The coast, cows, and a whole lotta ticks!!!

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

Hi again, everyone!  We are now back in Meru County after taking a break on the Kenyan South Coast.  

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(Photo1: Maisha Marefu ‘Long Life’) 

Our visit to Diani Beach could not have been more perfect; the perfect weather, perfect beaches and perfect friendships. We spent most of our time relaxing on the soft, white sand working on our summer (in the African winter) tans, and enjoying the beautiful blue, and amazingly warm, water. We ate fresh fish straight from the fishermen, bartered with Maasai for beautiful beaded trinkets, and even tackled surfing for the first time! We were also lucky enough to get to spend Canada Day on a disappearing island where we snorkelled in the Indian Ocean…,yes, a disappearing island! We set out early in the morning while watching the beautiful corals and fish pass underneath our glass bottom boat. Upon approaching the island, the captain even jumped in the water with some bait to draw in more fish for us to marvel at, and brought up a few marine creatures including sea spiders (aka brittle stars) and other sea stars as well. We were dropped off at the island with our beach blankets, snorkelling gear and Canada flag in tow and spent an hour snorkelling and enjoying the sun before the high tide engulfed the sand bar and we headed back to shore. Our fellow travelers helped us bring Canada Day to a close with sparklers and festivities. We will never forget our new friends and the stunning sunrises and sunsets that were something out of a fairy tale. Everything about this vacation left us feeling revived and we were ready to return to Naari and continue the important work we came to Kenya to complete. 

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(Photo 2: A view with friends)

Upon our return we were immediately challenged with navigating new dairy zones to find candidates for our research study and battling some ailments at the same time. First, Hanna’s nose decided that the transition from the Diani humidity to Meru dryness was too much and she suffered relentless nose bleeds, while Chantel’s newfound “Kenyadian” attitude got the best of her and eating guava straight from the tree led to her being bed-ridden for a day 

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(Photo 3: Can’t stop won’t stop)

But nothing could keep us down and we pressed on. Luckily the farmers were as courteous as ever, and although we had no prior arrangements, the farmers were more than happy to point us in the direction of more cows. It turned into the most productive week to date as we ended up visiting 27 farms and admitting new trial candidates into the study as well as examining many cattle for the observational portion of the study.

The Naari farms situated at the edge of the Mount Kenya Forest reap its benefits, but at the same time, are also challenged by it. During times like now where there is little water for irrigation and crops, farmers are able to easily send their livestock to the forest to graze the lush vegetation. However, with this grazing comes a high rate of tick-borne disease. The majority of farms we visited had evidence of current or recovered animals with East Coast Fever or Anaplasmosis, both diseases that are transmitted by ticks. Unfortunately the dogs and cats also struggle with the ticks in the area, and therefore after completing our cow physical exams, we spent any down-time on tick removal duty. 

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(Photo 4: Tick picking is a serious job)

Also, as crazy as it seems, elephant invasions are also a problem for these farmers. We encountered many shambas (farms) with portions that were trampled by elephants who ventured from the nearby forest to find water and feed. They specifically love bananas, but I mean, who can blame them?

As per usual, another highlight of the week was meeting some of the amazing people that call Kenya home. We had the unfortunate timing of arriving at one homestead during a Women’s group meeting, but they were gracious and welcomed us to complete our work before inviting us for tea and laughing at Hanna’s attempts to dance and sing along to the music 

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(Photo 5: Tea Time)

It was here that we encountered a handful of beautifully coloured cows and one twelve month old heifer that was so petite that she barely fit our weight tape! We couldn’t believe how cute she was. 

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(Photo 6: Daniel and his tiny new friend)

We also had the opportunity to meet a resilient older woman who lived alone with her two dogs as companions. We were disheartened to learn that this woman had been robbed of a cow not too long ago but, in response, she built a large rock wall around her property to protect her belongings and ‘friends.’ She ran her compound independently and shoeless, while handling her difficult cow by singing her songs (seriously, singing songs to her cows) and bribing the cow with grain. 

