By Peggy Reiff Miller
This summer marks the 70th anniversary of Heifer International, the award-winning development organization based in Little Rock, Ark., that had its beginnings in the Church of the Brethren in northern Indiana.
The first shipment of 18 heifers (young cows that have not yet borne a calf) left Nappanee, Ind., June 12, 1944, on a four-day train trip to Mobile, Ala. Seventeen of those heifers (one got sick and had to stay behind) left Mobile on the William D. Bloxham on July 14 headed for Puerto Rico.
Heifer International is celebrating its 70 years of service all across the country this year with “Beyond Hunger” events. It is fitting that one of these events will take place at Camp Alexander Mack in Milford, Ind., the weekend of Sept. 12-14.
The beginnings of Heifer
The Heifer Project, as it was originally known, was the brain child of Church of the Brethren leader Dan West. He and his family lived on a small farm between Goshen and Middlebury. In 1937, the Society of Friends (Quakers) invited the Church of the Brethren and Mennonites to assist them in a relief project in Spain during the Spanish Civil War. The Brethren sent Dan West as their salaried representative. While watching limited supplies of reconstituted powdered milk being distributed to infants, with those not gaining weight being taken off the list to die, West thought, “Why not send cows to Spain so they’d have all the milk they need?”
After arriving home in early 1938, West relentlessly promoted the “cow, not a cup” idea. It took four years, but in April 1942, the Northern Indiana Men’s Work of the Church of the Brethren adopted his plan for “Cattle for Europe.” A committee was formed which became the core of a national Heifer Project Committee when the denomination’s Brethren Service Committee adopted the plan months later. Other denominations were invited to participate, making it an ecumenical program practically from the start.
Local committees were formed, heifers were raised and donated, but World War II was raging and the animals couldn’t be shipped across the Atlantic. The Church of the Brethren had a Civilian Public Service (CPS) project in Puerto Rico at the time, CPS being the arm of the Selective Service System set up for conscientious objectors in World War II. So the first shipment of 17 heifers was sent to Puerto Rico in July 1944 to help struggling farmers around the island. Another shipment of 50 heifers to Puerto Rico followed in May 1945.
When World War II ended in Europe in May 1945, the Brethren Service Committee teamed up with the newly-formed United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA, not to be confused with today’s United Nations). They agreed that UNRRA would ship Heifer Project animals free of charge and the Brethren Service Committee would recruit all the cattle tenders needed for UNRRA’s own livestock shipments to countries devastated by the war.
Over UNRRA’s short two-year active life span, around 7,000 men and boys served as “seagoing cowboys” on UNRRA’s 360 livestock shipments.
The Heifer Project continued, developing into today’s Heifer International, which today provides all types of livestock and environmentally sound agricultural training to families in more than 40 countries including the United States.
Beyond Hunger at Camp Mack
The Sept. 12-14 Beyond Hunger event at Camp Mack will honor Heifer’s work through the years. After a Friday evening hog roast, two of Dan West’s children will tell stories of their father and the Heifer Project around a campfire.
Saturday will be filled with events celebrating Heifer International’s past, present, and future, including a noon luncheon with Heifer’s CEO Pierre Ferrari speaking, presentations by local Church of the Brethren author and researcher Peggy Reiff Miller, and former Heifer Midwest director Dave Boothby, and workshops with Heifer staff.
Children’s activities and a petting zoo are being planned. A number of seagoing cowboys will be present from around the country to share their stories and be recognized. On Sunday, several area participating churches will honor Heifer International in their services and host guest speakers from Heifer.
Early registration for this Beyond Hunger event is required, as registration will be closed when the maximum of 300 participants is reached. The day’s activities and luncheon on Saturday are free. There is a charge for the Friday and Saturday evening meals and lodging.
— Peggy Reiff Miller is a writer and musician who has researched and written many of the stories of Heifer’s “sea-going cowboys.” She is working on a nonfiction book about the history of the seagoing cowboys and has produced a DVD documentary photo story, “A Tribute to
the Seagoing Cowboys,” available for $12.95 from Brethren Press at www.brethrenpress.com/ProductDetails.asp?ProductCode=1408 . Her website about the sea-going cowboys is at www.seagoingcowboys.com .