A successful, rewarding trip to Kenya

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

By: Dr. John VanLeeuwen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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





A Fantastic Field Day

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by Teresa Mellish

What an exciting day it was for the members of the Michaka Upendo Womens Group and the Joy Womens Group who attended the Small Scale Farmers Field Day at Kisima Farms along with Guy, Mwenda, Salome and Gikundi (Gikundi is not in the photos because he was behind the camera).

They saw rabbits, potato equipment, a solar powered pump, potatoes, vegetable crops and various sizes of grow bags for vegetables.

A wonderful day, by all accounts!

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The manure from these meat rabbits is used to fertilize the demonstration crops.

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Guy was very interested in their solar powered pump.

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Kisima Farms produces a variety of seed potatoes.

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Grow bags are used to produce vegetables in a small area and they demonstrated various sizes of grow bags at the Field Day.

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A ‘Culture Day’ for the vet students from Canada

The vet students are back in Canada but didn’t want us to miss this post!
Ashley Butt, Jaimee Gillis, & Stephanie Hatayama
AVC Veterinary Students with Farmers Helping Farmers
January 31st, 2018

The girls at Muruguma Primary School said goodbye with a song and a dance.

We have been kept very busy since arriving in Kenya, travelling to various dairies to present educational seminars to local dairy farmers and consulting on sick cattle. In the midst of all that, we did schedule in a ‘Culture Day’, where we were able to visit a local primary school, an orphanage, and a hospital.
Our first stop of the day was at the primary school just across the road from us, called Muruguma Primary School. The children were all very happy and quite excited by our visit to their school! Many of the classes excelled academically, our tour guide (a Standard 6 primary teacher) told us. At the end of our visit, the girls from the older classes got together on the grounds and sang and danced for us (see picture below). It was the perfect end to our little visit!
Next we visited a local children’s orphanage called The Sister Mary Zanelli Children’s Home. It was incredibly lovely, currently housing 38 children ranging from 6 months to 8 years old. They were all very well loved and looked after, and there was a primary school on the premises for the older children (3+ years old) to attend. We were also able to shop at the orphanage’s gift shop, of which all the money spent goes back to the children.
Lastly, we visited a local hospital. It was an impressive hospital, offering many resources including medicine, surgery, dialysis, pediatrics, physiotherapy, and more. It is one of the better equipped hospitals in the rural area. It has a capacity of up to 270 patients, and had been over-capacity recently due to a strike in government hospitals. The medicine wing had just been rebuilt as well, and is due to open in February 2018.
Our culture day was very special; a valuable window to compare and contrast our own experiences at home to the resources available in rural Kenya. We were very grateful for the opportunity to learn more about the Kenyan culture and lifestyle, and to meet the children at both the school and the orphanage. Now it’s back to work tomorrow!


As they say in Kenya…

“Squeezing” into the space for transport

When too many people fit into a space in a vehicle that is too small for all of them, the Kenyans say they “squeeze” into the space.  

We are using our Gypsy vehicle to travel short distances to visit farms.  Frequently women travel with us from farm to farm.   Here is Guy Cudmore “squeezed” into the back of the Gypsy.

We couldn’t resist sharing this great photo!



Soccer ball excitement!

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It is always exciting to see the faces of school children in Kenya as we distribute the soccer balls donated through the Farmers Helping Farmers Holiday Campaign!

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Asante to everyone who contributed.  These brightly coloured soccer balls are made by a company based in Kenya that employs Kenyans and puts money back into the Kenyan economy. All good!

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Blog: Some highlights from Ken Mellish

Ken Mellish has spent the last two weeks checking in on many Farmers Helping Farmers projects. Here are some of his highlights so far.

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This is a mole trap. Moles here are as big as rats and eat crops in the ground like sweet potatoes. The can is buried with vegetable bait and when the mole trips the trap and the sapling pulls the trap up. Mole is hung by the neck until dead. These are a very serious problem for our orange fleshed sweet potatoes. Mole catchers are employed at 200 Ksh a mole.

