The Mike O'Leary Travel Bursary enables an Irish veterinary student to travel to a VIVA (Volunteers in Irish Veterinary Assistance) project for a summer placement each year. The 2014 winner was Sarah Irwin.
Mike O’Leary Travel Bursary 2013
Source of the Nile Agricultural Show
Visit to Koile Animal Traction Projects
In July of this year I had the great privilege of traveling to Uganda with VIVA
to work with their partner organization Heifer International.
Source of the Nile Agricultural Show
I spent 2 days at the the 21st
Annual Agricultural Show in Jinja this July. The
theme this year was “Promoting Agro-technologies to Enhance Food
Security and Competitiveness in the Regional Markets”. There were stands
and displays from all over Uganda, everything from Artificial Insemination to
stalls promoting rabbit meat. Thousands of farmers, school children and
local people visited the showgrounds throughout the week.
Heifer International, Uganda had a large area with lots on display from how
to make gas from manure (BIOGAS), zero grazing units for goats, calves
and dairy cows, organic crops and how to use oxen to plough (Animal
I found my time at the Heifer stand very interesting, it gave me a good
overview of all the areas Heifer works in. There were Heifer staff and
farmers/beneficiaries available to talk to and explain displays to visitors as
well as a lot of supportive materials like leaflets and booklets for visitors to
There were both meat (local Boer breed) and dairy (Irish Saanen breed)
goats on display as well as a Friesian dairy cow and her calf. These were
all housed in zero grazing units. These displays thought farmers and school
children alike how this method of housing and feeding can aid easier
management. Animals can be contained, their feed monitored and their
droppings collected and used as organic fertiliser for crops and kitchen
As the theme this year was promoting agro-technology Heifer had
demonstrations on hygienic milk storage, Biogas and machinery to help
chop up elephant grass. There were farmers available to talk to visitors
about all these areas. Visitors seemed very interested and asked a lot of
The Biogas display drew a big crowd of both farmers and school children.
Biogas is the gas produced when biodegradable material such as cow
dung rots in the absence of oxygen. The gas produced can be piped to a
stove for cooking or used to fuel a lamp for lighting. Not only does the
system produce renewable energy in the form of gas but the slurry that
remains can be used as organic fertiliser for crops. It is a win win situation!
Koile Animal Traction Project
During my second week as an Intern with Heifer I visited Koile Amora Ican
Animal Traction Project in Ngora. On my visits to the farms I focused on
'The challenge of disease and Veterinary care”.
When speaking to the farmers I wanted to get an overall idea of what it
means to be part of this project; the preparation, benefits, challenges etc
but then to focus on the following areas:
• What breed is the bull, is it a local or imported breed?
• What do you feed your bull, do you use zero grazing?
• Does your bull need much water each day and if so how do you
• How is the bull trained to pull the plough?
• Which diseases most commonly affect the cattle in this area?
• Do you use any preventative measures to reduce the risk of disease?
• How do you deal with a sick animal, do you have veterinary support?
• What are the problems/challenges you face?
• In your opinion, what changes/improvements could be made?
On my first evening in Koile I met with four of the original beneficiaries
including the Chairperson James. This group formed in 2006 and joined
Heifer in 2008. There are now 64 members. 64 bulls have been received
through Heifer and that number has grown to an incredible 364 bulls
through the practice of Passing on The Gift. This means 364 families have
benefited over the last five years and are on the path from poverty to self
I had a lot of questions racing through my head and I think my Cork accent
caused a few issues at first but once we all got chatting I was very
impressed by what the farmers had to tell me. A huge amount of training is
undertook before farmers receive their oxen, this insures farmers are
prepared and reduces the chance of future problems.
Farmers partake in the following areas of training;
Sanitation – Farmers are educated about the benefits of latrines and hand
sanitation. This helps reduce the spread of diseases that are transmitted
through the faecal-oral route. Intestinal worms spread this way and can be
very dangerous in high burdens for young children.
