My Undergraduate Encounter With Animals
Photo by the author.
Right from my childhood days, I have longed to study medicine. Although I came from an agricultural region where more than 70% of the population engaged in agriculture, I buried my head conducting procedures on countless lizards within my neighbourhood.
As time progressed, I completed my secondary education in preparation for admission into the University.
In 2012, when over 1.5 million secondary school students scrambled to sit for the JAMB examination (Joint Admission and Matriculation Board), I burnt my midnight candle to cross the cut off mark of 180 required to gain entry into the University. Since getting into the medical school was a hard nut to crack, I wanted to go through the microbiology route before proceeding to the medical school. As fate had it, I passed and was invited for an aptitude test at the Federal University of Agriculture, Makurdi. I recall the stress we the applicants passed through before sitting for the exam. Our invitation forms initially indicated that the examination was scheduled to take place at the animal farm axis of the school. However, an impromptu announcement came in for change of venue to the South core axis of the school (a distance of about 4 km). Confusion beclouded the applicants as many hopped onto bikes and moving vehicles on sight to make it to the new venue. After hours of wait, some examiners came in to organize the marmot crowd for the commencement of the exam. Weeks after the conduct of the exam, results were released with a follow up merit admission list. Fortunate for me, I scored high and was granted admission to study Agronomy at the school. This initially caused me great depression because it was my dream to study medicine. After series of counsels and encouragement, I summoned courage to give the course a trial. New students were then asked to conclude screening and resume in January 2013 for the commencement of full lecture. The screening was a very stressful exercise synonymous to a military recruit training. Students stood for hours unattended to despite the scorching heat that characterizes Northern Nigeria. For me, I spent about 3 days before I was able to scale through the screening process.
Upon resumption, I had to attend lectures standing for close to 8 hours daily because the lecture hall provided by the school could not accommodate the thousands of students admitted into the program. This continued unabated for three years. In my fourth year, we were given a smaller lecture hall compared to the ones we had previously been using in the past years. This made life unbearable for my colleagues and I but with industrial training beckoning during the second semester of our fourth year, we endured this temporary pain.
During the 6 months industrial training, I was taken through the rudiments of crop farming before complementing it with animal training techniques. It was indeed a great experience as I learnt how to raise poultry, ruminants, pigs, and rabbits.
As this went on, I was assigned to a project supervisor tasked with the responsibility of guiding me through my research project. He was so kind to me to the extent that he gave me free hand to choose a topic and work on the plant I desired. I brainstormed extensively and came up with the idea of researching about bitter gourd (a fruit with proven health benefits). However, I was discouraged from continuing with it due to the non-availability of planting materials and instead, opted for cowpea.
According to the rules of the school, each project student was expected to apply for a portion of land from the school. This initially was a herculean task considering the hundreds of students jostling for land portions. After being assigned a sizeable portion, I began clearing the soil for tillage. Hungry grasshoppers hopped from plant to plant in search for food while I did this. This quickly reminded me about series of lectures I had about food chain in biology. With clearing completed, I engaged the services of some young boys to make some ridges. This process would have been a very hectic experience but the timely intervention of some earthworms came to rescue. This is because earthworms increases nutrient availability, promotes better drainage and makes the soil structure stable for soil cultivation.
Since the topic of my project “The effect of seed aging on the germination and yield of cowpea” had to do with seed, I was expected to visit the seed technology centre of the school to get some planting materials. When I got there and received some cowpea samples, I was amazed to discover the presence of weevils inside the storage containers. This made the sorting of planting materials a herculean task.
With the planting sample clean, I proceeded to the project site to plant my seeds. After 3 days when I came back to check and collect data, I discovered that many cotyledons had already emerged from the soil. According to the data parameters guiding my project, I was expected to count the number of leaves, branches, and measure the height of about 90 cowpea stands for seven consecutive days. This indeed was a dangerous task because of the lonely nature of the farm coupled with the presence of wild animals.
On one occasion while I was inspecting my farm, a big snake crawled across a ridge close to me. At first, I froze for a moment while I brainstormed on what to do. Since the snake was moving in an opposite direction, I had to abandon the thought of attacking it. I quietly stood still until the snake cat walked across my farm to a neighbouring one. The fear from this experience halted my activity for the day as I hurried back to my school hostel.
Cowpea being a leguminous crop is always susceptible to attack from on field and storage pests. After been armed with this knowledge from a laboratory technician, I employed the use of a knapsack sprayer to get rid of some cowpea pests ravaging my farm. These pests were so wise that immediately they sensed the presence of a repelling pesticide, they will flee to neighbouring farms that had not been subjected to the same treatment. This trick initially worked out in favour of the pests but when I employed the strategy of also spraying neighbouring plots, I was able to subdue their influence on my tender cowpea plants.
A month after planting, I began to apply agronomic practices like weeding and fertilizer application. One fateful day while I was carrying out these activities, a hare visited a neighbouring farm of another project student to destroy his soybean plant. With the execution of a successful field project a prerequisite to graduate from the University, we gave it a hot chase. The chase was interesting because the animal dribbled us like a prime Lionel Messi across the ridges of different farms. Fortunately, it escaped into a nearby shrub to our dismay.
Towards the completion of my cowpeas production cycle, I was expected to embark upon another spraying exercise to get rid of potential field-storage pest. Being a Sunday, I had to wait until church services ended at noon before visiting my farm. Upon arrival, I mixed the pesticide with water and began spraying. As I sprayed from ridge to ridge, I came across the remains from a moulted snake. Initially, I thought it was a living snake but after examining it a second time, I discovered it was just a moult. What would have been my lot if it were a living snake? What if I was bitten, how would I seek treatment while in the bush far away from help? As I pondered over these questions, I gave thanks to God for helping me.
In November when the rain seized, I began harvesting my cowpea pods. During this exercise, which I thought would be animal free; I noticed the presence of some stubborn weevils within the dry pods boring my harvest. This experience indeed proved to me, the resilient nature of pests.
After the harvest, I subjected my data to statistical analysis using an application called Minitab 17. The results from the software affirmed my hypothesis that seed ageing does not affect the germination and production indices provided all the required agronomic practices are observed.
The schools rules stipulates that each project student was expected to defend his or her project before a panel comprised of teaching staff. As I mounted the podium to give a detailed presentation from my research, God helped me to deliver a breath-taking presentation that earned me an A grade.
Ekoja Solomon is an agripreneur from Nigeria who has a passion of impacting his world for Jesus Christ. He employs the skills of research, critical thinking and creative writing to effect change and he is open for further projects. Contact him on www.facebook.com/ekoja7