Thursday, October 18, 2012

New classrooms at Ruuju Primary School

Farmers Helping Farmers used the funds raised last year by Caitlin McCarthy from Florenceville, NB to finish two new classrooms at the Ruuju Primary School.

Both of these classrooms badly needed to be replaced. The school received some funds from the Kenyan government which were used to build the walls up to the lintal stage (top of the doors).   But there was not enough money to finish the construction.

So we used the $2000 left over from Caitlin's fund raising efforts from last year to finish the classroom.  Her funds paid for the rest of the walls up to the roof plus the cement floor as well as the windows and  doors .     Farmers Helping Farmers contributed some money from general fund raising to get tables and benches built for the children.    We kept the old roof.   As usual, Jennifer Murogocho did a great job supervising the construction.

Now the children have a dry, safe place to study. And they even have a new blackboard.  In the photos, the head teacher is standing outside the classrooms.  And in the other picture, the teacher Damaris Kiminya is working with the students in one of the classrooms.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Part III

"I cannot believe I finally know the right and best way to be feeding the cow and calf. I have also learned a lot about the expensive napier grass, where it is so expensive it is crucial for me to know how to get the most of it or when to not give it as much, when things like your dairy meal is better. What can we say? You treated our animals, you provided us with cash in hand and with ways to get more cash, you gave us feeds, advice, kind words, help always. We didn't think we would understand or be able to know the prevention and easy treatment for some sickness we deal with every year, with every calf. The hygiene has improved because you have told us we have to! The cow is happier to be cleaner, we now see this. As for the photo you have given us, we will frame it right away, it will go with our family photos."

On their photo...
Husband "Phew, look how handsome I am. I think I should regrow my beard"
Wife " Whay…look at me!"

Everyone at this farm, from the animals to the farmers, were extremely pleasant and so kind. We really looked forward to our weekly check-ins with them and were pleased to see the health of their cow increase. They had always had a recurring problem with mastitis with this cow and this year we were finally able to help them break this cycle. They were thrilled that after the first treatment the cow got better and stayed better. A lot of times when you showed up at this farm you would assume no one was there, but your stuff down and kind of sigh that we'd have to wait, but then out of no where one of them or both would come running, out of breath, often with napier grass or some other harvested goods in tow. There was no stall for this cow, so the farmer would have to tie up its head to the feed trough and then tie its legs together to prevent it from kicking us. He would often be caught saying "come on, come on!" to the cow while trying to milk it admist the cow's attempts to kick or butt him. The calf pen at this farm was quite unique, as it was obviously a previous part of their home (a small shack) but they had converted it to a kind of luxury apartment for the calf. It had a good deal of room and was one of the few we had that never suffered from pneumonia. They were both thrilled with their photo and spent a good deal of time arguing over who looked better in it. The husband felt he looked very handsome, while the wife continued to argue that she looked more regal, striking the pose she had in the picture for effect. We'll miss this couple dearly and wish them all the best in their continued pursuits at farming.


"I have learned about how to feed the cow and calf and have been given a lot of good instruction especially on things I have never used before like pellets and minerals. I now know some of these things must be fed according to milk yield, or to produce more milk, so in the future I shall be using more things than I was before for the cows and calves, like vitamins, I was feeding way too little. I have also been much aided by dairy meal, I am overall so grateful to the project."

Like the farm we mentioned previously, this farm had a knack for being MIA. We got so confused as to who even owned the farm, as there was someone different there every time, claiming to be a wife, wife's sister, friend, neighbour, etc. A few times there was not even a soul there and simply a detailed note with all the answers to our questions on it. The funniest part of this, was that in true Kenyan style, we would often run into the actual farmer while driving to our next farm, during a bypass through a very small town consisting of only a few shops in a row, most notably the bar he was often at (here bars do not always mean a place to consume alcohol, they seem to also be common hangout spots during the day). Yet again, one of those funny things we will never forget about life in Kenya. This farm was often quite clean, especially in comparison to the usual pens here, but the calf grew so quickly that its pen soon became noticeably too small. Jen kept worrying that one day we'd arrive to find the calf missing, as it could easily had jumped the pen and taken off. This farm was also notable for its location, which was literally on the side of the the hill, barely even level enough to maintain the pen. When crossing over the little bridge cut into the side of the hill to reach the calf pen, a slip of food would have meant a more or less vertical fall into what we can only presume was a good sized river below. We say presumed as no matter how many times we tried to photograph or see the river we could never even make it out amongst the dense vegetation. On our last visit, when we came out of the farm gate we were astonished to find Frederick's car parked in the most bizarre angle we've ever seen. The car was leaning so badly to the right that Jen thought Frederick had either jacked up the tire or put a spare on, it was a good foot from the wheel well. Often while we were at this farm, if it was Frederick's turn to battle the steep hill, while doing our visits we would continuously hear the sound of him revving the car over and over and subsequently sliding down the hill, only to reach the bottom and begin revving the engine a new. The one and only good thing about saying goodbye to this farm was knowing we didn't have to drive there again, and that Frederick's car may live to see another day!


