2015 Blogs

Week 10 – Wednesday, 22 July 2015

Week 10 with the Naari Dairy Group – by Emily Egan

It’s been a while since I wrote a blog…And so much has been going on I don’t even know where to start!

We’ve been hiking on Mt Kenya, white water rafting on the Tana River, mountain biking in Segana, we’ve seen cows with cystic ovaries, endometritis, gangrenous mas titis, we’ve eaten tilapia (whole!) and some very strange and wonderful fruits, we’ve been to church several times, and we’ve watched the Lion King at least three times! It’s been a truly incredible summer…

Over the last 10 days or so, we’ve had an opportunity to spend some time with the highschool students who are here from PEI. We spent a morning with them at sports day at Buuri Secondary School, which was a lot of fun even though we were definitely not wearing the appropriate footwear! They also came out with us to visit a few local shambas and get a taste of how farming is done in Naari. And yesterday we went with them to the Naari Dairy Co- operative and Geoffrey gave us all a tour of the facilities there. The students all seem very enthusiastic about all of it and asked lots of good questions at the dairy. They appear to be having a great trip and making the most of the amazing opportunity!

Work has been going very well, we have only a handful of farms left to visit for the study, and then a few “freebies”. Over the last few weeks we’ve had a rotation of students from the other project staying with us, which has been very fun, plus it means Krista and I get to relax while the new girl does blood draws and palpations!


A typical farm in Naari

While Mira was here, we went on an adventure to the Lewa Conservancy to visit one of her friends who lives there. The directions we had to go on were the most amazing I’ve ever seen, and included instructions like “left 100m after euphorbia hedge” and “past more farms/rocks/s**t, turn right”. Obviously, we got very, very lost and it ended up taking us 3 hours to get to the house. Took us 20 minutes to get home. But the conservancy was gorgeous, and the people were lovely. We got to go for a swim in a spring while baboons played in the trees overhead! Even the drive was nice because it meant we got a great tour of the area!

Sarifa has visited us twice, and we’ve had a great time with her. She and I both bought milk cans from the dairy to take home as souvenirs, and I have to say that it was the best shopping experience I’ve ever had! We got to climb on the pile of feed sacks to reach the top shelf where the cans are stored. Talk about shopping till you drop!

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Gorgeous waterfall in the Ngarendare forest

Last weekend she was here and we all went with Salome, a FHF employee, to see a waterfall and suspension bridge in the Ngarendare forest. The water in the pool at the base of the falls was a beautiful silty blue and the falls were amazing. The park ranger told us that elephants visit the pool by sliding down the hills on their rumps. I was really hoping an elephant would come out of the woods and demonstrate, but no luck! And the suspension bridge through the treetops gave us a wonderful view of the surrounding area. At the end of the day we drove back through the Lewa Conservancy and pretty much had our own mini safari! We saw giraffes, zebras, antelope, and even a rhino way off in the distance! Our guide had incredible eyesight and could spot animals so far away that they looked like little specs of dirt on the window to me! And to top off an incredible day, we went to Jennifer’s for a sleep over and a delicious dinner with the group of high school students visiting from PEI.

Sarifa left this morning and Maggie was dropped off. As yet, we haven’t had any super exciting occurrences during Maggie’s stay, but I’m sure that will change! We did manage to visit 4 farms today and all the farmers were very generous. The first gave us a chicken (our fifth this summer!) which we then carried around for the rest of the day. The second fed us a very tasty lunch and tea, the third gave us hot milk (a first for me!), and the last gave us more tea. We are all very well fed and appreciative!


Maggie palpating a cow


The last 10 weeks have been a whirlwind of new experiences and great adventures with wonderful people, I feel so privileged to have been able to meet so many amazing people and learn from them some small part of Kenyan culture, farming, and community.

This is my last week in Naari, and I will certainly be sad to leave, but more adventures await and I’m very excited to visit Mukurwe-ini and see how things are done on the Vets Without Borders project!!