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(Photo 7: A strong Kenyan woman and her loyal companions)

We feel so grateful and privileged every single week to have the opportunity to learn and experience so much in this beautiful country. Even in the hard moments, we know that, at the end of the day, everything we encounter will come together to make us better veterinarians for our future patients. With our trip to the coast marking the halfway point of our stay in Kenya, we now feel that the end is in sight and are determined to make the most of the time we have left! 





Visits to new schools!

By Julia Heckbert
UPEI nutrition student
Queen Elizabeth Scholar

This week we were able to visit two new schools that Farmers Helping Farmers are beginning to work with. Up first on our list was Kibirichia Primary School! The school administrators were very welcoming and we got started right away measuring the porridge in their cookhouse. We were grateful for the large chimney, so the smoke didn’t fill the room. There was also a serving shelf that opened up to a sheltered dining room where the students could enjoy their uji and githeri.

picture 1 for blogGitheri ready to be served through the opening of the kitchen to the dining room

The cook was very accommodating and the students seemed to respect him. Since his assistant cook was away, he recruited some older students to help cook and clean. We were very impressed with how responsible they were! The porridge and githeri were served without a hitch and the students were very excited to see us in their cookhouse.

picture 2 for blogYoung students enjoying their uji in the dining room

By talking to the teachers, we learned that they have great support from the parents and have been added vegetables to their githeri when they are available. This was great to hear!

Maritati Primary was the second school we visited this week. Although the school had recently been relocated to a brand new campus, they were still using their old smokey cookhouses. One was designated for porridge and one for githeri. As per usual, we jumped in and out of the cookhouses to take measurements to prevent excessive smoke inhalation. The porridge made was less than usual because almost 20 students were absent that day.  The young students that were present chugged down their portions and immediately dropped their cups into a bucket. As soon as they were done they sprinted for the playground. No matter where you are from, kids first priority is always to play!

While we waited for the githeri to be served, we were visited by the two school cows. One chose to drink from the bucket of soaking porridge containers, while the other was given a drink by the cook.

Picture 3 for blogCows drinking beside the cookhouses

As the students came to line up for lunch, they swatted the cows away like it was nothing. This was clearly an everyday occurrence. Over 400 students lined up in front of the cookhouse at lunchtime and we realized this was going to take a while.

Picture 4 for blogStudents forming lines to receive their githeri at lunchtime

When we asked the teachers whether there were different portion sizes for the smaller students, they simply replied that each parent contributed equally, so each student received the same amount.

picture 5 for blogNursery students with their large bowls of githeri

As it turns out, we had arrived on a day that the teachers were to double check which students had contributed to the meal program. This involved manually checking a list and going through the students one by one to see if their parent had given maize or beans to the school. Apparently, this is done every few weeks and we just happened to be there that day. We were a little taken aback to watch almost 100 students be denied lunch because their parents had not contributed to the program. As awful as it was to watch the disappointed faces on the children turned away, we also understood the reasons behind the act. It would be unfair to let everyone eat regardless of their contribution because the parents supplying the maize and beans were doing so for their own children: some schools don’t have extra food or resources to provide meals for every student. Even though this may seem shocking, I was not surprised given our conversations with other schools. There are some parents that do not want their children’s school to have a meal program because it requires more money and resources from them. Some are unable to provide that extra money because they are already struggling to pay for school uniforms and books. Some may not have maize and beans to donate due to drought and associated crop failures. Unfortunately, this also happens in Canada. As many as one in five children in PEI live in food insecure homes, meaning that parents may not be able to afford to provide a nutritious lunch for their children who are left with minimal meals or nothing at all. Regardless of whether we are talking about Kenya or Canada, it is extremely difficult for children to do well in school without having a proper meal. While Haley and I were disappointed to see that not all children at Maritati were being served, it gave us insight into the very real challenges that these schools face and the hardships that children must overcome in order to be successful in school. It also reminded us that it is critical to work to address the poverty that underlies this whole issue in order to improve children’s nutrition and their quality of life.