"Before this project, I was feeding commercial food to only feed the animal but know I see that I can change the feed depending on the milk production. I now have the knowledge to feed my animals well and better than before so that they can produce more milk, which makes me and the cows happy. I am also very happy that the calf is so big, so healthy and so smart. He is growing very fast."

These farmers were former teachers of Priscilla, so we immediately had a fond bond with them. They were both also always clad in lab coats, again, of unknown origin as neither of them worked for any lab related company (seen in the photo). One of the funniest moments at this farm, occured after the first few weeks of return visits when after having to remove the nails from the boards at the front of the calf pen to get in (quite a production, the farmer would come out with a crow bar and detach the boards one by one, once even falling backwards at the force when he couldn't get one of the boards fully off), we finally got up the courage to politely ask how exactly they usually got into the calf pen, as they had stated that they cleaned it daily and we just couldn't believe it. The wife quickly walked over to the side of the pen (which was actually the goat pens attached to the calf pen) and swung her leg over the top of it and walked into the calf pen. Oops. Here we had been struggling and causing all this chaos only to find out we could have just easily climbed in. This calf was huge right from the get go, when we showed up for the initial visit we were shocked to find it 84 cm girth wise and 81 cm in height. Phew, our biggest calf to start off for sure. As he was a bull calf he was also from the start quite head strong, and during one of the times we finally asked them to take him out of the pen for measurements, Jen literally rode him around the yard trying to measure him. This was also one of the only farms to be 100% exact in their food measurements and when we asked them how much feed they had remaining we often ended up being escorted into their living room and shown the physical bags of feed. This made our job (ordering them food) a lot easier than the other farms, where rough estimates like "Oh, 1/4 of a bag left" could actually mean, there's about half a bag left. These farmers always made the point of taking us out to the road and waving good bye to us the entire time we were driving off. Our last memory of them was exactly this, looking back out the car window and seeing them by this point a faint dot, waving and smiling goodbye.


"Our cow is producing more milk, that is for certain. I now have an idea how to feed her as well! The calf is healthy and so very good."

This farm was quite notable for how expansive the farm was. At first glance it seemed quite small, or well, an ordinary size for Kenya. But upon second look and especially once the calf arrived, we had to travel down a hill to get to its pen and discovered a good deal of animal stalls in a row. They contained quite a few good sized and nosy pigs, who were often in the midst of being fed by the farmer's mother while we were there. They also had goats and chickens, along with some animal we have yet to fully identify. Morgan thinks they are probably a peculiar bred of sheep but Jen is convinced they look too strange to be any sheep we know of. At the end of the project, Jen gave the farmer one of her sweaters as a departing present and the woman was so grateful. She put it on immediately and told Priscilla she didn't intend on taking it off any time soon. This will come in handy as people always seemed to be cold whenever we spoke to them. I guess what seemed like spring weather to us is in reality their winter and we often got questions about just how cold it is in Canada (they assume it is below freezing year round and had a hard time believing it was actually currently warmer in Canada than it was here in Kenya - we often heard that if people here were subjected to Canadian weather they would 'up and die'). This was one of our youngest couples and we wish them all the best in their lives in dairy farming and other production animal farming.


"I am feeding my cow well and for the first time I milk three times a day. Before I only did this twice a day and I am so happy to be doing three milkings because you taught me it helps with the hygiene of the udder and teats and also, more money for me! I never knew how much money I could get from my milk! I also never knew before how much my cow was producing but now I know how many litres a day and it is exciting for me. Keeping the cow is now like a job just for me, and I can earn more than I was before ever. I can assist my husband in paying for my daughter's school fees and also now have pocket money. I would like to teach other farmers the things you have taught me and assist them in becoming better farmers like me."

