“We are One Sweat”

A little bit of team bonding, some long work days, a lot of humidity, and a touch of heat stroke & dehyrdation led to that gem of a quote (perfect for a blog title!).

I have loved traveling for a long time and I have grown to love traveling with a purpose. That is why I am so appreciative of the travel opportunities for university students. Last year, while organizing our final year schedules we had the option to apply for 4 weeks of ‘selectives’ in areas of veterinary medicine we were interested in. My last selective was the 2 weeks I spent in the Northern Territory working with community dogs & cats.  I sent in an application and went to an interview and was picked as one of four students to attend a veterinary international development trip in Myanmar.

The 11 day whirlwind trip was fantastic! I loved the country, the people, and especially the work we completed! There really is so much to say about this adventure that I’ll try and keep it summarized for you…

We were part of a pilot project for a bigger research organization that has been established in Myanmar for many years. We worked with a team of veterinarians from the University of Veterinary Science, Myanmar. Rural village visits were arranged ahead of time. We set out in our two vans and traveled to these villages where a Unimelb student + Myanmar veterinarian would interview sheep and goat farmers. The questions were asked in Myanmar language and written down in English. We asked questions about the herd structure (how many males/females, young/old), how many were bought or sold or died? We also asked questions about who took care of the animals (gender of the person, age, etc) and which duties were performed. Then we asked the farmers about which health conditions were most important in their herd and if they performed any treatments on their animals.

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One of the Myanmar vets writing down interview answers

After the interview with the farmer we would go out to the sheep or goat pen and observe the herd for any obvious signs of illness. The most common things we saw were: itchy animals, lots of coughing/sneezing, old diarrhea, and a few lame animals.

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Gathering outside a typical sheep pen preparing to start our observation of the herd

Lastly, we took blood samples from two animals from each herd.

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Collecting a jugular blood sample from a sheep. It was rewarding to teach & assist the Myanmar vets in performing venepuncture. 

Every night we came back to the hotel lobby and set up a mini laboratory with a centrifuge and our samples. We ran a few tests and transcribed our data into computers.

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Preparing blood smears during some free time at the village

We did a quick look through of our data and made some brief presentations so that we could give a summary to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) office in Bagan. Even though this was just a pilot survey and we barely skimmed the surface of research and agriculture in Myanmar I thought our results were extremely interesting! I loved experiencing and adapting to the challenges that presented themselves to us; I feel like it made us stronger as a team. I saw the importance of working in international development. The health problems that these animals are experiencing could be cured with some involvement, education, a few diagnoses and some medicine –easier said than done!

And of course, aside from the university side of the trip we tried to squeeze in some sightseeing. I haven’t spent a ton of time traveling in Asia before, but every time I’ve been I’ve loved it! The food is all different and exciting; we ate a lot of soups and curries and I quite enjoy eating goat meat! There is fresh fruit juices at every meal. Myanmar tea made of condensed milk and red brew demands at least 2 cups during every tea shop brekky.

The roads are a crazy mixture of on-foot traffic, motor bikes, cyclists, cars, and bullock carts. Honking is common!  Our last 2 days were in Bagan, a city packed with thousands and thousands of temples, pagodas, and stupas.  There was a lot more tourists here and the traffic a bit calmer; which meant it was the perfect place to rent E-bikes and drive around for hours in the hot sun visiting ancient buildings!

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This is just one of the many many ancient temples we visited. They are just as amazing on the inside as they look on the outside! 

Something I was particularly struck by was an appreciation for human generosity. We did not speak Myanmar language and many of the people I met did not speak English. Yet, we managed to communicate through a few key words, charades, and overwhelming kindness. Any time someone anticipated that we might need or want something they would jump up to do it! I hadn’t brought a hat with me and ladies kept offering me their woven straw hats to keep the sun or rain off. Traditional sunscreen was applied to my face several times. The heat was sweltering (!!!), and at every house we were offered water, tea, or paper fans! At one point, someone even stood up to fan us while we conducted our interview. Amongst our own team generosity was overflowing as well–everyone was willing to share water, gastro-drugs, itch cream or lend a helping hand if someone was feeling off.

 

 

I can’t thank my fantastic team from Unimelb and UVS enough for being such good travel companions and research colleagues!

After such a whirlwind of traveling over the last few months I’m appreciating a week at home to sleep and work on my research project! Next up is my dairy rotation…

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My Placement at a Riding Facility and Petting Zoo

This placement was super close to my parents house so it was very nice to be in town every day after working on the farm. This farm owned quite a few horses that were leased out or used for riding lessons. They also have tons of different animals that are part of a petting zoo….ferrets, chinchillas, guinea pigs, parrots, cows, pigs, chickens, peacocks, goats, emus, alpacas, llamas, hedgehogs, cats, dogs! I was also lucky enough to do this placement with my best friend/roommate (its about time we did a placement together!).

