Stethoscopes and Statistics

What do air-conditioned offices and open air livestock sheds have in common? Well not much, but both have been integral locations for my work thus far. After finishing the data collecting portion of my research here, I have moved on to nutritional analysis and report writing while sitting in a desk chair and staring at a computer screen. It has been an interesting week of sorting through the challenges and possibilities for the development of the dairy industry in the Karimnagar district of Telangana state. It is easy to look at my excel spreadsheet and get lost in the cells of imprisoned data, but when I glance back through my many photographs of water buffalo, farmers, and experiences thus far, I am reminded that the data cells represent a much larger goal. The information collected reveals many barriers to water buffalo milk production; lack of green fodder in the dry season,  underweight body conditions, and unavailable or misused medicines among many others. Yet instead of becoming frustrated by the dearth of resources, I have been finding it more beneficial to focus on improving the techniques used by a select number of progressive  farmers in the villages instead. Gathering parameters on buffalo weight, diet, health status, and management was key, but talking with farmers in the midst of a field or over a cup of chai is where I gathered an even richer array of qualitative data. On one such evening of collecting data, the sun had inconveniently set, so I quickly completed my physical exam under the beam of my LED headlamp.( It was a last minute decision to bring that light and I am so glad I did!) Two children intently watched me work and were very interested in my stethoscope as they had never heard of or seen one before. For the next few minutes, I showed them how to listen to their own heartbeat and smiled at their enthusiasm and joy over their new discovery. It is times like that which motivate me to continue my struggle of defining statistical p values and chart types.

Measuring a the girth of a water buffalo for weight estimation

Measuring a the girth of a water buffalo for weight estimation

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Performing a physical exam on a water buffalo

In between moments like sharing a stethoscope or struggling to take a rectal temperature of a buffalo, some farmers explained their hesitation to try new technologies and conveyed traditional techniques that they were uncomfortable stepping away from.  Others were excited about trying new methods of feeding their livestock and potentially increasing their income from buffalo milk. These perspectives have been quite useful as I think through future studies and development efforts that are viable for the future.  Unfortunately, many development efforts in this area have failed due to improper implementation or even things as simple as the inability to fix the broken machinery. Other efforts struggle to become sustainable because farmers do not have the financial or educational means to adopt them. To avoid repeating these mistakes, I have tried to involve a variety of organizations, researchers, and farmers in my surveys to better direct future projects from PennVet. There is much to tell, so stay tuned for my final report and results in a few blog posts!

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About gglandin

I am a third year veterinary student at the University of Pennsylvania that loves livestock and undertaking local and international adventures. I am learning to combine these interests in the cattle rich fields of India this summer and seeing firsthand how veterinary medicine can be used to develop and support rural communities.