Upon entering this farm, it was impossible not to notice the vast array of laundry which always seemed as though it had just been done. Walking to the farmer's front door meant making your way through three, sometimes four lines of laundry, ducking and weaving in and out of a variety of wet clothing. This farmer was a keen learner and took to our advice about most things with quite a passion. She was so proud of how much she had learned over the course of our visit and couldn't wait to share what she had learned with others. One funny thing was that she kept her food invoices in a very old, ragged Atlas. Who knows what the world looked like in that version of it, as it was quite an old one, but it only spoke further to her intentions to educate herself to the best of her ability. She spoke at great length about the effect this project had on her, how she would be able to contribute to her daughter's educations costs and bring in as much money (or more!) than her husband. She was very fond of the idea of the cows becoming her 'job' and very much liked the profession, it suited her well. The calf was a bit of a difficult one to work with for sure and often Jen dreaded approaching it to get its measurements, because this meant getting the calf out of the pen, which also meant that it would somehow get lose from its leash and go trashing down the hill, which was lined with barbed wire. In the photo, the calf was doing exactly this, which meant it at least stayed still enough to even be in the photo. The farmer's other calf however, a year old heifer, was one of the friendliest animals we dealt with, so we continued to question what had happened to her other calf to make it so wild. This was yet another farm we severely struggled to get a decent photo at, our farmer could just not come to terms with the smiling aspect of the photo (even though when the camera was absent a smile constantly light up her face) and the calf being stuck in the bushes didn't make things much easier. I guess we should have used our strategy of hugging to get her to smile, but there wasn't really enough room for us to all be in the photo as it was.


"I want to thank you so very much for all that you've done for us. You have taught me so much and now I have taught my mother these things I have learned."

This farm takes the cake for being the hands down, most awkward, painful and confusing calf pen. It was obviously constructed as a goat pen, and while it was nice that the calf was in such close proximity to the mother it was near impossible to get into, let alone do our work in. Morgan hit her head countless times and we both felt like our back was breaking a bit trying to crouch down to get into the pen. Jen even ripped a hole in the seat of her pants trying to get in. Getting out wasn't much easier, as it required some rock climbing tricks we had learned at Mt. Longonot, where you had to kind of suspend yourself and slowly lower your foot to a place where you could get some footing. Most memorable about this farm was probably the "I love Kenya" written in graffiti on the side of the house when you entered. It was located on quite a hill, so when you had to walk there the only way to tell you were finally there was by spotting their beautiful and intricate fence, which Jen had to get a photo of. This farm was Morgan's first viewing of a guava tree and she was intrigued by its fruits and leaves. Sadly, we never got to taste the fruits of this spectacular tree, but it was quite neat to see one after having eaten so many here. We were so happy to get a true smile in this photo, we didn't even have to ask. Yet another of our farmer's who was obviously very content to see us every week and happy with the chance she had been given to be part of the study.


"We have learned how to feed cows after you leave and will know how to feed to get more milk. Our milk production has gone up a lot this season and the calf is growing very quickly. We often cannot afford to buy such things as dairy meal or especially calf starter, but now we will consider their use in the future as they help increase milk production and make the calf grow faster, so we can sell it faster for more money."

We both loved this old couple. They were just, adorable. On a side note, the man from Montreal that we spoke of before, popped up at this farm one day saying this couple was his parents (hummm) when it appeared he had somehow tracked us down to ask again about how to get his cow pregnant. During one visit, Godfrey and this mystery man got in quite the heated debate about the different types of 'africans' and which category this man fell under. Quite the hilarious conversation to be privy to, our couple was even caught smirking at this. They were both so eager to help out with the physical exams, the old man often restraining the cow by scratching its head or back (it was a pretty tame cow) and the woman loved to cuddle the head of the calf while we did the measurements. One of our favourite memories at this farm was Silvia convincing Pauline to conduct rectal exam without a palpation sleeve when the cow had bloat. Silvia had called Pauline a chicken when she had at first refused to do it which lead to one of our funniest moments with girls. This was one of our happiest veterinary-related experiences, as the cow during one visit was so sickly (Jen feared it would not survive) but we were able to restore it to health after a few treatments. We were so pleased to say goodbye to this farm with the calf and cow in such good health. We often ran into a group of women on this farm. One woman in particular was sure that if she learned a bit of English we would deworm her cows. Priscilla spent a lot of time trying to explain to them why we couldn't go back and treat their animals but this didn't stop their visits. One day, while driving on another farm route, we ran into the old man from this farm and he was really hoping to get our cell number, so he could "ring us in Canada". Again, as was the case often, Priscilla was left to explain the impossibility of this request, one she would only continue to have to explain to other farmers as our visits began to wind down.


