The public sometimes views veterinary doctors as a people in their own world defined by animals, diseases and accompanying drugs nexus. While this may be true, I must say practising veterinary medicine brings one into close proximity with humanity.
The troubles livestock farmers go through, the joys when they trample upon poverty, nutrition and food security inherent in livestock farming – these are good tidings that few trace back to veterinary surgeons. Today, I remove my white lab-coat, put aside my stethoscope and store away antibiotic bottles, syringes and needles so that I tell you a nice story. A story that could have ended badly had a vet not been at the centre of it.
This story is about Rose Mossi from Cheptais in Bungoma County – a farmer who has dislodged poverty from her household through a single dairy animal and a herd health programme.
I was young, full of energy and had just been redeployed to the Pan African Tsetse and Trypanosomiasis (PATTEC) programme within the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries where I doubled up as vet and communications officer. The programme had developed a plan on how to support farmers in tsetse-free areas with exotic dairy animals for them to engage in commercial livestock production.
Assisted by our Lake Victoria regional coordinator John Kanyanya, we combed many areas in search of people who could act as model farmers. These farmers were to show to the rest that indeed the specific area was tsetse-free and conducive for dairy production. This was against a backdrop of exotic cattle deaths associated with Trypanosomiasis or nagana – a deadly disease spread by tsetse flies.
That is how we came to Chemusis village in Bungoma County where we met Mrs Mossi, a widow with four mouths to feed and an active member of Elite Women Group. She faced a dozen challenges, thanks to poverty.
That year the rains had failed and we could see wilting plantations of maize crop; only Kanyanya and I saw an opportunity in the drying maize crops – in the herd management programme they come in handy under feed management. In the sea of her troubles, Mrs Mossi remained optimistic, she told us how she longed for a dairy animal and would transform her livelihood if supported. Touched by her zest, we quickly recruited her in the first line of beneficiaries. We invited her for training on animal husbandry that covered herd health management.
Weeks later, Mossi received the exotic dairy cross that was already pregnant, other farmers in the area too got the animals, but it is Mossi’s experience that touched me as a vet and brought the human face to the noble veterinary profession.
She understood so well the herd management topic and applied it, guided by Mr Otieno, an animal health assistant. She took good care of the animal until it calved down. She nursed the calf for four months and passed it on to a group member as agreed.
Mossi was the best farmer among the beneficiaries. I am yet to meet another farmer in her caliber. She kept the best records, though in a very basic form, her milk sales, veterinary treatments and anything done to the animal was carefully recorded in the black book we gave her. Mrs Mossi had learned how to make silage and hay and how to store maize stovers waiting the lean times.
Sometimes last year, we carried out an impact survey of the farmers supported in Bungoma County and were impressed just how a single cow had transformed Mossi and other beneficiary farmers.
Mrs Mossi narrated how her children now go to school, eat well and are well clothed, thanks to her dairy animals, not to mention regular women merry-go-round contributions. Her herd now has a total of four dairy cows in various ages. She has built herself a nice permanent house and extended the dairy unit.
That is how a single dairy animal can transform a household from rugs to riches. Mossi and many other farmers have their testimonies on how dairy farming has transformed their lives. Behind the curtains of this success are veterinary doctors who, though operating in a cocoon defined by animals, diseases and drugs nexus, work hard to ensure the Mossis maintain the health of their animals and subsequent productivity.
The work they do speaks for itself, where crops fail and livestock enterprise endures by converting the losses into feed.
Climate change is here with us, weather patterns are unpredictable and rain-fed agriculture a challenge. I am persuaded to think that farmers like Mossi, who rely on this system of crop production need to be supported to take up livestock farming. In the same breath vets and animal health assistants need to be adequately supported to ensure the success of livestock enterprise.
– Dr Othieno is the Vet of the Year Award (VOYA) winner 2016; he works with the Kenya Tsetse and Trypanosomiasis Eradication Council – KENTTEC)