sun threatened our productivity and felt accomplished at the end of each day.

Of the many lovely animals we met this week, we will always remember little Tom, the puppy who started nervous but who’s non-stop tail wagging gave away his true nature. He loved belly scratches so much that we became fast friends and he even sprawled between our legs for more love as we tried to leave. There was also the teeny tiny blue-eyed kitty that stole our cuddles and our hearts.

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Little Tom with the puppy dog eyes

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The beautiful ocean-eyed kitty


We think we surprised owners with our gentle handling and compassion for all creatures, and demonstrated to many farmers that showing kindness to their other non-profitable animals is also rewarding.

By Friday, Daniel headed off to Nairobi to visit his family for a long weekend and we met up with Bernard- who provides veterinary services for the cows in the Naari region- for a fun-filled day of his scheduled inseminations and cases. He was gracious with his time and let us use our fresh diagnostic skills to work through cases. He allowed us to treat pneumonia and mastitis cases, and he translated our recommendations for cases of reduced milk production where the cows just needed a little change in feed and some TLC. It was a fun and exciting day where we learned a lot while bonding with the local farmers who were grateful for the services. It was especially nice to see how Bernard’s wonderful reputation followed him and how much he is respected and appreciated by so many! They rely on him for the advice, treatment and breeding that sustains many farms and we hope to perpetuate his positive messages as the summer progresses!

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Hanna ear tagging a cow under Bernard’s watchful eye 


Hanna & Chantel

Championing super food!

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By Julia Heckbert
UPEI nutrition student
Queen Elizabeth Scholar

This week, we had our first CHAMPS peer-learning nutrition education session with the Gatima women’s group.

For regular readers of Farmers Helping Farmers blogs, you will know that this is an event where the five ‘CHAMPS’ (Champions or leaders) of a local women’s self help group teach their fellow women about the nutritional messages that we have taught them earlier. A huge part of this session is the food that is prepared: our supervisor Jennifer Taylor tells us that providing food samples along with the education greatly increases the credibility of the information.

With the help of the women, we prepared SUPER githeri and SUPER chapati (called “Super” since they are ‘super nutritious’) with extra green and orange vegetables from their home gardens and whole grain maize. Lots of greens and carrots were added to the githeri and mashed carrots were also added to the chapati for extra β-carotene or vitamin A. These practices line up with the nutritional messages taught and gives the women a taste of more nutritious staple dishes. By sampling these foods during the session, we hope the women will be inspired to try making them at home as well!

At the beginning of the CHAMPS session, we were immediately put to work cutting carrots, spinach, onion and tomato. This was no ordinary style of chopping. The Kenyan way of chopping vegetables involves tough hands and no cutting boards! With the women’s help, we were eventually able to do it, although at a much slower pace. We brought Chantel and Hanna, the vet students, with us and they ended up doing a great job chopping vegetables!

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Myself, Chantel, Haley, Hanna, and Dorcas (our translator) cutting vegetables the Kenyan way

We ended up waiting longer than expected for the maize and beans to cook, so were running a bit late. The women waited patiently as we began the teaching part of the session.

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The women reading their handouts as they listen to the CHAMPs teach

Within a few minutes, it started to rain. This was NOT a sprinkle. The sky opened up and it poured. The women tipped over their chairs and moved into the house.

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Chairs left empty due to rain

We were forced to cram 30 women into a small room and they piled on top of one another. It became a very intimate teaching environment! Even so, there were no complaints and our champs were engaged in the teaching.

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The CHAMPs teaching the nutritional messages to their peers in a room overflowing with people

By the time the CHAMPs were finished teaching, the rain had stopped and we all moved back outside to prepare for the meal. Just as we started passing out the SUPER githeri and SUPER chapati, it started to rain again. The women once again piled into the house.

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A chapati-stealing rooster steals the show!

We portioned out the fruit cups and bounced around to each room handing out fruit and collecting empty dishes. Since these rooms are not connected, it was impossible to avoid the rain. By the end of the session, we were soaked and had very muddy shoes.


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Even though the day did not go quite as planned, spirits were still high and the women were very accommodating of the unexpected weather. We thanked the women for their time and handed out certificates and gifts. Who knew that carrot peelers would be such a hit! There is no doubt in my mind that they will go to good use.

Teaching, planning, and cooking with the women was a wonderful experience and we learned a lot within a short period of time. There is no better way to learn about a culture than to be directly immersed like we were. I am thankful that we were so welcomed into the group and that I had the opportunity to meet so many friendly women. Working with the Gatima women’s group was a great introduction to our work and I am excited to continue to meet with them and learn even more from many other groups this summer!

Vet blog #3: Ready to take on the challenges of the summer head on!


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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.

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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.

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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.

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Umbilical hernia

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!



