Experiencing “firsts” in Kenya

by Ashley Kroyer

Monday, 4 June 2018

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

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

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

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

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


Sending love and hugs to Canada!




First impressions

May 26, 2018

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

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

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

Meet the 2018 Queen Elizabeth Summer Scholars

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



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

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




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

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



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

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



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

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


A successful, rewarding trip to Kenya

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

By: Dr. John VanLeeuwen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




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.