The Man Who Feeds His Cow Everything

“Here, take this passion fruit. I can’t get the cow to eat it.”

Many of my days are spent traveling around Kamachumu Division, tagging along with one of the KAVIPE board members while we check up on the loaned dairy cows. We set out on a pikipiki (motorbike), or on foot, and trek through the most confusing networks of tiny roads, among the banana trees. Today, I went to Bulembo (boo-lay-m-bo) with Steven.

We saw more cows this morning than we do most days. We saw both the best and the worst I’ve seen so far. The worst was a family with two cows, who had complained they weren’t getting pregnant. This is a common complaint, although I can rarely figure out whether or not the cows have actually been bred. Usually, when I ask that question, we get pulled into a rant about how badly the farmers need access to AI (artificial insemination). But that is a debate for another day.

These two unpregnant cows were pacing franticly in their rickety pens, causing liquid manure to fly everywhere. Meanwhile, a few feet away, a woman and two children were within flying-shit-flecks reach, hulling beans! I got splattered standing next to them. Both pens had empty feed troughs, whose wooden bottoms were falling out, and no feed was produced even when we asked. Suffice it to say that both cows were extremely skinny. As to my question, had they been bred, I really hope they hadn’t wasted their money taking them to a bull, since generally in order for conception to occur, the animal must be fed. In this case, we advised to clean the pens, add bedding, fix the troughs and FEED THE COWS! We will return and check within the next two weeks that the issues have been addressed. To blame? Lack of education on proper care, lack of money, lack of time… but the first is the major issue, that I hope to help change.

I contrast now with the last farmer we visited. He had clearly been waiting for us (word travels quickly when visitors are around!) and when we pulled up he leapt, as only an old man can, from his porch and started to show us all the different feedstuffs his cow was eating: grass, bean hulls, avocado leaves, a green avocado (I doubt she’ll eat it, but he said she does…?!), young corn plants, and a coarse grass I’ve seen before. To top it off? Fresh, clean water and 5 inches of dry grass as bedding. I told the old man I wanted to bring him in to train the other farmers. It’s not really fair to compare this retired man with all the other families we saw this morning, but it’s also difficult to avoid. In some ways, I guess it’s the same anywhere: some people are passionate about cows and some aren’t. Difference is, at home, the people who aren’t passionate about cows can afford to buy milk from the grocery store, and don’t keep cows. Maybe having children to care for and no help also decreases your passion, about anything.

I was glad to finish the day smiling, however, when the old man ran into the house and emerged with a single passion fruit in his outstretched hand. I’m used to receiving gifts, but this one was more of a cast-off: “I have many, many,” he said, gesturing to the gardens surrounding the house, “but I just can’t get the cow to eat them! So here, I guess I can spare this one for you.”

Oh yes, and please let me know if you’ve heard that avocados are poisonous to cows.

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