Readers reveal how vet on call column has impacted them

Dairy cows

Dairy cows at a homestead in Kiambu County. Kigen from Trans-Nzoia almost abandoned his dairy project. His cows, which the farm manager calls her girls, are now in good health.

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

This week I share the responses from some loyal readers of this column. It is good to know that farmers and other readers find the articles useful for information, education and entertainment.

Many times people have asked me why I write science in a very plain way like I am not a scientist. My answer has always been that good scientists must be able to communicate effectively to both the scientific and non-scientific or lay audiences alike.

You see, the scientific audience wishes to know when there is new information or application of science in their field to advance the discipline, increase productivity in business, resolve an existing challenge, to educate other scientists or to reveal gaps for further research.

Laymen on the other hand look for useful scientific information to educate them and to help solve existing challenges. Scientific jargon or difficult words, terms and concepts is frowned at by laymen because it is not communicative.

Many scientists lose the users of their valuable findings because of using scientific jargon to communicate.

I once attended to a case on a farm in Kiambu to give a second opinion on the problem calves were suffering from.

The farmer gave me an explanatory note where the doctor had written, “The calves have severe intestinal haemorrhage of gram negative bacterial aetiology. Give potentiated sulphur boluses two each b.i.d x 5/7 per os.”

Understandably, the farmer complained the doctor was not being fair. She said he should have known how to communicate with her in a way she could understand since they were not in vet school together.

This reminded me of those early school days in upper primary and high school when the so called bombastic English and Kiswahili words were in vogue. My teacher of English in high school advised us to be more concerned about the flow of the language and how well we communicated rather than how many difficult-to-understand words we used in our communication.

I have found that advise very useful in my communication of science to lay people including my clients, readers and policy makers.

Getting back to the Kiambu case, I agreed with the farmer and translated the scientific jargon into understandable English. The doctor meant the calves had bloody diarrhoea caused by a type of bacteria scientifically termed Gram Negative. The most common cause of such diarrhoea is the Escherichia coli bacteria.

He had prescribed the calves be given, by mouth, two boluses each of a tablet containing sulphonamide and trimethoprim compounds, two times daily for five days.

I am, therefore, motivated when farmers and readers tell me they enjoy reading my articles and find them useful. I have had such response in the past few weeks.

Lisutsa from Western Kenya said he was impressed with the article on the weak heifers I bought from Kiambu. He wished to know the average cost of the animals and how they are doing.

The cost of the animals ranged from Sh10,000 to Sh25,000 each. Unfortunately, the youngest died of severe pneumonia suspected to be shipping fever within the week of arrival despite treatment before and after transportation. Not even the vet is immune to the unpredictability of biological systems. I hope that loss will be covered by the surviving heifers.

There was Otieno from Nyanza. He had enjoyed reading the article about dairy farming not being all about milk production. He said he had got lots of insights especially on starvation and undernourishment of dairy cattle in the zero grazing regime.

Otieno said he is in the process of establishing a dairy farm and has already dug a borehole. He is planting Super Napier on five acres of land to ensure he has enough fodder before he puts up a dairy unit and stocks the animals. He requested I send him my other articles and walk with him in setting up his dairy venture.

I wished Otieno well in his venture and advised him to check my articles on Nation.Africa. I also assured him of my technical support in his dairy farming journey.

Odongo, also from Nyanza, was grateful for my informative articles on livestock rearing. He said he had read some of the articles that gave the benefits of using Super Napier grass to feed cows.

He was interested in growing the grass on a commercial scale to sell to livestock farmers during times of scarcity. He asked for my advice.

I thanked Odongo for reading my articles and told him it was a good idea to grow Super Napier to sell to those who had shortage of fodder.

He would, however, need to adopt good methods of preserving the napier so that he would harvest it at its best stage of nutritional value.

In addition, he would need to harvest the grass at least every 40 to 60 days to achieve optimum productivity and profitability.

I close with Kigen from Trans-Nzoia. He said he had concluded dairy farming is not for the faint-hearted after reading my articles and from his own experience.

He had initially kept dairy cattle for sentimental reasons. He started with a few good cows but his workers literally starved the animals to bones.

Being a telephone farmer, he said he wept the next time he went back to the farm and saw his walking bones of cattle.

Kigen almost abandoned the project but decided to give it one more try with the right people. He hired a fine dairy manager who asked for six months to turn around the animals with good environment, feeding, disease control and good breeding.

Ten months later the results are impressive. The cows, that the manager calls her girls, are in good health. The body condition and milk production are really good. Kigen now enjoys going home to his animals.