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Curious what backpackers do in Kenya? Discover travel destinations all over the world of travelers writing a travel blog on FindPenguins.
  • The last two days have been spent doing introductions and getting the lay of the land. We have met with the directors of the Meru Dairy Union, and yesterday we were toured around to four of the co-operative that we will be working with. It was fascinating to see the different topography from one side of Mount Kenya to the other. On the west side, it is quite flat and due to the drought, the town only has enough water for the next month. In contrast, the southwest corner is lush and tropical. It is an area with plenty of tea, coffee and bananas.
    Today we have one last meeting with the extension officers from the co-operatives to lay out their aspirations for us. After that we will meet up with Dr. John VanLeeuwen to see him in action. He has been doing seminars and farm visits in Kenya for 14 years through a joint effort of Farmers Helping Farmers and the Atlantic Veterinary College.
    We can't wait to see some cattle today!
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  • It was back to the town of Timau and the Mount Kenya Co-op today. Our first farm visit was quite productive. We looked at a number of cattle, everything from a very skinny calf to a cow that has not produced a calf in more than 2 years. One big factor to remember is that they are experiencing a drought, and feed is extremely scare. Some of the well prepared farmers are feeding silage (made from Napier grass or corn), but even those pits are getting empty. In theory, the rainy season starts at the beginning of March so everyone is looking forward to more available feed. Douglas was also battling a few cases of pneumonia, so hopefully those will clear up with the antibiotic treatments. The next visit was to Joseph, who is actually a vet technician. He began his farm only a few years ago, but it must be one of the top ones around. He even had mattress pads for 3 of his stalls! We spent quite a bit of time discussing stall design as he is hoping to eventually milk 30 head. We also discussed Ovsynch at length, as one of his cows just won't show him a heat. He was quite keen to try the idea of making silage out of Lucerne (alfalfa). He showed us how He chops his feed, and it was very impressive! No wonder his cows looked shiny and plump in comparison to many that we have seen.
    After a quick Fanta to revive us, we went to one last farm and checked a heifer. Finding out she was pregnant made that farmer's day!
    Back to the house, and Geoffrey walked with us down to the teachers college but we were 20 min too late to get through the gates. They have a basketball court that we were hoping to use, but perhaps another day. It was nice to be back at the house before dark for a change.
    We had also stopped at the Nakumatt, which is the big store in town. Imagine a Wal-Mart, but a quarter of the size. The Nakumatt carries everything from groceries to major appliances to clothing. You have to pass through a security check at the door, although I still am not clear what they are looking for.
    Kenya has embraced cell phone technology, and every Kenyan has one. The rates are cheap compared to Canada, and you can top up your data/minutes absolutely anywhere. Every tiny shop seems to sell the vouchers for one of the 3 major providers. I find that the service can be spotty, but overall fairly good. They also use the "m-pasa" which is a way of using your phone to transfer money from your bank account to another. This completely makes sense to me, as the Kenyan shilling has a lower value, so carrying cash around means you have a huge stack of bills, but they are not worth very much!
    Kenya has about 43 million people. For a country that can fit into Manitoba three times, that is a dense population! Even out in the very rural areas, there are always people around. Unemployment is high, and many seem to eek out a living just peddling wares at the edge of the road.
    Everyone that we have met have been very friendly and helpful, and I am amazed by how good the little kids English is! They are always happy to greet us whenever we pass by.
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  • We are on the way home from our first seminar and farm visit! The day started off with a meeting with about 25 various extension officers, and the local veterinarian. It was interesting to hear the synopsis of the problem areas. Some, such as repeat breeders and downer cows, are the same challenges we face in Canada. Mastitis exists world wide.
    After a big lunch, off we went to meet with the Buuri Dairy Group. Dr. VanLeeuwen was presenting a seminar to roughly 50 local farmers. The audience generated a long list of questions, and he worked his way down the chart as Steve translated between English and Swahili. The lady who was hosting the meeting had a beautiful farm. At 12 hectares, it is far larger than most. Claus and I agreed that we could happily live at this if we don't come back home - we are in Buuri!!
    We were able to look at a few cows afterwards, before heading back home for the night. The boys enjoyed getting out of the board rooms, and getting to see the animals. They've had long conversations with younger adults about life in Canada - and of course- soccer.
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  • More farm calls today! Got to a few more farms, but many of the cows we saw had chronic problems, that were not particularly fixable ie chronic mastitis but she is now dry. However, we did get to speak to many people about cow comfort and nutrition. We are looking forward to doing a seminar as that way we can get the messages out to so many more people.