As we return to these schools next week to give them our feedback and discuss future goals, we plan to stress the importance of the meal program and give the school a much deserved congratulations for providing food to their students. Not all schools are following their lead, but we are happy to see that the message is spreading and more and more schools are adopting a meal program! They know that if they do, their children will be healthier, happier and will do better academically.

We are almost finished with our school assessments and have learned a lot from our experiences. Hopefully in the future, each of the schools we have visited will continue to improve and thrive with the continued support of Farmers Helping Farmers!

A successful dairy and Days for Girls

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Laura and Lexie with students from Matuto following the Days for Girls talk. (Left to right: student, Laura, Lexie, student, student)

Muriega! (Greetings to all! in the local language of Kikuyu)

Our names are Laura Michalovic and Lexie Reed and we are both second-year student veterinarians at the Ontario Veterinary College in Guelph, ON. This summer, we are volunteering in Kenya with Veterinarians without Borders (VWB) Canada. While we were brought into this project through VWB-Canada, our work in Mukurwe-ini is closely linked to the work of Farmers Helping Farmers (FHF). Our supervisor Shauna Richards, and project collaborator John VanLeeuwen have ties to both VWB-Canada and FHF, and from this opportunities for vet students at VWB-Canada have led to students visiting Kenya for many years. 

We have been in Mukurwe-ini, Nyeri County since mid-May, and we are working with the Mukurwe-ini Wakulima Dairy LTD, a large dairy collection and processing plant. Farmers Helping Farmers and the Wakulima have a longstanding relationship, as FHF was a developing partner contributing to the Wakulima’s success. Farmers Helping Farmers helped establish the Wakulima’s first milk cooling tank in the early 1990’s. This significant milestone ensured food security and a reliable source of income to dairy farmers in Mukurwe-ini. In addition to a variety of infrastructure improvements, FHF has also worked on capacity development aided by a content-rich Dairy Farming Manual which is provided to farmers to help assist in the improvement of their dairy operations. This manual is written by vets, vet students, and dairy farming experts from Canada and Kenya.

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Outside the Wakulima Dairy LTD, home of the Royal Fresh products.

With the help from our translator Priscilla and our driver Ephraim, we travel to different locations around the Wakulima and give seminars to groups of farmers who sell their milk to the dairy. This year, our seminars revolve around zoonotic disease prevention in humans and animals, and around serious zoonotic diseases prevalent in this area (rabies, anthrax, rift valley fever, brucella, internal parasites, and bovine tuberculosis). We also provide consulting work to farmers in order to mitigate some of the challenges they may face on farm: calf care, cow nutrition, stall design, cow comfort, reproduction, and mastitis, among other topics. For some more details see our blog here:

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Priscilla (left) and Lexie (right) delivering an on-farm seminar about zoonotic diseases to a group of dairy farmers who sell their milk to the Wakulima Dairy LTD.

Another rewarding aspect of our placement in Kenya has been visiting local primary schools and teaching students about zoonotic diseases, how to stay safe when working with farm animals, and how to protect themselves from rabies. The schools we are visiting are all currently or passed twinned schools through FHF and schools in PEI Canada. We focus on rabies prevention in schools as it has taken, and continues to take the lives of far too many people in Africa and Asia. See a local news article here of a recent outbreak in Kenya:

Late last week, we changed out of our scrubs and into more formal attire, as we had the pleasure of visiting Matuto and Mutwewathi Primary Schools to discuss a new topic. These visits were made possible thanks to the partnerships between FHF and the non-profit organization Days for Girls.

Days for Girls is an incredible organization supported by volunteers across the globe who hand-make reusable sanitary products for girls. These crafty volunteers prepare individual sanitary kits composed of a drawstring bag (to carry and store the items), 2 moisture-barrier shields (with a built-in snap to hold liner pads in place around the underwear), 8 absorbent flannel liners (to be placed in the shields and absorb fluids), 1 washcloth, 1 bar of soap, and 2 pairs of underwear. Brilliant, right? These kits are then distributed to girls in areas of need. Our contribution to the efforts by Days for Girls involved distributing these kits to female students at two different primary schools in Nyeri County using training materials they provided us.

