Keeping many balls in the air

An overview of a transdisciplinary program in Kenya
Thursday, June 29, 2017
(L-R) Julia Kenny, Emily Kathambi Kiugu, Joan Muraya, and Ren Chamberlain in Kenya

by Dr. John Vanleeuwen, Professor of Epidemiology and Ruminant Health Management, Department of Health Management, AVC

In May, Kenya moves into the cool season, but the activity level was anything but cool this past May for those involved in the Queen Elizabeth Scholar (QES) program. The QES team consisted of six Kenyan graduate students involved in training and research projects to complete their Master’s or PhD degrees, four Canadian undergraduate students (two veterinary and two nutrition) helping them, and translators, drivers, and local people hired to help find farms.

There were lots of moving parts—one morning, six vehicles left from the houses we rented, with people involved in different parts of the project going in different directions. After completing required course work in Canada over the past year or so, the Kenyan graduate students were eager to get back to their country to see their loved ones and to begin the field research that complements the efforts of Farmers Helping Farmers (FHF) to improve milk production, food security and nutrition, and overall livelihoods of Kenyan farm families in Naari, Kenya.

Here is an update:

Dennis Makau and Joan Muraya, veterinary PhD students from Kenya, continue monthly visits to train and conduct research on cow nutrition and cow reproduction on 100 dairy farms, respectively. With the drought that occurred last year and continued until March (good rains for the last two months), even farmers following recommended practices have run out of good quality stored feeds for their cows. However, the high-protein shrub seedlings distributed to farmers in early 2016 are doing well on most of the farms that received them, helping to keep cattle protein intakes at a reasonable level. Milk collections at the Naari Dairy have remained at 4000 litres per day, despite the drought, and should go up substantially with the recent rains. Unfortunately, reproduction, which is the first thing to get hit with droughts, has suffered during the last year, with fewer cows showing heat, being bred, and conceiving, despite efforts to enhance uterine health and ovarian cycling. Again, breeding success should improve with the recent rains as animals’ body condition scores improve with better feeding. Monthly data collection and advice on improving nutrition and reproduction should quantify on-going costs and benefits of the training and resources provided.

Emily Kathambi Kiugu, a veterinary MSc student from Kenya, initiated her training and research project on cow comfort on 100 dairy farms. Emily will go to each farm four times. On the first visit, she gets baseline information on cow comfort, including stall design features and management, and she attaches accelerometers to the cows’ legs for three to five days to get lying-down times. On the second visit, she removes the accelerometers and gives specific oral and written advice on how to improve cow comfort with low-cost changes in design and management. A month later, on the third visit, she will reassess stall design features and management, and re-attach the accelerometers. A few days later, on the final visit, she will remove the accelerometers and address stall changes left undone. One farmer started hammering some boards to renovate a stall according to the recommendations while we were washing our boots, which demonstrates the desire of these farmers to improve their farms.

Julia Kenny and Ren Chamberlain (AVC Class of 2019), the 2017 QES veterinary interns, are helping with the veterinary projects above, and they are also involved in a training and research project around silage. They are collecting information about farmers’ knowledge, attitudes, and practices around making and feeding silage. FHF has been promoting and facilitating silage-making so farmers have good quality feed even during the dry season. In this part of Kenya, the silage fed to cattle is primarily corn silage. Very few farmers were feeding silage because of the light rains during the last year prior to March 2017 (having exhausted their silage stores), and because of the good rains now (they have lots of fresh feed to give now). However, many farms now have some silage or are making silage for the upcoming dry season. As the summer unfolds, the interns will be able to assess silage quality and ongoing feeding practices. These interns will also be providing advice to these farmers on silage making and feeding, along with other health management recommendations appropriate for the farm.

The veterinary graduate students and undergraduate students are accompanied by two UPEI nutrition undergraduate students, two nutrition graduate students, and one graduate student involved in program evaluation. This group is working on three other research and training projects looking at the farm family benefits from the improved animal health, welfare, and productivity (and income) on the Naari farms, such as human nutrition (e.g., drinking more milk) and gender equity and empowerment.

Together, the group of 10 undergraduate students and another 10 local support people are making great strides in these research project, and sharing stories and cultures, while the local farm families are enjoying their company, learning from the training provided, and benefiting from the resources provided by the project. A success story all around!

Anna MacDonald
AVC External Relations Officer
Atlantic Veterinary College
(902) 566-6786
Contact UPEI