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Krista and Emily visiting with the VWB vet students and Dr. Shauna Richards and a local farmer


Week 5 – Wednesday, 24 June 2015

Week 5 with the Naari Dairy Group, by Emily Egan – June 24, 2015

Me again! We’ve officially completed 100 farm visits from our randomly generated list, and perhaps now would be a good time to describe what it is that we actually do on these shambas…

First of all of course we have to get permission from the farmer to use their information
in our project. Krista and I don’t really take part in this step because it’s usually in Swahili and, therefore, way over our heads. Once they’ve agreed to participate in the study we get to work. Most often the talking is again done by either Dennis or Joan, but sometimes one of the farmers will speak enough English that Krista or I can do the survey with guidance (and assistance!) from one of the others. When that is the case we ask a series of questions about the animals, their health, feed, living situation etc, and then we give the farmers a handout and talk to them about several topics related to animal husbandry. Otherwise we focus entirely on the cows and youngstock. We take their height and estimate their weight using the girth of their ribcages, then we give them a body condition score and thorough physical exam. If they’re zero-grazed cows, meaning they don’t leave the stall area, we take a blood sample to be used for lab tests later, and we measure and assess the stalls. For pregnant heifers and all cows, we do a rectal palpation to assess ovary status or confirm pregnancy, and we give hormone injections where required. For milking cows we also do a California Mastitis Test and treat any quarters that are infected. Finally, if deworming is needed we either do it for them or leave them with some dewormer to use at the appropriate time. Usually the whole process goes very smoothly, and we can be in and out of a farm in an hour, but sometimes there are more animals, the questionnaire takes a while, or the animals aren’t as cooperative as they could be.

For example, the other day at our last call of the afternoon, we were all very pleased to see that the farmer had only one cow and one heifer. They weren’t zero-grazed (so no blood and no stall measurements) but the woman had them corralled in a small pen. We all heaved sighs of relief that our last farm would be quick and easy, and Joan and I climbed into the pen with the halter to restrain the cow while Krista took notes and Dennis did the survey with the farmer. The cow really was quick and easy, she was fairly quiet and didn’t fight the halter at all, and while she did dance around a bit during the rectal palpation, we’re getting pretty used to keeping up. The heifer, on the other hand, was the craziest specimen of milk producing bovine I think I’ve ever seen! She must have been part Zebu and part wildcat.

We tried being nice, we tried being sneaky, we tried chasing her around the 20’ by 20’ pen for a quarter of an hour, we tried lassoing her, we tried to corner her, we even had Krista,
and Dennis in the pen to help. I honestly don’t know how we finally caught her, but she ended up with a rope around her neck dragging Joan around the enclosure until we got her tied to a post. Usually at this point the animal will calm down, once it realizes fighting won’t free it. Not this girl. She spun and kicked, and twisted till she nearly did herself an injury. The only information we were able to get was an approximation of her height and weight and a body condition score based on what we could see from a safe distance. And then, for reasons I will never understand, we decided that it would be a good idea to follow protocol and use an oral dewormer on her. In hindsight I think using the pour-on variety that we usually reserve for lactating cows would have been a better idea, but I’m sure this way was much more exciting!

Unfortunately, our Valbazen syringe only holds 6mL (normally just treating young cattle) and she needed about 14, so Joan had to be quick on the refill once Dennis, the farm owner, and I had the heifer restrained. Dennis lunged for the head and got her in a head lock while the farmer lady grabbed the halter rope and held on for dear life. I grabbed a hind leg to keep her from jumping. Or at least that was the theory, and on most animals that would’ve been enough, but Joan only had 12mL or so into her before chaos broke loose. I swear I’ve never seen a cow do a flip before that day, but that is exactly what she did. She kicked out with both back legs and landed on her back, neatly breaking the holds of all three restraint personelle and giving Dennis a good kick in both shins at the same time. But she got herself really tangled in the rope as she did it so we had to let her go to stop her from hurting herself…She never did get the last 2mLs of Valbazen, but we just couldn’t compete with a somersaulting cow!

