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Small animal vetting, buffalo dairying and the vet students: shared times in Laos

By Arjuna Shumon Govindasamy and Jenny Liu
Edited by Isabel MacPhillamy and Peter Windsor

Arjuna and Jenny are both final year Veterinary students from the University of Sydney, who travelled to Laos in November 2018 to participate in professional practice rotations with the MLR team. For 3 weeks they assisted staff of the Department of Livestock and Fisheries team, the local SK veterinary clinic, and the Laos Buffalo Dairy.

Our first week in Laos involved seeing small animal practice at the local SK veterinary clinic, currently the only one in Luang Prabang and the surrounding northern provinces (most vet practices in Laos are located in Vientiane Capital). Here we predominantly performed routine health checks and vaccinations for locally owned companion animals, and assisted with a variety of medical cases, mainly presenting with gastrointestinal signs including lethargy, inappetence, vomiting and diarrhoea. Although vaccination and routine health care such as parasite control is being used by some owners, in most cases these practices were lacking. Working at the clinic provided us with the opportunity to discuss cases with owners and educate them on the importance of what we may consider routine health and management concepts in Australia. We were also fortunate to assist with several surgical cases whilst at the practice, such as routine desexing.

During this first week, Friday was ‘National Animal Vaccination Awareness Day’ and we  were involved in a large buffalo vaccination drive in one of the neighbouring villages, Hat Kho. Local farmers brought their buffalo to be vaccinated against Haemorrhagic Septicaemia (HS). This is an important disease of large ruminants in South-East Asia due to its high morbidity and mortality, especially for the buffalo that are one of the main livestock species owned in Laos. The unveiling of a recently finished irrigation project meant the day was both productive and celebratory! We were treated to a village feast for lunch, eating local food and participating in Lao dancing.

Arjuna and Jenny assisting farmers with vaccination using local large ruminant restraint bleeding poles

Following our time at the SK clinic, we were fortunate to assist with field research performed at two villages within the Luang Prabang province. This primarily involved collecting fresh faecal samples from cattle owned by four different farmers in both villages, and whilst in the field, ticks and other external parasites on cattle were also collected for future identification and investigation for blood parasites. The next week, we participated in faecal sedimentation of these samples to investigate the prevalence of liver flukes in the villages we surveyed. This was done as preliminary testing to identify and recruit villages, farmers and their animals, in a trial to examine the efficacy of medicated molasses nutrient blocks used for treating liver flukes. This was a wonderful opportunity to assist with important research that aims to positively affect the welfare and productivity of these animals and their owners. This opportunity to collaborate with the Department of Livestock and Fisheries team and the villagers themselves was fantastic.

Photo 3

A bull resting in the rice fields of Paksy, a village in the Luang Prabang province where faecal samples were collected

Our final weeks were primarily spent assisting with husbandry and veterinary work at the first and only buffalo diary in Laos, owned and operated by an Australian couple. The Laos Buffalo Dairy effectively rents buffalo from village farmers for 6 months a year while they are in peak lactation, plus manage the husbandry and care of these animals while they are housed at the dairy. As a social enterprise, the dairy not only works with farmers to provide supplementary income and improve animal welfare standards, but  are also involved in the local communities,  providing English lessons and animal husbandry experience to Agriculture and Animal Studies students. They also instruct farmers on how to milk their own animals, providing a crucial protein  source for many families that sometimes suffer from malnutrition. Before the dairy was established, Lao villagers had never milked their buffalo, using them for draught and as a mobile ‘bank account‘.

photo 4

Arjuna bottle feeding a Murrah buffalo calf

At the Laos Buffalo Dairy we were involved in routine herd health checks, reproductive management and assisted with a variety of more unique cases, including correction of an umbilical hernia correction and even conducted a calf post-mortem. During our final week, we were involved in a vaccination day with Animal Science students from the local college, vaccinating the buffalo on the farm against Haemorrhagic Septicaemia and Foot and Mouth Disease and treating them with ivermectin to manage external and internal parasitism. Although there was a language barrier, we were fortunate to have several workers on the farm with quite a good level of English who were able to translate between us and the students, although this included many animated hand gestures! It was very fulfilling to watch the students gain confidence in skills such as subcutaneous and intramuscular injections, and by the end of the day they were professionals at vaccinations. Working with the Laos Buffalo Dairy team was exceptionally rewarding and projects like this that work closely with locals are helping improve animal and human experience in Laos. Did we mention, they produce delicious dairy products from their buffalo milk, such as cheese and ice cream that we were able to sample!

Arjuna and Jenny working with a buffalo in a crush at the Laos Buffalo Dairy – the calf is brought along to prevent distress in both the mother and the baby

Overall, our experience with the MLR group in Luang Prabang was extremely eye-opening and rewarding. We have both enjoyed our placement immensely and are beyond grateful for the time that we were able to spend here, the experiences that we have gained, and the new friends we have made.

photo 7

Jenny with some workers at the Laos Buffalo Dairy, from left to right: Chit, Saisamone, Jenny, Khamlee, Kaisone


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