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Chowing down on farm-fresh sugar cane

Vet blog #2 -Rhinos, blood and squealing!

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By: Chantel Doyle and Hanna Hone – Queen Elizabeth Scholar Vet Interns – June 3/19

This week we started finding our stride in regards to our farm visits and Daniel’s research. While enrolling additional farms and their animals into the study, we’ve been exposed to a wide variety of designs and management styles. It has been interesting to compare their current set-ups to the westernized Canadian dairy industry we are used to. One contrast we noted at these farms was the difference in welfare states for livestock versus ‘pets,’ likely due to their lack of economic value of pets. Many cows were well cared for and in great condition while some dogs lacked some basic necessities. While on the farms, we were able to shed some light and make some recommendations for simple improvements in pet care. Last week was the last week for Dr. John’s newest graduate student, Edward  Kariuki. With his help, we managed to see a high volume of cases that challenged our new skill set.

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Practice makes perfect, even for blood draws


Overall, we are becoming more confident and consistent with physical evaluations and blood draws, and have focused on improving our rectal palpation sensitivity. We have even successfully captured and evaluated our first ovaries! Because of these palpations, we helped diagnose some unexpected pregnancies, as well as a urovagina. Both of these findings had major impacts for the farmer; one very excited to find out they will be having an extra calf this year, and the other grateful to find out why inseminations were unsuccessful, which allowed them to move forward and use their money in a more productive way.

This week also reinforced the impact that our presence can have off the farms and outside of the study’s focus. On the way to a farm we had to stop and free a small lamb whose head was caught in a fence and we were thanked with a sweet little “bleet.” That same day, leaving a farm, we saw our first Kenyan pig sauntering down the road and felt obligated to catch and free it’s leg from a tie rope that was too tight.

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Team rescue getting a little dirty

Despite his little squeals, we were happy to see the swelling of his leg decrease minutes after freeing the rope. We also saw some interesting eye cases this week: one was an acute active corneal ulcer (we treated it), and the other was a chronic non-active corneal ulcer that resulted in blindness. Additionally, we took Wednesday morning off from farm visits and joined the nutrition crew at St.Teresa’s Children’s Home where we helped feed babies and had some playtime before heading back to farms for the afternoon. This was a great outreach opportunity that was different from what we experience through our day-to-day work.

After our second full week of training, we spent our days off at the wonderful Sweetwater’s Resort on the Ol’ Pejeta Conservancy where we had breathtaking views of an active watering hole from the restaurant and our tent accommodations. During our three game drives we were blessed by many sightings of Africa’s wildlife including: Cape Buffalo, Warthogs, Zebras, Gazelles, Eland, Bush and Water Bucks, Impalas, Jackals, families of Elephants and Southern White Rhinos, and the elusive Spotted Hyena and Lion. A lioness strolled past our vehicle (literally within a few feet!) – a major highlight of the weekend. Our other major highlight was an intimate encounter with Baraka, the blind Black Rhino. Park rangers rescued him after losing one eye in a fight with another male rhino, and the other to an incurable cataract. We were given the opportunity to feed and make physical contact while learning about the natural aggressive and solitary behaviour of this species, making our interaction that much more special. Being there for the last 10 years, he navigates his 150-acre enclosure without hesitation and is now accustomed to humans.  His presence has brought a lot of public education and awareness to the importance of protecting these endangered animals.

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Falling in love with Baraka

We were moved and fascinated when the ranger explained the amazing reproductive work being done with the Northern White Rhino that has been in major trouble since the death of the last male, Sudan. Currently, conservationists are using embryo transfer with Southern White Rhino surrogates in hopes of reviving the population. The park also maintains a Rhino cemetery to commemorate the lives of amazing creatures who were tragically taken by poachers or lost to natural causes. We also made sure to visit the chimpanzee enclosure that provides sanctuary for rescued chimps and another opportunity for public awareness. We were captivated by our commonalities with these beautiful animals and were living on cloud nine the whole time.

Overall, it was a surreal weekend that put into perspective exactly where we are and further inspired us for the upcoming weeks.


Making a difference in Kenya

Sunday, 2 June 2019

Hi everyone! This is Haley Mackenzie, a 2019 nutrition intern working with Farmers Helping Farmers and funded through the Queen Elizabeth Scholar program.

I’ll start by telling you a little bit about me. I was born and raised on a vegetable farm in Prince Edward Island, where I live with two lovely parents, a younger sister and older brother, and two Yorkshire terriers. I enjoy spending my summers in the field with my parents, whether it be transplanting cabbage, delivering string beans, or manning the corn maze at our roadside stand. Last summer I worked for the City of Charlottetown as a ‘Sustainable Horticulture Intern’, where I fell deeper in love with agriculture and horticulture.