Week 5

Krista preforming a rectal palpation.



Week 4 – June 13, 2015

Week 4 with the Naari Dairy Group. By Emily Egan – June 13 2015

Time flies here. I can’t believe I’ve been in Africa nearly a month already. The most obvious sign of time passing is the build-up of dust. While it was beautiful and lush and green when we first arrived, it hasn’t rained here in weeks and everything now has a thick layer of dust obscuring the original colours. Even us!
We’ve settled into a routine very well by now, with minor interruptions and alterations every day. Generally, we leave the house around 8 and pick up our guide who takes us to farms on our list. Vincent always makes us a delicious breakfast (all his meals are delicious, but I have to say, his chapattis are my favourite!) that holds us over till we find time to eat our lunch between farms. Since the second week we’ve been very careful to stow our sandwiches under the bench, because they mysteriously disappeared one day and we went 12 hours with only a cup of tea from one of the farms! Fortunately the farmers are very generous, so we usually don’t go hungry whether we bring lunch or not.

By about 5 pm, we’ve usually visited 6 farms and we’ve been bounced around in the back of the gypsy enough to make our heads spin, so we call it a day and head for home. Vincent usually has tea ready and waiting but we all feel (and, undoubtedly, look) too filthy to want to put anything in our mouths right away, so we go out for a walk before it gets too dark. Well, Dennis and I walk, the other 2 jog to keep up! Then we spend our evening eating wonderful local meals cooked by our wonderful chef, doing data entry, separating blood samples, and playing cards. Crazy 8s is the current favourite, although Go Fish is a close second.

This week we’ve had several unexpected, but entertaining, deviations from our routine.

1. The gypsy, which we have dubbed Goliath, has been steadily deteriorating in health ever since John left. First the restraining chain on the door broke so it swings wildly whenever it’s opened. That’s not such a big deal except that we’re worried it might snap the whole door off if we’re not very very careful. We also can’t open the passenger side door from the inside anymore, which isn’t such a big deal since the window doesn’t close anyway. As well, the back door no longer closes properly, so we’ve jury rigged a system that consists of a piece of cord tied around the leg of the back seat, and we tie the door shut with a quick release knot around the door handle. And finally, yesterday the battery died. I know that doesn’t sound like that big of a deal, we do have jumper cables after all, but the real problem was that we couldn’t figure out how to open the hood. It took 6 of us over an hour to do it… We even tried pushing the car down the hill to try and start it that way, but once we found the button in the glove compartment we got everything sorted out in no time! And besides, it’s cars like Goliath that make driving

2. In a totally unrelated change of routine, yesterday (Friday) we quit work early to go to Meru Gakoromone Market with Geoffrey, the chairman of Naari Dairy. It was incredible in so many ways! First of all, the volume of traffic was unbelievable, people everywhere, but everyone knew what they were doing and even though to an outsider it looked like total chaos, nobody got in anyone else’s way and everything ran very smoothly. And the fruit!!! Geoffrey took us to the fruit section I guess, because every square inch of ground was covered in piles of exotic fruit! There were literally mountains of watermelons, papayas, mangoes, oranges, nectarines, bananas, cassava, avocado, arrow root… Jaw dropping. We filled the back of Geoffrey’s car with our purchases, and as if having all of that available wasn’t good enough, we got it for about $10. I was in heaven!

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Market day!

3. Geoffrey came over for dinner last night as well. It was very nice to have company for a change, and he’s a very entertaining man so we had a good time. He calls me Kendi now, because Joan and Dennis decided that was my Kenyan name and they told him. He seemed to enjoy the idea of giving me and Krista new names.  He also found out that we’d seen camels in the Naari market the other day, so he took us to the Meru Agricultural show today. It was very interesting. There were booths and tents representing all sorts of schools, agencies, businesses, etc. There was even a pavilion from a prison that was filled with beautiful woodworking and paintings. And of course there were camels. We even got to ride one! It was an interesting
feeling, much much higher than I would’ve expected, and not nearly as ungainly feeling as camels look! But of course, if people hadn’t been looking at us while we were walking around, they were all watching us 10 feet in the air! Not only that, several people thought it was worthy of pictures and videos! It was totally worth it though just to say I’ve ridden a camel!