Each morning started with chores. Animals inside were taken care of first and stalls or pens mucked out. Then we grabbed the water truck and headed outside to all the outdoor animals. One of the problems with keeping animals outside in the winter is that you either have to have heated water containers (so no ice can form) or you have to go around and break all the ice out of the containers before filling them up! We brought a hammer to break up ice.

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At this point, I became pretty good friends with one of the parrots who rode around in my hood to stay warm.

All the animals outside received extra bedding or grain to help them keep warm when it snowed. Many of the horses wore thick blankets as well. Some animals require more specialized feed. For example, the guinea pigs received extra vitamin C and D in their water because they are prone to deficiencies.

There were 3 older horses who had a hard time eating hay and getting enough energy so we brought them inside every day and gave them a mixture of grain and beet pulp.

 

Horses were ‘worked’ or ‘broken’ later in the afternoon. Often they spent a long time running around in a circle on the end of a lunge line. During one session the vet came out from a nearby equine clinic to look at an older horse that had tripped hard earlier in the week. I took a couple of minutes to chat to the vet about Metacam and how it is metabolized differently in the horse than other animals.

My friend and I spent some time working with a pony. He will eventually be pulling carts and working with young kids so he needs to be quite comfortable with unknown sights and sounds. We ran him around in circles and over jumps. We also rolled barrels and a large exercise ball close to and over him. The pony was very uncomfortable with us touching his back and hind end. With some more work this pony will be well on his way to cart pulling!

Another day we assisted with breaking a horse to a wagon. Last time this horse was hooked up to the wagon she freaked out and sat on the bar (a very dangerous situation)! We made sure to move slowly and calmly. First we pulled the cart around the horse so she could get use to how it looked and moved. Then we walked the horse around the cart. Lastly, we slowly hooked the horse to the cart and then walked beside her in the arena. The session went very well.

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We spent a lot of time grooming horses, sweeping the barn, organizing the tack room, watering down the arena (to keep the dust down), blanketing and moving horses, and oiling tack. Tack is oiled to ensure the leather stays supple, smooth, and in good condition so that it can be used for many years.

 

On our last day of placement we worked on some worksheets about horse health, anatomy, and care. However, the highlight of this day was learning to ride English.  Previously, all my riding experience has been in Western saddles so this was quite fun for me. A couple of staff members were working with a young horse–getting him used to being ridden and the commands he needs to follow. My friend and I were riding older horses in the arena so the young horse would feel less nervous.

I had a lot of fun being around (and learning about) the huge assortment of animals at this farm. Thank you for the opportunity!

 

Dookie Trip

A little while ago my whole DVM1 class packed up and went out to the University of Melbourne’s Dookie campus as part of our Animal Health and Production Systems class. I was excited, because who doesn’t like a couple days without lectures?

In the morning we caught the bus from our regular campus bright and early and began a drive out into the Australian country side. As we move from spring into summer, the rainfall has decreased and the pastures are not growing as fast and are beginning to dry up and turn yellow. Our first stop was at Chatswood, a thoroughbred horse stud.  A stud farm is a farm that focuses on breeding of animals.

The horse racing industry is huge in AUS, especially in Melbourne. High class and very famous races like the Melbourne Cup take place only a few minutes from my house! Unfortunately the Melbourne Cup is on one of the same days as my final exams this year so it doesn’t look like I’ll be going.

The farm was built on 1000 acres and is very impressive looking. We talked a bit about the process behind bringing mares to be served by 1 of the 3 stallions on the property and everything that process included. Thoroughbreds are only allowed to have natural breedings  (instead of artificial insemination) and this brings along a new set of challenges and things to look out for. My group was lucky because we got to watch some vet checks on the horses, each horse would come in for an ultrasound to look for follicles on her ovaries. If the follicles are a certain size the vet will say she is ready for breeding soon. The ultrasound is also used to detect if the horses are pregnant and if they have twins. It is very hard for twins to be carried to term in horses and so if 2 embryos are detected one of them will need to be terminated. We also got to watch a Caslick procedure being preformed and undone (this is a very common and minor surgical procedure that equine vets will do).

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Reward for Effort; Taken from: http://chatswoodstud.com.au/stallions/reward/

Our group then went to the breeding area; it is very nice, clean, quiet, and covered. Here we watched a teaser stallion come in and prep a mare for her breeding. I then quietly peaked through a hole in the gate to watch Reward for Effort (one of Chatswood’s best stallions) breed the mare. Thoroughbred breeding on a stud is very expensive ($11 000 for a service) and an important procedure that can be very dangerous for the handlers.

The foaling area has a 24 hour watch over all of the paddocks as each foaling is assisted. After each foal is born a blood sample is taken and assessed.

Next we went to Kennedy Creek, which was our professor’s own polled Dorset farm. I found it actually really cool to create a connection between someone we are learning A LOT from in lecture and his actual life experience in agriculture. Dorset sheep are used for meat but not wool. This does not mean that they do not need to be sheared! The wool from these sheep would only generate an income of 5% or less for the farm.

