Kenyan smallholder dairy veterinary report | January 2023
Every year since 1980, a small contingent of globally minded Prince Edward Island volunteers belonging to Farmers Helping Farmers (FHF) has lived, worked, taught, and learned alongside local Kenyan farmers, researchers, health trainees, and their communities with the goal of helping them become more self-reliant in agricultural food production. In 2004, a partnership between FHF and the University of Prince Edward Island (UPEI) was developed to incorporate the support of a small veterinary team. This team from the Atlantic Veterinary College consists of a large animal veterinarian and up to three veterinary students enrolled in their fourth-year rotation called International Smallholder Dairy Health Management in Kenya. This year’s team included me, Dr. John VanLeeuwen, and three AVC students from the Class of 2023 - Karen Yetman, Kasadee Allan, and Andrea Messina.
In January 2023, the annual volunteer trips to Kenya resumed after a three-year hiatus due to COVID-19 restrictions. The AVC Dairy Veterinary Team left for Meru County, Kenya, with many suitcases and boxes full of veterinary medicine that were donated by several veterinary pharmaceutical companies. The pharmaceutical products were greatly appreciated by the veterinary team as they enabled them to provide suitable treatments for the animals they encountered. A special thank you to Bimeda, Boehringer, Merck, Ceva, and Vetoquinol for their generous support.
The AVC Dairy Veterinary Team gave dewormer to over 1050 cattle and checked over 210 animals from over 150 farms during the three weeks, which set new records in all categories compared to past visits. Walk-in clinics were held for cattle that were not zero-grazed in three locations: Mbaaria, Kibirichia, and, for the first time, Nkando.
The FHF / UPEI team recently started a partnership with schools, farmer and women’s groups in the Nkando region because of their strong desire to improve their food production and nutrition capabilities through methods that promote gender equity and environmental sustainability in the face of climate change challenges.
The AVC Dairy Veterinary Team had additional support from other Canadian volunteers at the walk-in clinics including; Dr. Jill Wood, chief veterinary officer for PEI and dairy farmer; Ben and France Vos, semi-retired dairy farmers from PEI; Shauna Mellish, agricultural policy analyst in PEI; and Victoria Mellish, PEI high school student promoting the FHF school twinning program. At one point, there were actually five veterinarians among the FHF / UPEI team, including; Dr. Martha Mellish, equine veterinarian, AVC, who worked on donkeys; Dr. Victoria Bowes, avian pathologist, Government of British Columbia; and Dr. Daniel Muasya, veterinarian, University of Nairobi, and AVC doctor of philosophy in epidemiology graduate (May 2023).
On the days without walk-in clinics, the AVC Dairy Veterinary Team travelled to farms to check animals and provide health management information. At each farm, numerous neighbouring farmers congregated, sometimes with a cow or calf in tow, 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 AVC Dairy Veterinary Team was also joined by Kenyan animal health professionals on certain days. These Kenyans included; Dr. Oscar Were, assistant national sales representative, Bimeda; veterinary technicians Bernard Mururu, Simon Muchoki, and Vincent Mwaki; and George Kobia, livestock extension officer, Meru County, Kenya. These professionals, all from Kenya, 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 eight seminars, three walk-in clinics, and dozens of farm visits. As a result of their participation, they benefited from additional continuing education opportunities as well. Unfortunately, during this visit, senior veterinary students from the University of Nairobi were unavailable to participate due to scheduling changes. We anticipate that they will rejoin the group next year. Training Kenyan animal health professionals is an important component of the project as it enhances the sustainability and ongoing benefits of the project.
Overall, the January 2023 AVC Dairy Veterinary Team had a very successful trip. Due to their efforts, many animals received treatment or prevention interventions, many farmers were educated and/or assisted, and many animal health professionals received training and practical experience.
To demonstrate the impact of the AVC Dairy Veterinary Team, I would like to share anecdotal evidence from two Kenyan farmers demonstrating the cumulative benefits of the FHF and UPEI team efforts. An Ngusishi dairy farmer, Gerald Mwiti, reported that he used to get eight litres of milk per day from two cows. As a result of the health management education and information he received, he reported that he is now getting 37 litres of milk per day from two cows.
Additionally, a Naari dairy farmer, Mary Nkatha, saw her milk double in volume due to the training she received. Personally, 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.
I look forward to returning to Kenya again in May 2023 with five Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Scholars. Together, we will continue to partner with dairy and women’s groups and schools in their goals toward improved productivity and self-sufficiency in environmentally and socially responsible manners.
Thank you again to all our supporters for their assistance in making this all possible. Special thanks go to Farmers Helping Farmers and their long-standing partnership with AVC / UPEI for their logistical support. We’d like to specifically thank Ken and Teresa Mellish for their continued support and expertise. Finally, we’d like to thank Global Affairs Canada, who provided much of the funding, and to all of the veterinarians who donated funds to help cover expenses.