Tomorrow, being Sunday, we’ve agreed to go to church with Solomon, the vicechair of the dairy. And after that, Geoffrey’s meeting us to take us to a football game that is somehow related to our project. I think maybe John donated the jerseys or something. All in all, it should be a good end to another great week!

Week 4



Week 3 – June 7, 2015

Week 3 with the Naari Dairy Group. By Emily Egan – June 7 2015


So much happens here every day that I could type for hours and still have more to talk about! Maybe I’ll just give a little overview of some of the highlights of the things I’ve seen and done here in Kenya so far.

I think the most incredible part of my trip so far has been the amazing people I’ve met. Everyone here is so kind and thoughtful, generous and caring. Farmers with very little to live on somehow manage to offer us tea and snacks when we visit their homes. Geoffrey, the chairman of Naari Dairy, and Jennifer, our ‘Kenyan mother’ are both wonderful individuals who are trying their very best to make us feel at home and comfortable in this new environment. Even the people who I don’t meet but just see in passing are nice! Everyone here smiles at us and wants to shake our hands. The kids all run over to greet us and practice their English on us. Whenever we go out for walks we usually end up with a group of school kids following after us and asking “how are you?”. Kenyans really are incredible people, and I’m very grateful for this opportunity to interact with them.

During the week, the 5 of us drive to farms to ask the farmers a series of questions and examine and treat their cattle. Now, having lived in Canada all my life, I know that to most Canadians the term “driving” doesn’t imply much excitement. That’s where you’d be wrong. With John driving and a guide in the passenger seat, Joan, Dennis, Krista, and I sit in the back of the gypsy with our little traveling vet clinic and bounce and jostle and bump our heads and giggle all the way from farm to farm. Some of the roads are quite flat and even (but even then it was tricky because they drive on the opposite side of the road here), but most of the places that we took our poor truck were a cross between a footpath through a forest, and a dried out river bed. Generally I don’t think of sitting in a car as being much fun, but I can’t help laughing and smiling whenever we get into the gypsy. And then we get to a farm and the fun continues! I’ve learned so much in the last few weeks, I don’t even know where to start… This has been an incredible experience both from a vet medicine standpoint and a cultural one. I’m gaining a new perspective on virtually everything as I interact with the people here and learn from them and the way they live, and I’ve also had a very steep but rewarding learning curve in bovine medicine. I’m learning to do very thorough physical exams, body condition scores, housing evaluations, venipuncture, and rectal exams to check for ovary status and pregnancy. Maybe that’s too much information for this blog, but it’s been a phenomenal experience for me. The last few weeks have really made me aware that this is truly what I want to do with my life.

On the weekends we more or less relax. John, Joan, and Dennis left for Nairobi yesterday morning, so Krista and I are here alone for the weekend. It was a very strange feeling having just the two of us in the house. It felt like we were little kids again whose parents had left for the first time. We decided to go shopping in Meru for a few hours, and on the way there we saw ELEPHANTS!!! It was awesome. There were 12 or 13 or more off to one side of the road so we stopped and got out and took a million photos of them and just stood there amazed that we are so lucky to be here and see these things! Eventually Charles convinced us to continue to town so we said goodbye but I couldn’t keep the smile off my face for the rest of the day!

Making supper was an adventure in itself as well! We would’ve just eaten sandwiches, but we’re supposed to feed the guards as well so we didn’t want to disappoint them! We successfully made rice and vegetable stew, but because I hate matches and Krista hates propane stoves it took us several tries to get started… Plus we didn’t really recognize many of the spices and seasonings so it was a bit of an experiment! But it was edible, if not delicious, so I think it went well. And then we watched the Lion King before bed.