    We treated one cow for hardware, and I will be curious if she is improved by next week.
    Just passing the elephant corridor - we have not been lucky enough to see them crossing but we hear they do on occasion. We did see a troop of baboons there this morning. There are so many animals being herded or grazed along the sides of the road, it is hard to believe we haven't hit one yet. Returning from Samburu, we witnessed a goat being hit by a car - it tumbled a few times then got up and ran away! Our driver Isaac said the same thing often happens to young boys! They also get up and run away!
    We travel around in a 14 passenger rattle trap of a van. At least we have room for our boxes of medicine, and we normally have about 3 or 4 Kenyans with us. I can't believe the places this van travels, and we have rarely had to push. Once you are off the highways, the roads are just barely wide enough for 2 small vehicles to pass. Often you encounter a Kenyan traffic jam, which is a slower moving cart pulled by donkeys or oxen. More than one taxi driver has asked in all seriousness if we use donkeys much in Canada. Trying to picture good ol' Ned pulling a cart..... he'd not have lasted long in this life.
    On the traffic note - the Kenyans fully recognize the degree of corruption in essentially all aspects of life. Our first exposure to it was while driving home. The police had set up a "roadblock​", charging each vehicle 100 KES to go through. After stopping our van, we were allowed to proceed. Our driver explained that it was because they saw we were white, and they knew if we reported it, their impromptu road block may get them into trouble!
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  • What a busy day - we managed to visit 10 different farms today, which was a feat considering one required a hike down a steep mountain side (through the burning piles of the local garbage dump). It was too steep and far to carry all the kits, so that requires a trip back up to the can for different meds once we diagnosed her problems ( metritis and mastitis). The farmers were friendly and gave the boys chairs to sit on in the shade, along with oranges and sugarcane to munch on. A highlight of the day was our final stop at Edwin's house, where we met his parents, uncle, and 3 milking cows. Edwin is 22, and works with Igoki dairy. He has been with us for the last 2 days, and he is a quick study in cow comfort! We are confident he has taken our advice to heart, and will be able to teach many farmers once we are gone. Edwin wants to come to school in Canada - he would like to learn veterinary medicine in order to help farmers in his country. We hope we can help him realize that dream.
    We were also joined by Leah and Kevin . Kevin is an agronomy intern at the Meru office - and an awesome soccer player! We remembered to bring a ball along today and the boys got Kevin to show us some of his skills between calls. Leah is our local coordinator for Vets Without Borders, and we enjoyed her company and translation skills. She is a good source of local dairy knowledge, as she grew up with cows. She had greatly increased our knowledge about Napier crops!
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  • (A word of warning: these posts are getting longer. Its because this is also my journal of our trip, so please skim, ignore, and skip over as desired! )
    Organization was the name of the game this morning - sorting out our jumbled medical kits and chaotic suitcases. Once the laundry was sorted (not yet done - I have done one big wash but it takes much longer by hand!), we headed off with Geoffrey for an adventure. Our first stop was at the equator, on the west side of Mount Kenya. While we have driven by the equator a number of times on this side, the town of Nanyuki had a bit of a tourist stop set up. Of course, we got the demonstration of how water flows in opposite directions in the Southern and Northern hemispheres. (hmmm....check out Coriolis effect. You be the judge.) But a cool demonstration nonetheless. Also a few souvenir shops there. Then it was on to lunch. Geoffrey had really thought about the kids and we arrived at the Trout Tree Restaurant, which was quite the place! The idea is you catch your rainbow trout out of a pond, and then the kitchen will cook it for you. Sadly, we were confounded by the drought....the water has been low for the past few months and while the fish were still present, they were thin and long. Fishing will resume in April. Highly disappointing. However, the restaurant itself was worth the trip. It was truly a treetop restaurant, complete with Colombus monkeys that invaded and snatched handfuls of French fries off the table next to us before the staff chased them off. A thunderstorm rolled through while we were eating - not sure high in a tree was the best place to be during that, but it all ended well. Our next stop was destined to be a camel ride for the kids; but again it was not to be. The camels had gotten old since Geoffrey had last been there, and now it was just horses. We decided to keep on our journey rather than ride, so it was back towards Meru. Just outside of town, we turned into the Mount Kenya reserve and headed up into the forest. As luck would have it, the one truck we passed and asked for directions had a Forrester in it! He was happy to take us to the "big tree" . It is an enormous tree, hollowed out, but still living. It took 6 of us to reach around the trunk, and the 8 of us could fit easily inside. On the path to it, there was plenty of elephant dung, but I was half relieved and half disappointed that we didn't encounter any en route.