At each school we met with girls in grades 6, 7 and 8 – ages 11 to 15 – and their female teachers. We were familiar faces to some students as we had gone to these same schools in the weeks prior to deliver our Safety Around Animals seminar. The reality for many young women is that in their lifetime they will face challenges which their male counterparts may never experience. As a result, we talked about girl empowerment and the importance of believing in yourself, your capabilities as a woman, and how your biology doesn’t limit your potential. Being a woman is awesome! We also focused on health education and discussed what changes our bodies undergo during puberty; one significant change being menstruation. We shed some light on common misconceptions surrounding menstruation, ovulation, pregnancy and the female reproductive system. Most importantly, we wanted to reinforce the concept that a period is a completely normal and healthy biological process that should not prevent girls from attending school, playing sports, or enjoying their favorite activities. 

At the beginning of our lesson, we handed out blank pieces of paper to each girl and they were welcomed to anonymously write down any questions or concerns which came to mind as we discussed menstruation. At the end of our sessions, we gathered all the papers that were not so blank anymore. The sheer volume of questions we received back reinforced the fact that there is a benefit to having these sessions in primary schools here. We addressed each of the questions one by one, and these gave us a sense of the different challenges girls in Kenya face and how some challenges differ slightly from ours back in Canada. For example, what to do if you can’t afford sanitary supplies? On the other hand, girls in both countries also share similar concerns. What to do if you get your period when you’re in class? Is there something wrong with you if you still haven’t gotten your period but most of your friends have already? All valid concerns. 

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Girls from Matuto Primary School proudly showing off their new Days for Girls kits

After teaching about the use of reusable pads we closed our sessions with their distribution of the kits sewn from all different types of beautiful donated materials. The girls’ faces lit up with excitement as they each received and opened their bag and investigated its contents. It was quite clear that these sustainable and reusable items were greatly appreciated by the students. For many of them, purchasing disposable sanitary products is not a financially feasible option. Therefore, without these reusable products, these girls may have resorted to using unhygienic alternatives like newspaper, leaves, and rags, predisposing them to infections and other health concerns. We also left a few additional kits at each school in case a girl found herself in need during school hours. 

We are overjoyed to report that 80 young girls and female teachers benefited from the strong partnerships between Days for Girls, Farmers Helping Farmers, and Veterinarians Without Borders. The immense gratitude expressed by the students and teachers was extremely rewarding for us volunteers and it was a day we will remember for many years to come. 

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A group of very thankful students from Mutwewathi Primary School after receiving their Days for Girls kits.

A very special thank you goes out to Jean Hume and the wonderful team of Days for Girls volunteers in Guelph, Ontario who worked together to make the 80 kits that were distributed during our school visits. Your hard work and dedication has positively impacted the lives of many young women!

Until next time! Kwaheri! (Bye!)

Laura and Lexie

Work by VWB-Canada students in Mukurwe-ini Kenya is supported by Global Affairs Canada, and the Sir James Dunn Animal Welfare Centre

Yes, this can really happen to intact male dogs…

By: Hanna Hone and Chantel Doyle – QES Vet Interns – July 2/19

This was our last week of work before our break and we couldn’t have asked for better! The BVDV project rolled forward as we began taking secondary blood samples from the vaccinates we started with three to four weeks ago. We take paired samples so that Daniel’s analysis can compare the blood before and after vaccination and we can gauge the immune response and how strong it is relative to body condition scores and nutritional management. It was also lovely to revisit the farms we started with and see which of our recommendations they’ve been able to implement. The farmer’s welcoming smiles and thankful handshakes made the revisits that much more rewarding.  It was also a nice treat seeing the cows more comfortable and getting a second cuddle session with the really sweet ones. 