Gender Equality – like many countries around the world, gender inequality
is an problem in Uganda. Heifer attempts to change this through involving
women in all stages of its projects. Agriculture is the occupation of 90% of
rural women in Uganda but men are usually the ones to benefit from all the
work as men are traditional involved in the final, most profitable stages.
Both men and women, husbands and wives attend Heifer training, decision
making and tasks are to be shared equally. The farmers told me there is
now peace in homes as both workload and money/power is shared.
Environment – Heifer understands that farming practices need to
sustainable and conscious of the effects agriculture has on the
environment. As a result Heifer provides training in the importance of crop
rotation, organic fertiliser and soil erosion.
Farmers are provided with fruit trees that not only provide roots to increase
soil stability but also provide vitamin rich fruit that can improve the health
status of the family as well as a source of income via selling surplus fruit.
The implementation of Lorena stoves in households is also part of Heifers
environmental initiative. Lorena stoves use less firewood and produce less
smoke than traditional stoves thus less tress are cut down and there are
less incidences of respiratory disease.
HIV & AIDS - HIV prevalence in Uganda is now at 7.3%. Heifer identifies
and works with households of people infected and/or affected by HIV and
AIDS. Community sensitization meetings are held to educate locals about
the disease and this helps reduce the stigma as people are more aware of
the facts. Heifer works closely with TASO, Uganda Farm Family Association
I visited one dairy goat farmer that is HIV positive and he told me how his
health has improved through the health benefits of the goat milk. Also, the
income he earns from the surplus milk allows him to seek medical help
when needed as well as send his two daughters to school.
Record Keeping - Farmers are trained in and thought the importance of
record keeping. Records of costs, income, production, animal health and
veterinary care/drugs administered.
Animal Husbandry – It is essential farmers are educated in proper practice
when it comes to animal care/management as this will be one of the
biggest factors that will ensure success or failure of the whole project.
Farmers are instructed in how best to identify and help prevent diseases eg
tick control sprays, best feeding methods eg zero grazing and how to fit
and use the ploughs properly.
Food Security – Training in hygienic storage of foodstuffs ensures less food
During my time in Koile I visited 8 groups. Each group consists of 4 farmers
and each group receives 4 oxen and a plough. The oxen are 2 or 3 yrs old
when the farmers receive them. They are a local Zebu breed. This means
they are more resilient to diseases that are common in the area, they thrive
on the local foliage eg Napier/elephant grass and they also can deal with
less drinking water than other breeds.
They oxen are trained by placing 2 younger bulls with 2 more experienced,
trained bulls. A few people are needed in the training process to drive the
plough and guide the animals. However the farmers I spoke to said the
bulls learn quickly.
In the beginning when the bulls are young and inexperienced all 4 are
needed to plough but as they become stronger it is possible to just use 2 at
a time. 6 of the 8 groups I visited now have 2 sets of 2 oxen and a plough
each, they have bought another plough within their group. This means they
can plough their land faster and they can earn extra income by ploughing
neighbours land or rent the oxen and plough.
When I asked farmers what were the main benefits of being involved with
the Animal Traction project the same things seemed to keep coming up –
increased income, ability to educate their children, pride, better health &
nutrition, opportunity to expand their farm,welfare, food security, harmony in
the home, chance to build a permanent house and overall, a better quality
of life. I was delighted to see that something as simple as an oxen and
plough can have such a knock on and positive effect. Education was
something that every family I spoke to was keen to invest in and this is
fantastic to hear as this means the next generation of Koile will have
All the farmers I spoke to had diversified or expanded their farms since
becoming beneficiaries. Many now had kitchen gardens with tomatoes,
aubergines and onions growing. This meant their family had a more varied
and vitamin rich diet. Many others had invested in meat goats, turkeys,
pigs, chickens and one or two had even bought a dairy cow. This also
enhances the families diet but also provides another income generator via
selling meat, eggs or milk.
Others had spent their profits on wheelbarrows to transport crops from the
field, casava mills to start a small business making cassava flour, building
permanent houses for their family and one lady, Igi Jane, had installed
solar power to her house.
The main challenges the farmers reported were drought, disease and the
expense of veterinary care.