Joan and Dennis should be back this evening, until then I’m going to relax and enjoy the beautiful sunshine, the tropical trees and flowers, and the bird songs and other unidentifiable noises! And then on Monday we’ll start all over again meeting new and wonderful people and learning new and wonderful things!



Week 1 – May 21, 2015

Week 1 with the Naari Dairy Group. By Krista Simonson – May 21 2015

It’s been a week since we’ve first arrived in Kenya for our three month long summer internship working on a project involving small holder dairy farms.

Today was a day like no other. It started off with a spectacular, albeit nerve wracking; trek up a mountain in the Suzuki Gypsy whom we have affectionately named Goliath. We dodged jagged rocks and eroded soil tracks all the way up the steep dirt road for what felt like an hour. I was very entertained by our off-roading adventure. Luckily we got to the highest point that we had to travel and then slowly descended back down to our destination farms. The view on top of the mountain was breathtaking. The first farm we were at was built into the side of mountain and there was beautiful landscape in every direction as far as you could see.

After visiting our first few farms we slowly made our way back down the mountain. Since John (Vanleeuwen) wanted to unload the weight from the back of Goliath so he’d have an easier time driving, the four of us walked from farm to farm, trailing Goliath’s path. That is when the most beautiful thing happened that left tears in my eyes, a smile on my face and an undeniable sense of joy in my heart.

On our way to our 3rd farm we passed by a school yard full of children. As soon as they saw us “white people” they ran as fast as they could from the opposite side of the large school yard. I heard shrieks of delight and laughter as they approached us on the other side of a barb wired fence. As they got within touching range, I reached my hand over the fence to shake hands with the children. At first there were about 10 or 15 but then more and more kept coming and in less than a minute there were probably more than 50 of them all reaching out to shake or touch my hand. The happiness that they expressed when I touched their hands was heart-warming. I couldn’t help but laugh with them and warm tears came to into my eyes. At that moment I felt like a rock star shaking hands with dozens of admiring fans. I’m sure the entire population of school children would have come to the fence if they had been allowed to (and some were still desperately attempting to run towards us before we left). Instead a teacher came and sent them back to their classes. I truly think that the amazement and enjoyment that we brought to those children just by reaching over the fence to shake their little hands, was one of the most special and heartfelt moments we will ever get to experience.

It is not uncommon for farmers to offer us tea or chapattis to show their appreciation to us for coming to their farm. Today however, we were given a gift that put a smile on our faces and made us feel laughter in our stomachs. It was a Rhode Island Red Hen. Yes, a chicken. We were given a chicken today! We graciously accepted our clucking gift and I sat her on my lap until we arrived at our sixth and final farm of the day. We left her in the back of Goliath with her legs still tied together. I was told she wouldn’t go anywhere. When I went to check on her however, she had gotten one of her legs free and when I opened the back door she made her escape out the window, leaving behind fresh chicken droppings on the seat. When I told the others what had happened, the adults of the farm we were at sent their oldest daughter and son to fetch our chicken. The children were about 10 and 12 years old and I thought for sure that our chicken would never be caught. Much to my surprise, the children had the bird caught in under a minute. They brought her back to me and even helped me tie her legs back together. In a way, I kind of

wanted to let her get away but it touched my heart to see how eager the children were to retrieve our escaped chicken. When we got back to the house, I wanted to let her go free in our yard or give her to a nearby family. Vincent (our cook) said that chickens were a lot of work to feed and take care of and suggested that we slaughter and cook her. John was there and gave us three options. We give her away, we let her loose or we eat her. So, apparently on Monday we are having fresh free range chicken.

The experiences I’ve been having since arriving in Kenya just one week ago have been amazing. Only once, since arriving did I feel uncomfortable and more times than I can count, people made me feel welcomed, appreciated and safe. I think I will enjoy my summer here. Even though I am missing time away from Kyle (husband) and our furry family, I feel that the experiences that I am gaining here will not only benefit my career endeavors but it will help me grow as a person, and help many Kenyan farmers all at the same time.

Week 1