    Our last stop was at a beautiful waterfall in a grassy valley, literally 2 minutes from downtown. We have noticed that there are very few green spaces for kids to play, but here was a lush valley, straight out of a movie set. Getting down the steep path was tricky, so I don't think it would be great for young kids but the stream was picture perfect fly fishing territory.
    After the quick Nakumatt stop to pick up supplies for tomorrow, it was back for another great meal and the arrival of Polly. Polly ( the daughter) is studying tourism in Nairobi and is going to practice her trade by accompanying us to the Meru Game Reserve tomorrow. As we leave at 5:30 am, that's all my writing for tonight!
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  • A sad moment....our last day with the Igoki group. We have enjoyed working with the group out here. We hope that their cooperative can grow big enough to have their own bulk tank storage, which would really help them deliver a quality product to the processing plant.
    We arrived early enough to visit three farms before the seminar. Our seminar was supposed to start at 10, but the first people drifted in closer to 11. We finally started at 11:45 with about 15 people in attendance, but the number quickly grew to over 40. We presented information on cow comfort, nutrition, reproduction, mastitis and calf rearing, and then we fielded questions for the rest of the time. We spent about 4 hours with the group. They expressed gratitude for the information, and invited us to return to their farms in the future. They offered prayers for our safe travels and for success with the knowledge.
    We headed back to the house for supper. I am not sure how much help I really am to Dorothy in making the meals, but at least I feel useful when I am chopping vegetables and washing dishes! I will have to try making some of these dishes at home...but not sure that I want to try cooking over the open fire in Manitoba right yet. Even if it is unseasonable warm!
    After supper, we walked down to Jess and Laura's house with our guard, Abdi. The girls moved in to a house just a short walk away this past week, which has been nice for getting together to prepare reports. We enjoyed an ice cold Tusker while counting the number of farms we have seen so far.
    Abdi is one of our two guards. They come at 6 pm and stay until 6 am. Having a guard is fairly standard for foreigners staying in local houses. They don't have weapons, just are a deterring presence in the yard. Most yards are enclosed with high fences, often topped with broken glass, spikes or razor wire. Petty crime (such as burglary) is the biggest risk here, not violent crime. Abdi is a Muslim, and has explained that the three things Muslims pray for are peace, health, and food. He says that groups like Al Chabob are not true Muslims, as they are not peaceful. Abdi has taken to coming up to the house a bit early to join in the soccer games before 6 pm, when he stops to do his prayers.
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  • Diagnosing dairy cows in the shade of towering Mount experience that should be had by all dairy vets. Our first visit was to Barnabas' farm - a relative newcomer to the dairy industry (2012) but someone who is keen and eager to improve. We were impressed by how he seemed to welcome our advice, even though we were suggesting things counter to the accepted methods in Kenya. While we we there to look at a mastitic cow and a fresh cow with low milk production, we noticed a cow with clear discharge...upon checking, she was not pregnant as thought, and will be ready for breeding today! Hopefully that will keep her days in milk down for him. He also was very progressive in trying to culture his mastitis cases, and use the appropriate antibiotic.
    The next farm we were at was a relatively large one - 15 acres. They also had chickens, ducks, goats, fish, and many other projects on the go. We recommended moving some heifers around to prevent bullying and give more equal access to feed. Lastly we drove through the foothills of the mountain to get to the Chairman's farm..but unfortunately he was not able to meet us. However, the vet tech with us was happy to show us our first East Coast Fever case which he had diagnosed yesterday at the neighbouring farm. (brown ear tick, lymphadenopathy, pyrexia, ulcers, for all you vet types reading this)
    Our day of calls was somewhat shorter than we had hoped due to a late start (van trouble and a traffic jam) and the fact that we have arranged for a late afternoon pick up by the safari company. But we will make it up on other days, I am sure!