Drought is a constant issue in East Africa and with some areas
experiencing devastating floods other areas are crying out for rain. The
farmers said that over the last 3 years the dry season (Dec-Feb and June-
Aug) has been prolonged. This means the ground remains to dry and hard
to plough for longer so harvests are later and food shortages occur.
Drought also means less food for animals, while some die others are too
weak to work.
Disease was by far the greatest challenge to the farmers regarding care of
the oxen. Tick borne diseases, liver fluke and intestinal worms were the
most common reported. FMD, CBPP, trypanosomiasis and brucellosis also
occur in the area but less frequently.
Ticks spread Babesiosis, Theileriosis (East Coast Fever) and
Anaplasmosis. Most farmers use sprays to prevent ticks and to good effect.
Cost varies, while one farmer reported it costs 3,000USH to get each
animal treated each month a local Animal Husbandry Officer said a bottle of
acaricide costs 4,000 USH. Some months farmers said they are not able to
afford this preventative treatment and if so animals go untreated and are
likely to become infected. Treatment for these tick borne diseases varies
from 15,000USH to 55,000USH. If caught early Tetracycline can be used in
Liver Fluke is most common in areas which experience flooding as the
vector is the water snail. It is becoming more of a serious challenge
according to Richard the local Animal Husbandry Officer. Between 2007-
2010 there was bad flooding in the area and this has increased the
incidence. During this time some farmers lost all their animals (average 10
local breed cattle) to Liver Fluke. Farmers reported treating Fluke as
costing between 10,000-20,000USH per animal. Employing zero grazing
would reduce the incidence as animals would not be grazing swampy
Finally, all the farmers also mentioned intestinal worms to be a challenge
with the oxen's health. A heavy burden leads to diarrhoea, poor growth and
a lack of energy. Most farmers carry out regular deworming. Grazing
animals on common ground with lots of other animals means worm
burdens can build up in the pasture.
Richard the local Animal Husbandry Officer's advice was more training for
farmers in preventative procedures, perhaps yearly re-fresher courses. Also
to get farmers to work in groups to help with spraying and deworming of
each others animals on a regular basis to encourage compliance.
The other big challenge the farmers spoke about was adding value to
produce. It was explained to me how that selling unprocessed produce eg
groundnuts in their shells or unchipped cassava gets a much lower price
than processed goods. Unprocessed goods also mean farmers are limited
to selling them locally, they can not sell for more profit to larger scale
buyers. Many of the Koile farmers hope that Heifer will help them with
processing and marketing training in the future so they can make the most
of their product that the oxen are helping produce. One option could be
providing small loans to groups to purchase or rent processing machinery.
One farmer we visited had taken his own initiative and set up a cassava
flour mill. He now earns an income from charging local farmers to use it.
Finally, record keeping seemed a problem on many farms I visited. Farmers
are meant to keep records so they can keep track of costs, income and vet
care. Many farmers did not have any records and when I asked why they
mentioned lack of stationary, children using the record booklets for school
as paper and in some cases illiteracy.
• Ensure farmers are able to keep records and realise the importance
of this. Some may need help with literacy.
• Reiterate the importance of Passing on the Gift. Many groups I visited
had not POG although they hoped to do so soon. The POG model is
essential for Heifer's sustainability.
• If Heifer wants to continue to support the farmers of Koile, processing
and marketing training to help add value to produce is key. This can
be done in a sustainable way through microfinancing or mobilising
local knowledge in the training process.
• Although farmers are thought about preventative veterinary care
some need to be reminded and maybe retrained to ensure optimum
health of their animals. Working with local Animal Husbandry Officers
and vets is key, perhaps monthly workshops on local problems.
• Keep up the good work VIVA and Heifer, this is an incredible project
that is really working!
I would like to thank the O’Leary family for giving me this unique
opportunity, Mike Burke for all the work he did to insure everything ran
smoothly and to the Heifer staff, especially Moses and Joshua who made
me feel so welcome. Finally I would like to extend my appreciation to all the
farmers, especially the farmers of Koile, for their time and generosity. I hold
my experience in Uganda close to my heart.