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Windy work! We visited a woman farmer high up near the forest on the north slope of mount Kenya. She was an inspiration in that she was using good management to provide for her family. She was milking cows and we were looking at her forage crop.

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Ken Mellish training Joy women group on farm record keeping.

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Ken also visited farms in Ngusishi area.

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Blog: The need for water to grow crops on farms

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By Teresa Mellish

We’ve been in Kenya almost 2 weeks and we’ve seen the need for water as we’ve  visited Kenyan farms.

We’ve seen such dry farms.  They have not had proper rains for three seasons.  The rains during the last rain dried up before the maize crop could mature.  As a result there is a lot of maize that is almost mature but the cobs are not finished.  Some is being cut and the dry stalks are being fed to livestock.  Some of the greener maize is being made into silage for livestock feed.

However we have also seen a couple of farms where the dairy farmers are using drip irrigation to produce maize to feed their dairy cows! They make silage with the maize. They told us that it is profitable.


Irrigated maize

We’ve visited the  members of the Joy Womens Group, the Upendo Womens Group and the Makena Mithatene Womens Group where we’ve  seen gardens with cabbage, spinach, onions and kale.


Orange fleshed sweet potatoes are being grown with drip irrigation. The Earthway seeder we brought from Veseys has provided accurate seed spacing for carrots.  The women were very generous- they gave us carrots, cabbage and even some eggs.  All of these gardens  have  drip irrigation.  Mwenda’s excellent advice on growing vegetables  was very evident.


Guy Cudmore checking out a field of sweet potatoes

Leah Kariuki showed Ken a field of alfalfa growing on one woman’s farm using irrigation.  Alfalfa is the “Queen” of  forages for dairy cow feed.

Blog: Learning about cow problems and pasteurization

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Ashley and Mercy doing a physical exam a cow

by Stephanie Hatayama, AVC vet student

Part of what we do in Kenya is look at cattle with diseases or problems. There is a systematic way that we examine animals in veterinary medicine and it is important that we develop the same approach to ensure nothing is overlooked.

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Lump underneath cow’s ear

Today we saw a cow that had a year-long history of a lump behind her ear. We first did a full physical exam and checked her milk for mastitis (infection). Fortunately, for this cow, everything appeared normal except for the lump behind her ear. We determined the lump might be a granuloma (or old scar tissue from something like a splinter) or cancer (more likely benign).

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Heifer calf

Since the lump did not seem to bother the cow, we told the owner to monitor the cow’s feed intake and milk production, and call their doktari (veterinarian) if anything changed. She also had a very cute and healthy calf as seen in the photo.

Pasteurization of milk in Kenya

At the Lunuru Dairy we received a brief tour of their collection and processing facility. This is a photo of the low temperature long time (LTLT) pasteurizer that Lunuru just received from the county. An LTLT pasteurizer typically heats the milk to 63°C for 30 minutes. This is different from the pasteurization techniques I’ve seen in North America which use higher temperatures for 15-20 seconds.

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LTLT pasteurizer at Lunuru Dairy

The benefit of pasteurization is that it alters the structure of enzymes and kills bacteria, making the shelf life of the milk longer.

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Alcohol gun

We also were shown how an alcohol gun works. Alcohol is a common test used in Kenya to determine the freshness in milk. The gun takes a sample of milk and adds a specific amount of alcohol and if any of the milk is not fresh, clumps will form. In North America, alcohol tests are not used because there are more specific tests available such as somatic cell and bacteria counts that correlate to freshness.


Blog: Saving a cow in Kenya


Mercy and Remi pictured here with the newborn heifer calf named Mango

by Jaimee Gillis, AVC vet student

On Thursday, February 1st Dr. John and our veterinary team was called out to a farm to assess a down cow. When we arrived the cow was up and reportedly four days overdue for her calving date. She was very thin, febrile and a suspect for a ruptured uterus. The veterinary team and farmer decided the best chance for the calf and cow was to perform a Caesarean section on farm. Dr. Gerry Smith performed the surgery without complication. Both mom and baby recovered well! It was an excellent day and experience in Kenya!


Dr. Gerry Smith from Vets Without Borders performing a Caesarean section surgery