Changing the World One Cow at a Time

One of the most innovative charitable organizations currently in operation, Heifer International was founded by farmer Dan West as a practical solution to fighting hunger and poverty in needy communities around the world. Rather than sending food supplies or funds to these areas, Heifer International provides them with livestock and training to help impoverished regions become self-sufficient and to provide them with marketable commodities that can be used to better their communities.

Heifers for Relief

During the Spanish Civil War, Dan West worked with Mennonites, Quakers and members of his own church, the Church of the Brethren, to provide relief for refugees displaced by the conflict. As part of his charitable efforts, West distributed milk to hungry children in the region. These efforts provided added nutrition for needy families, but West felt more could be done to improve their lots. Upon his return home to the U.S., West worked with his friends, neighbors and the members of his church to found Heifers for Relief. The charity was officially established in 1944 and delivered 17 heifers to Puerto Rico later that same year.

Starting Small

The first cattle sent to needy communities were donated by local farmers. Heifer International personnel sought donations of pregnant cows and asked the recipients to donate the first female calf to another needy community. In this way, Heifer International sought to maximize the impact of their gifts and to ensure added prosperity throughout the targeted region. Volunteers with the organization accompanied the animals to their new home and provided guidance and instruction on the care and feeding of the livestock. This combination of education and material support ensured that communities derived optimal benefit from these generous gifts.

Consolidating the Effort

By the 1970s, Heifer International had gained significant visibility in the U.S. and used its increasing financial resources to purchase land and to begin a large-scale ranching operation in Arkansas. This new facility allowed Heifer to provide even greater support to distressed areas in developing countries and to offer agricultural guidance and animal husbandry education to communities in dire need of help. The Heifer International model requires recipients of livestock to pass on the gift they received to others in need within their community or in their region; for instance, families that receive pigs, goats, cattle and chickens must share the offspring of these animals with others as part of their agreement with Heifer.

The contributions of Heifer International to the international community have not gone unnoticed by the philanthropic community. In 2008, Heifer was awarded $42.5 million in grant money by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to support the organization’s work with dairy farmers in East Africa. Heifer International assisted these farmers in increasing milk production and was awarded a further $8.2 million grant in 2012 to help them continue this work on behalf of these small farming communities. To date, Heifer International has assisted over 105 million people in 125 countries around the globe and continues to change lives one cow at a time.


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