FHF History – Promoting healthier dairy cows since 2004

Kenyan Smallholder Dairy Health Management Program 

By: Dr. John VanLeeuwen, Professor, Atlantic Veterinary College, University of Prince Edward Island 

Farmers Helping Farmers and the Atlantic Veterinary College at the  University of Prince Edward Island have partnered since 2004 to implement the Kenyan Smallholder Dairy Health Management Program. The goal of the program is to enhance the productivity, health management and animal care on smallholder dairy farms in Kenya.

The partnership began with Dr. John VanLeeuwen taking 3 senior veterinary students to work with the newly hired veterinarian, Dr. Ayub Kaniaru, at the Wakulima Dairy Self-Help Group.

FHF group travelling to Kenya in 2007

On that first trip in 2004, John packed suitcases with all the essential equipment and medicines needed for treating and preventing diseases. Ayub was extremely grateful for the new clinic supplies, making his activities much more efficient and successful. Ayub travelled to Canada later that year to get some on-the-job training at AVC, giving him additional experience and confidence  on modern veterinary medicine that is applicable to smallholder dairy farms in Kenya.  

Vet students in 2006

Each year since that first trip, John has taken 3 senior AVC students to work with Kenya dairy farmers to give the students an amazing veterinary and cultural experience while giving their time and efforts to benefit the farmers. In addition to those two sets of direct beneficiaries, the AVC “vet team” ensured that their efforts would be sustainable in the long term by providing training on cattle health management applicable to Kenya smallholder dairy farms to various Kenyan animal health personnel (i.e. veterinarians and veterinary technicians working in private practice, government, universities, pharmaceutical companies or Dairy groups, along with Kenyan veterinary students). These trips would include treating sick animals, doing herd health activities such as  pregnancy and mastitis checks, and giving seminars for 3 weeks, the duration of the hands-on courses that the AVC students take during their senior year. 

Walk-in clinic 2009

Each year, nearly 150 animals are examined for various health or productivity issues and over 600 cattle are dewormed from over 250 farms during the 3 weeks. The “walk-in clinics” are always a highlight, with all members of the vet team working cohesively to process  hundreds of cattle for deworming. The best part of the program is the hundreds of farmers who attend the seminars where information on how to prevent or treat various treatments is presented and discussed, along with how to provide better nutritional management and cow comfort/welfare for better milk production.  

On a farm in 2012

Each year, Canadian and Kenyan companies have provided medicines and testing materials in support of  the program, usually for free but if not, at reduced cost. These annual contributions typically total about  $45,000. Many thanks to Bimeda, Boehringer, Elanco, Merck, Vetoquinol, IDEXX, and Zoetis.

Walk-in clinic 2011

Two Kenyan dairy staff members of Farmers Helping Farmers are another important piece of the sustainability of these efforts.  

For the remainder of the year in between visits by Canadians, these staff members travel to farms, holding additional seminars and giving advice to farmers and the Dairy Groups on dairy farming, health management, and milk quality. Also, the training that the Canadians and Kenyans  provide is augmented by a Handbook for Kenyan Dairy Farmers which is written for farmers on dairy  cattle management in Kenya. To date, over 3,000 copies have been printed and distributes, and it is  freely available on the FHF website.  

The farmers are always very excited to have the vet team return each year, showing a very strong desire  for veterinary services and extension in these areas. The major health problems addressed typically  include infectious diseases (including East Coast Fever, anaplasmosis, and lumpy skin disease), parasite  infestations, udder infections and insufficient nutrition, leading to low milk production, poor reproduction and inadequate calf growth.

Improvements have been made on these problems over the years, with farmers reporting that their milk production is doubling, their cows are getting pregnant, and  their calves are not only surviving but growing much better. 

Another important part of the AVC-FHF partnership is the applied research projects that have been undertaken to better understand the bottlenecks to good cattle health, growth, and milk production. In response to this better understanding, these research projects have also included randomized controlled trials to evaluate methods of combatting disease and improving cattle management, for example cow comfort. In partnership with the University of Nairobi, John has supervised 15 Kenyans and 3 Canadians on research projects conducted on Kenyan farms, and most of these graduate students are enhancing research capacity in Kenya, which will benefit future generations of animal health professionals and dairy farmers. 

Kenya 2013

Since 2004, John has visited Kenya 29 times along with 73 Canadian veterinary students. He has also trained at least that many Kenyan veterinary students, and at least that many Kenyan veterinarians and veterinary technicians. 

The Kenyan and Canadian students always learn a lot from each other, and usually remain friends for years afterwards, which is very gratifying. It is also very encouraging to see significant improvements in farm management and production among farms visited during previous Kenyan trips.

The Kenyan farmers and animal health professionals are very grateful for our  efforts, often providing us with tokens of appreciation, such as mangoes, bananas, papaya, and passionfruit grown on their farms, and eggs from their chickens. Sometimes they even want to give us a chicken! The Kenyan farmers are so happy, despite their difficult living conditions, which helps  us to put things in the right perspective, and to appreciate and share what we have in Canada.

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