Kenyan Smallholder Dairy Veterinary Report - January 2023
By Dr. John VanLeeuwen
In January, 2023, the annual volunteer trips to Kenya as part of the partnership between Farmers Helping Farmers (FHF) and the University of Prince Edward Island (UPEI) began again after a 3-year pause due to COVID-19 restrictions. As part of this partnership, The “Atlantic Veterinary College (AVC) dairy vet team”, including myself and three senior AVC students, Karen Yetman, Kasadee Allan and Andrea Messina, left for Meru County, Kenya, with many suitcases and boxes full of veterinary medicine that were donated by veterinary pharmaceutical companies (thank you Bimeda, Boehringer, Merck, CEVA and Vetoquinol). These products were greatly appreciated by the veterinary team to enable them to provide suitable treatments for the animals they encountered. The students were enrolled in the fourth-year rotation called International Smallholder Dairy Health Management in Kenya.
The AVC dairy veterinary team gave dewormer to over 1,050 cattle, and checked over 210 animals from over 150 farms during the 3 weeks, all new records. Walk-in clinics were held for cattle that were not zero-grazed in three locations: Mbaaria, Kibirichia and for the first time in Nkando (photo below), a new region for FHF/UPEI with a strong desire to improve.
The dairy vet team had additional support from other Canadian volunteers at the walk-in clinics: 1) Dr. Jill Wood, the Chief Veterinary Officer for PEI, and dairy farmer; 2) Ben and France Vos, semi-retired dairy farmers from PEI; 3) Shauna Mellish, agricultural policy analyst in PEI; and 4) Victoria Mellish, a PEI high school student promoting the FHF school twinning program. At one point, there were actually 5 veterinarians among our FHF/UPEI team, including: Dr. Martha Mellish, an equine vet at AVC working on donkeys; Dr. Victoria Bowes, a poultry pathologist from British Columbia; and Dr. Daniel Muasya, a newly minted UPEI PhD in epidemiology from Kenya.
On the days without walk-in clinics, the vet team traveled to farms to check animals and provide health management information. 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 420 farmers received health management information and/or services from the efforts, another new record. The major health problems observed included infectious diseases, parasite infestations, udder infections and inadequate nutrition, with these problems leading to low milk production, poor reproduction and inadequate growth.
The dairy vet team was also joined by Kenyan animal health professionals on certain days: a) a Bimeda employee, Dr. Oscar Were; b) some veterinary technicians, Bernard Mururu, Simon Muchoki and Vincent Mwaki; c) a Nairobi University veterinarian, Dr. Daniel Muasya; and d) a Meru County livestock extension officer, George Kobia. These Kenyans provided their expertise when examining sick animals, shared their perspectives during training sessions, enjoyed learning our “best management practices” training messages for farmers, and learned from our systematic approaches to working up cases, diagnosing and treating ailments, and/or providing health management advice. Three Kenyan FHF staff, Brian Mutuma, Leah Kariuki and Stephen Chandi, helped with translation during the 8 seminars, 3 walk-in clinics, and dozens of farm visits, and benefited from additional continuing education in the process. Kenyan senior veterinary students from the University of Nairobi were unavailable this time due to scheduling changes but should be able to rejoin the group next year. Training Kenyan animal health professionals is an important component of the project, enhancing the sustainability and ongoing benefits of the project.
Overall, the January 2023 dairy vet team had a very successful trip, with many animals receiving treatment or prevention interventions, many farmers being educated and/or assisted, and many animal health professionals receiving training and practical experience. Two farmers demonstrate the cumulative benefits of the FHF/UPEI dairy efforts in Kenya. An Ngusishi dairy farmer, Gerald Mwiti, reported that he used to get 8 litres/day from 2 cows and now he is getting 37 litres/day from 2 cows. A Naari dairy farmer, Mary Nkatha (photo below), saw her milk double in volume with training, and it was very gratifying to see the positive changes on her farm, including excellent cow comfort, improved nutrition and reproduction, corn silage, and calf management.
Naari dairy farmer Mary Nkatha (left) with Stephen Chandi (FHF staff) and Dr. John
I look forward to returning to Kenya again in May 2023 with 5 Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Scholars (QES) to continue to partner with these dairy groups (and women’s groups and schools) in their goals toward improved productivity and self-sufficiency in an environmentally and socially responsible manner. Thank you again to all our supporters for their assistance in making this all possible. Special thanks go to Farmers Helping Farmers, long-standing partners with AVC/UPEI on these activities, for all the logistical support (especially Ken and Teresa Mellish). Also, we appreciate Global Affairs Canada, who provided much of the funding, and many veterinarians who donated funds to help cover expenses.