Come October, I visited Dr. Jennifer Taylor’s office for an advisory meeting and saw the ‘Want to Make a Difference?’ handout on her door. Although I had heard about this trip many times (you know what I mean if you’ve taken any course with Jen), the sign struck me differently that day. I had an Aha-moment where I realized that I could combine the things that I love most—nutrition and horticulture! Of course, I sent in an application.

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The handout that brought me to Kenya

Seven months later, we landed in Africa. We would be spending the next 90 days working on nutrition projects such as working with women’s groups using the train the trainer model, visiting schools to complete nutritional assessments of the school meals, and visiting homes of the women’s group members to complete interviews. In this blog, I will focus on the school assessments.

Last week, the nutrition team visited Rugetene, a Naari school with a cookhouse, water tank, screenhouse, and grow bag. The cookhouse was large and beautiful, with a chimney, two large cookers/pots, two sets of stainless-steel cups and bowls, and an extension of the building for storage space.

It was wonderful to see happy students and staff as a result of Farmers Helping Farmer’s and the Souris Village Feast’s hard work! The school parents and staff were inspired by the cookhouse and are now also building a new dining hall for the students; they had just started working on the foundation. The staff and children were very excited, appreciative, and inquisitive.

haley 5Nursery children lining up for uji at Rugetene

We began our first assessment by measuring the height, diameter, and distance from the top of the pot down to the uji. We then weighed five cups and bowls in each of the two sizes to determine the portion sizes. We were happy to see that Rugetene had implemented some of the nutrition messages taught by previous nutrition interns: they were adding two grains to uji, and were using soaked mpempe (whole grain maize) and were adding kale to the githeri (maize and bean stew). When the uji was ready, we weighed five cups and took the average. While the children received their uji, I took this chance to try a cup myself. I did note that it was extremely hot in the stainless-steel mug and I burnt my tongue on my first sip. After 10 minutes of sitting in a cold bowl of water, I got a taste of my very first Kenyan uji! It was very similar to cream of wheat porridge that I’d had at home and aside from my burnt tongue, I enjoyed it.

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Julia and I weighing uji at Rugetene to determine average portion size

After the uji, we left the cookhouse to greet the children since we had to wait for the githeri to finish cooking. Many of the students asked us if we knew the Canadian teachers who had been working at the school earlier in the year which was quite cute. We were invited into the Headmaster’s office for tea, arrowroot, bread, and watermelon. Julia & I then returned to the cookhouse to complete our githeri assessment.

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Rugetene’s cook hard at work stirring the githeri

The next day, we visited Kiborione, a Buuri school that had not received any nutritional messages or FHF support as yet. The school had many water tanks and a garden with white sweet potatoes and some fruit trees. However, they had no screen house and their old cookhouse was very smoky. Julia and I ran in and out of the smoke to take measurements and ask questions, holding our breath and tearing up.

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Julia handing out githeri at Kiborione

Only three weeks in to our Kenyan experience, I have learned so much and have adjusted to a completely different lifestyle than what I’m used to on our gentle island.

We just returned from an amazing weekend at Sweetwaters resort on the Ol Pejeta Conservancy.

When we were leaving, we told our server that we are returning ‘home’. Of course, he asked about our flight time and we realized, we had just referred to Kenya as our home for the first time.

Vet blog #1 – A successful first week

Update #1 from Chantal Doyle and Hannah Hone, DVM students and Dr. John VanLeeuwen, Atlantic Veterinary College

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      Hanna and Chantel with ‘ole faithful’: The Gypsy

What a first week in Kenya! We arrived after a long day of travel and spent the first two nights at the ACK (Anglican Church of Kenya) which introduced us to our first few tastes of Kenyan food. To say the least, it did not disappoint. Despite the jet lag, we made our way to Sheldrick’s Elephant and Rhino Sanctuary as well as the Giraffe Manner for an up close and personal experience with a couple of Africa’s wild animals.

In doing so, we learned about the amazing conservation efforts for these species. Being drenched by the African rains gave us an excuse (not that we needed it) to go check out the local shops and purchase some handmade authentic garments in addition to working on our non-existent bartering skills. Spending time in Nairobi was the perfect transition into our soon-to-be Kenyan lifestyle.

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Chantel finishing a successful antibiotic intravenous infusion

The next day we set off for our final destination, Meru County, where we will be staying for the duration of the summer. On the way “home”, we stopped by the Wakulima Dairy to tour their modernized facility which was developed through extensive collaboration with Farmers Helping Farmers over the past twenty years. It gave us a good reference point for the potential of smaller dairies for further development under the guidance of this foundation. For example, Wakulima began  processing 300 litres of milk/day, improving to a whopping 50 000 litres/day! They have extensive training, diverse employment strategies, and offer incentives to their cooperative farmers in an ongoing effort to produce high quality milk for consumers.