Polled Dorset Sheep: Picture provided with permission

Polled Dorset Sheep:
Picture provided with permission

While on farm our prof (who is also a vet) identified a sick sheep. The animal was moved out of the hot sun to recover. The sheep was likely sick with either thiamine deficiency or pulpy kidney (no way to know unless diagnostic tests were done). While we were on farm the sheep began to improve and look better. Talking about this individual sick sheep was a great learning opportunity on the differences between single animals and herd health.

The second day started at the sheep farm on Dookie Campus where we were able to assist with the marking of lambs. Marking included putting elastic on the tails of all sheep (tail docking) and testicles of male sheep (castration), vaccination (for Clostridial diseases), applying fly strike spray, and applying an ear tag for identification.

This is a 'cradle' it is a piece of equipment that helps the farming with marking

This is a ‘cradle’ it is a piece of equipment that helps the farming with marking

After we were finished marking the lambs we went inside the shed to look at the rams. We discussed important things to assess at a ram sale (teeth, toes, temperament, testicles, and skin). We also spoke about crutching and muesling and the advantages and disadvantages of each husbandry practice. I thought it was interesting that Dookie is one of the only farms in VIC that does not muels their sheep; the practice was supposed to be banned in AUS around 2 years ago but fell through because of the fly strike problems. We practiced catching sheep and how to safely tip them over so we can look at them (always fun!).

Our last stop was to the dairy calves and then the Dookie Campus robotic dairy! Here is some coverage from when the dairy opened:

This is the same dairy we visited during my first week of vet school. Cows can be milked whenever they please, the robot will take a sample from each cow to test for infection and milk quality. The robot is able to keep track of all cows treated with medications and what the withdrawal periods. Detecting when cows are ready to breed is very complicated in the dairy industry—the robots can help with this too!! The robots will keep track of all the steps each cow takes (each cow wears a pedometer) and the amount of rumination/chewing to create a graph that will give a good indication of when the cow is in heat (ready to breed)!! How cool is it to see science and farming come together like this?!

I really enjoyed getting out of the city for a couple of days and seeing these high quality and top class farms was very interesting! 🙂

Volunteering at the Royal Melbourne Show

Some of my absolute favorite memories in life have been made while interning or volunteering. I absolutely love it and this weekend I had the opportunity to volunteer at the Royal Melbourne Show! The RMS is like a huge carnival with trade shows and games and food and lots of different pavilions. I signed up to work in the Heritage Sheep Exhibit for 2 days.

The sheep pens all cleaned up and closed down for the night

The sheep pens all cleaned up and closed down for the night

My time was spent making sure the sheep had enough feed and water all day and were not being stressed or abused by any onlookers. I was also able to answer the questions that members of the public had regarding the exhibit, breeds, and sheep farming in general. Most people were quite excited to hear my accent and asked about my background in agriculture in Canada.

My supervisor and I were required to keep the area neat and tidy and free of all escaped bits of straw—this included some frustrating sweeping between the legs of thousands of people!

All of the sheep came from different breeders and so they were not allowed to intermingle. The Cheviots were very sweet and appreciated a scratch behind the ears. The two Shropshire lambs required bottle feeding a couple times a day; their names were Pickles and Beeper.

Meet a Dorset Horn with a stubborn personality!

Meet a Dorset Horn with a stubborn personality!

At the end of my second shift we had to muck out all the stalls. For those who don’t know, this means that we had to take a pitch fork and pick up and remove all the heavy soiled straw from the pens and sweep it out into large piles to be removed. We then had to break up new bales of fresh straw and lay this down as clean bedding in each pen before the sheep are allowed their supper. This is hard work, especially when you have to watch the sheep don’t escape! By the time I got home that night my boots had been stuffed FULL of straw (which promptly exploded all over the hall of my apartment)!

Good thing my vacuum cleaner is broken!

Good thing my vacuum cleaner is broken!

I did hear a few rumors that the Heritage Sheep Exhibit might be on its last legs and be non-existent in a few years. This is heartbreaking news to hear as ag education is something very dear to my heart. I think it is SO important for society to be exposed to livestock, farming, food, agriculture, etc. People need to be educated on where their food comes from and how it is produced. Amazing shows like this provide a fantastic learning opportunity for curious people to learn more about something they are unfamiliar with. Since the wool industry is massive in Australia I think it is very important that exhibits such as this one remain in place!

I had a fabulous experience volunteering in the sheep exhibit; I was able to pick my supervisor’s brain, get some hands on experience with sheep, practice my agriculture/public engagement, and do some networking. I love making connections and I’ve met some very kind and helpful people this weekend. I hope to be back working at the show next year.

This is Bob Marley who is an English Leicester.

This is Bob Marley who is an English Leicester.

This is Mrs. Marley who is also an English Leicester

This is Mrs. Marley who is also an English Leicester