"My cow is now producing more milk, I am benefitting a lot by the lesson on milking technique and you teaching me good information the whole time you have been here. I know how to feed my calf now! Before I did not."

How could we write about this farm without mentioning the children associated with it. After the first few visits, it finally made sense to us why the address of the farm (which was really only the district it belonged to) was labeled 'P'ry', because it was behind a primary school. This meant a ton of onlookers for many of our visits, who were shocked when we took blood, disgusted during the rectal, astonished by the thermometer, and terrified of the soap we used to wash off before leaving. Jen got in a serious soap fight with some of the older girls during one visit, and Priscilla later told her that one of the girls had been quite upset over having the soap on her arm, as it was a very white milky soap and the girl was concerned she would become white. This farm was extremely organized and clean. It looked like someone had always just swept the entire place before we arrived, which is quite the feat given it was entirely made of dirt and mud. This was another of our calves that had the luxury of living indoors, although unlike the other farm, he was not the only one living in the apartment, there was a bed frame with a jacket strewn over the springs in one corner. Upon leaving, this farmer told Morgan that she prayed for us every night, yet another source of personal blessing we received during our stay here.


This farm was another good source of veterinary related experience, but unlike our other experiences, this one had nothing to do with cattle. During one of our first visits, Jen was photographed with a very, very small kitten, and the calf. A few weeks later, during a return visit, Jen found this kitten again, in very poor condition. We're unsure still if this is even this farmer's kitten, but they consented to her taking it to treat it, as she was terrified of trying to deworm something so sick and then taking off, being unable to follow it up during those crucial first few hours/days after treatment. The kitten had such a bad worm burden it was exhibiting neural signs, wobbling around the chairman's house and shaking his head constantly. In addition to this, it was missing hair from its shoulders, neck and head region, along with a good portion of its belly. In the end, things worked out wonderfully. After a good deal of extensive care, the kitten greatly improved. He is now fit to be reintroduced to Kenyan life. Things to note about this farm was that their daughter was very frightened of us and never, not even on our last visit, felt comfortable around us. She even stood behind her mother's skirt to wave goodbye to us. This was also one of the only farms in which we needed to do laundry because of the mess incurred, and the farmer actually did it for us himself. Jen got covered one day while trying to scale the hill in the cow's pen and when she asked for water, the farmer himself went in, got boiled water, and came out and physically washed her boots for her and part of her pants. We think this is probably by far the cleanest we were, half way through any farm visit day.


"Now I have the knowledge of how to feed the cow. Secondly, about the hooves, I know now how to prevent and treat things like lameness and mastitis. I know how to keep the cow clean and also to have the hooves trimmed to save me money. I have reconstructed the stall because of your education and dedication to me and my family. My cow is good because of the vitamins and dairy meal you have given me, before I was not giving these things. About the calves, before a lot were dying at the age of one month but look at mine now! The reason it is living is because you have helped me, this one will survive. Now I give milk, lots of milk, and calf pellets. Before I could never do this."

This farm was a rewarding one for us for a number of reasons. On the animal welfare side of things, the condition for the cattle on this farm greatly improved over the course of our visits. Not only did the farmer entirely redo the floor of the pen, to even it out and make it possible to fully clean and dry it by replacing it with cement, but she also made banks around the outside of the pen to redirect the intense amount of water that falls during rains here. he trimmed the hooves, adoptd a new milking technique that was more gentle on the udder, and began washing the udder between milkings thereby decreasing the likelihood of mastitis. It was awesome for us to see these changes, both because it meant that the animals were in better shape and that the farmer now had the financial means to do these kind of changes to her farm. The little girl at this farm was also a source of joy for us on our weekly visits. She was beyond the point of cute, she was just plain precious. She was so curious about us and found fascination in every little detail about us, from our earrings, to pens, to hair. When we gave her the Cow's t-shirt, we couldn't help but laugh. She was like a North American teenager getting a clothing present. She looked at the front, the back and then decided she liked it. We'll miss our visits here for these reasons and we can only hope that things continue to change at this farm, meaning that it will become an even more profitable one in the years to come.