After the impressive tour, we finally arrived at our home for the summer and were eager to get unpacked and settled. Late that evening we were joined by our final team member, PhD student Daniel Muasya, whom we will be assisting with a BVDV- Bovine Viral Diarrhea Virus- immunization study, along with training farmers on best management practices.

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Dr. John and Hanna taking the heart rate of a calf 

Over the next three months, farmers of the Naari or Buuri Dairy Cooperatives will enable us to study the impact of vaccinating against BVDV. To achieve this, the farmers will be answering questionnaires and allowing us to examine their herd, both vaccinated and unvaccinated. During the first two days in Meru County, we were warmly welcomed by the chairmen of each Dairy. We discussed project details with them and their associates before heading out to the farms. And that is where we come in.

We are gaining valuable hands-on experience through the implementation of physical exams of the local cows.  This week alone, we did multiple CMT tests aiding in the diagnosis of our first case of systemic mastitis treated with intravenous antibiotics. We also did multiple rectal exams to confirm various stages of pregnancy or lack thereof, as well as overall health status and management assessments. We saw a case of sciatic nerve damage as well as a mold toxicosis likely due to poor feed management.

Overall, the Kenyan farmers have been very accommodating and have shown their gratitude with gifts from their gardens. If this week is any indication, we have much to look forward to.


Sawa sawa: lessons from Kenya


My name is Julia Heckbert and I am one of the nutrition interns working in Kenya this summer! I am going into my fourth year in the Foods & Nutrition program at UPEI. I transferred into UPEI this past year using my previous Biochemistry Nutrition degree from Memorial University of Newfoundland.

After graduating, I worked in China for two years as a teacher and travelled to parts of Asia. During that time, I realized I wanted to get back to nutrition and become a registered dietitian.

I am originally from Summerside, PEI and was excited to be able to go to school in my home province. I was even more excited to find out that I could combine my love of travel and nutrition to discover a new culture in Kenya within my degree. I jumped on the opportunity to work with Farmers Helping Farmers and come to Kenya with funding from the Queen Elizabeth Scholars program. Although it has only been a week, I am so glad that I did.

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Visiting the Giraffe Sanctuary in Nairobi

After visiting the Giraffe sanctuary, the elephant orphanage and the Kazuri bead factory in Nairobi, we travelled to Meru to settle into our new home. Since then, we have started our home interviews and did our first CHAMPS informational session!

CHAMPS stand for champions, or women leaders in the community. For this session, we met at the house of the chairlady of the Gatima women’s group, Margaret. Upon arrival, we were greeted with (rather loud) Kenyan music on the radio and smiling faces. Even though we scheduled the session to start at 10 am, the women trickled in one by one and we started later than anticipated. Given that the women have to take care of their family and farm every morning, it is understandable why they may be later than planned. While we waited, we tested out our newly learned Swahili and Kimeru words and phrases on the women. They laughed at our attempts and seemed to appreciate the effort.

As we finally settled in to teach our nutritional messages to the women, they were engaged and receptive. I started by teaching them about the importance of soaking maize and beans and adding orange vegetables to githeri. We were slightly distracted by chickens and cats who were attempting to look for crumbs in the house. The women did not understand why we wanted to pet the cats and kept shoo-ing them away.

There were lots of questions and discussion about how the tips should be implemented and I was glad to see that the women were invested in the work that we are doing. The women asked about what food they could eat with tea and how tea may impact iron absorption. Understanding the reasons behind the nutritional tips was an important motivator for the women to consider applying the changes.

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Haley and I with our translator Dorcus going through the nutritional messages

After the educational part of our session, we organized the amount of ingredients we would need for our seminar with help from our CHAMPs. They knew exactly how much we would need and the cost of each item. Our translator Dorcas did a great job collecting the numbers and relaying them back to us!

Much to our surprise, the women had prepared a full lunch for us and we were given huge amounts of food while there —beef stew, rice and tea. So far, Kenyan food has been some of my favourite that I have tried and I am excited to have my first taste of Githeri tonight!

We spent hours at the chairlady’s house and worked out many of the details that needed to be organized for our educational seminar with the rest of the group. We are extremely fortunate to have help from the executive members of the Gatima women’s group. They have helped us schedule the home interviews and have taken us around the community to show us the locations of the different farms. We are grateful for their assistance and I do not think we would be able to do much of anything without them! Salome, who works with Farmers Helping Farmers (some of you may have met her when she came to Canada) was a fabulous help in contacting the women.

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Standing with the Gatima CHAMPS and executive members 

It is has only been ten days since we landed in Nairobi and I have learned a lot and been exposed to many new things already. As a very organized person, one of the most important things I have learned is to go with the flow a.k.a. “Sawa Sawa” (no worries/no problem).