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Cow selfies are the best selfies! 

Revisiting specific zones and retaking blood also gave us the opportunity to hit up any farms we missed or were unable to get to due to rain or running out of vaccine doses. These farmers have seen us visiting their neighbours and they were quite grateful that we finally made it to their homes too. 

With every week comes new discoveries and this one was no different. One thing we commonly see is the use of barbed wire along pens and we always make an effort to warn people of its danger. We’ve now seen a handful of trauma cases as a result of this fencing material including lacerations, eye injuries and even traumatic reticuloperitonitis (aka. “Hardware” disease – the animal consumes pieces of metal which eventually irritate/puncture the stomach lining, causing an abdominal infection and sometimes death.


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Blind eye with exopthalmos caused by a barbed wire injury 

While it can be sad to see these cases, they are good experiences to share with other farmers to give them incentives to really make some changes. It is powerful to see people take pride in their work and actually take what we have to offer to heart. It’s been an enlightening experience learning the different values people place on their animals. While at times it is frustrating, adding a “Canadian” perspective on the value of their animals has been very rewarding. 

One thing we have noticed is that some farmers don’t realize the importance of having water available to their rabbits, cats, and dogs at all times. The roaming animals can scavenge and find water, but other animals, such as some dogs, are tied up and have no way to access it unless it is provided. We explain that all living things need water, humans and animals alike, and this slight switch in perspective can make a big difference to the welfare of their animals.

This topic has become an emphasis for us, particularly when we chat with any children on a farm. We ask the children what is their role in taking care of their animals, and we encourage them to treat their animals as friends and provide them with a lot of the same necessities they would want for themselves. Daily water, food, a clean and comfy place to sleep, and a little affection go a long way toward a content and happy animal. We enjoy these conversations and always look forward to seeing any changes on revisits. 

We love the work we get to do with cows and farmers every day and really appreciate it when farmers allow us to challenge ourselves and take on something a little more outside the box with other species. While at one home removing dried meconium (calf’s first defecation) from a calf’s tail, we noticed a dog whose penis was protruded and too swollen to retract back into the prepuce sheath. Almost all mammal penises have foreskins or prepuce, although in non-human cases the foreskin is usually a sheath into which the whole penis is retracted. When we inquired about the dog, the owner said that the dog penis was injured during breeding, and the penis had been unable to return to its normal position within the sheath for three months. After examining and cleaning the penis, we were happy to find no ulcerations or open wounds. That day, we treated him with an intramuscular steroid injection for the inflammation and returned the following morning with the proper surgical tools to hopefully make a more permanent change for this sweet young dog. Upon returning, we were happy to see that the steroid had done its job. The swelling had dramatically reduced, and so we were able to sedate the dog with Xylazine, and then perform a local lidocaine nerve block and incision around the opening of the sheath to allow the penis back inside the sheath. Cleaning and prepping the area while trying to maintain sterility was quite the task in the field, especially with another puppy,  kittens and many curious chickens trying to figure out what we could possibly be doing to their buddy. Luckily, our patient was a joy to work with and even more lovable in his sedated state, making the handling and recovery quite smooth. With the penis cleaned and treated with an antibiotic (we used a bovine intramammary infusion tube applied topically),  the penis was returned to its normal spot and held in place with a purse-string suture around the sheath opening, and then one more steroid injection, we were happy and confident he would make a good recovery.  We left some pain medication for the owner to administer over the next few days. Yes, this can really happen to an intact male dog (and other animals that have a sheath) – what a serendipitous farm call, for the dog, the dog owners, and for us!

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Team work makes the dream work


Well, that’s all for now. We’ll be back with more updates (and hopefully a more even farmers tan) once we return from our break on the Kenyan South-East coast.  


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Mombasa beach break


Hanna & Chantel


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.

Blog Picture 2Little boy wearing my shoe

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.

Blog picture 3Julie presenting information to the second group of women

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