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  • Most amazing moment of the day: our taxi showed up 10 minutes early!! We were supposed to leave at 7:30 to be at a meeting for 7:45, but as the closest to bring on time we have come is an hour and fifteen minutes late, I truly did not expect to see it until 8:30. What a surprise at 7:20. In fact, we hadn't even eaten breakfast. Then off we went to the processing plant for a quick meeting, then off to more farms. This time we were joined by local vet Dr.?? ,Nkirote (a 4th year university student), and Kevin. We covered a lot of ground today, with the first farm close to Meru. After that - it's anyone's guess! I know we were quite high on the mountain as there were many fields of tea being harvested. Then we wound our way down back into banana territory and ended up back at Igoki. Have I mentioned how beautiful it is?? We are amazed every day by the scenery. Think Gorillas in the Mist...steep canyons, little rivers winding their way through (Noah itching to toss a line into them).
    One memorable farm today was owned by Francis Habari. As of yet, it is than most well planned and nearly organized we have seen. He has a concrete storage shed for his silage, hay storage above, 2 milking units, and almost perfectly straight 2 by 4 construction! He was born and raised on the land he farms, however farming is his retirement project. He lives mainly in Nairobi and comes out to the farm regularly. It is a gorgeous property. He milks around 8 cows currently, but also has mangos, which he dries and sells. He was very keen to learn, and I was impressed by his knowledge base.
    Another farm had a problem common to Canada - hairy heel warts. Claus got to break out the hood knife we brought, and we used the tiny amount of VetRap in our kit to bandage the back hooves.
    Back home to the house now. We were expecting to meet Dorothy and Geoffrey's daughter Polly, but she was unable to come from Nairobi today. Geoffrey is on his way back from an overnight trip to the city, and we are looking forward to driving around the area with him on Saturday.
    One huge advantage of staying where we are is Dorothy's cooking. Amazing! We are eating all Kenyan meals. I wish I could pronounce or spell what the dishes are, but it is all delicious. Ugali is a big staple - kind of like very dense rice squashed into a clump. Better than it sounds! And the chapatis.....I hope to learn how to make those at home. They are so worth the effort. I will have to search for corn flour.
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  • Lots of farms today! We were back with the Igoki Dairy Cooperative, and Edwin had lined up 8 farms for us to visit. We made it to 7, but at 4:30 the rain started. It was brief, but enough to turn the red dirt roads slippery - they were concerned we might not make it back out from any more farms.
    As for the farms, we saw the full range today. Although we have seen numerous rail thin animals, there was one farm today that I had a hard time with. I wanted to leave the boys there for a week to help the lady get her feed trough clean and build a better stall for her only cow. Not possible; however, I will hope that the advice and medicine we left will help her gain a better foothold in life.
    On the opposite end of the spectrum, we visited the farm with the highest production in the region. He has 2 milking cows (one dry), and produces 33 L per cow each day!! His cows were well conditioned and shiny! He had three silage pits with maize, and a clean, comfortable pen. He was even feeding sunflowers mixed with his chopped Napier, maize and dairy meal.
    Another memorable moment was visiting a lady who had two milk cows. She was very grateful to us for checking her cows: one with mastitis and one that had a retained placenta months ago and just never took off in production. At the end of the visit, she served us tea - likely the best cup of tea I have ever had. Her tea leaves come from Mombasa (on the coast, towards the southern end of the country). Tea in Kenya is normally boiled with loose leaves, and made with plenty of steamed milk. They often have a thermos of tea ready for anytime throughout the day, and it is an important part of the culture to have tea with visitors. Children drink tea from the time they are old enough to sip from a cup.
    One thing that made me laugh today....while looking at a dewormer bottle, I noted it was labelled for "cows and camels". Not what we normally see!
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You might also know this place by the following names:

Republic of Kenya, Kenia, Kenya, Kɛnya, ኬንያ, كينيا, Keña, Кенія, Кения, Keniya, কেনিয়া, ཁེན་ཉི་ཡ།, Kenija, Kènia, Keňa, ཀེ་ནི་ཡ, Kenya nutome, Κένυα, Kenjo, Keenia, کنیا, Keñaa, Kenja, An Chéinia, A Cheinia, Quenia, કેન્યા, קניה, केन्या, Քենիա, Kenía, ケニア共和国, კენია, កេនយ៉ា, ಕೀನ್ಯಾ, 케냐, ເຄນຢ່າ, Кенија, കെനിയ, केनिया, ကင်ညာ, Khenya, Keeniyaa, କେନିୟା, Chenia, Quênia, Kenyäa, කෙන්යාව, Kiinya, கென்யா, కెన్యా, เคนยา, كېنىيە, کینیا, Kê-ni-a (Kenya), Kenyän, Orílẹ́ède Kenya, 肯尼亚, i-Kenya