The Beginnings of the Heifer Project

Dan West distributes clothing and blankets in Spain to Spanish Civil War victims, 1937 or 1938. Photo courtesy of Jan West Schrock.

After witnessing children dying from a limited supply of powdered milk in Spain in 1937 and 1938 during the Spanish Civil War, Church of the Brethren leader Dan West came home promoting the idea of “a cow, not a cup.” At a meeting of the Church of the Brethren Northern Indiana District Men’s Work April 12, 1942, and with the prior blessing of the denomination’s Brethren Service Committee, Dan’s plan was accepted and set in motion.

As the project evolved, it went through a series of names:
– “Dan West’s Calf Project”
– “Cattle for Europe”
– “Heifers for the Low Countries”
– “European Cattle Project”
– “Dairy Cattle for Belgium”
It was finally officially termed “The Heifer Project” at the “Cattle Committee” meeting of December 16, 1942, and at the subsequent Brethren Service Committee’s final approval of the plan in January 1943.

The purpose of the “Cattle for Europe” plan Dan presented to the Northern Indiana Men’s Work in April 1942 was “to save children’s lives, and to help in rehabilitation.” The agencies to involve went beyond the Brethren Service Committee to include the Mennonite Central Committee, American Friends’ Service Committee, and “other non-partisan agencies wanting to help. No circumference,” Dan proposed, “will be drawn by us if the essential purposes fit.”

Dan’s plan.

Dan’s outline of tasks for the Brethren Service Committee was well thought out and expansive, including:
– Appointment of a subcommittee to administer the project and encourage cooperation with other groups. (This became the Heifer Project Committee.)
– Plans to “[m]ake clear the trackage with Belgian, Dutch, and/or other governments for the efficient placing of heifers of suitable breeds as soon as [the WWII] blockade is lifted and shipping resources permit.”
– Securing cooperation of all USDA agencies.
– Creation of district committees “in at least 5 districts in at least 5 states: Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Virginia.”
– Securing of heifer calves and securing funds from willing donors.
– Earmarking heifers “BSC,” concentrating and shipping heifers to Atlantic ports at BSC expense, and shipping heifers to European ports at the expense of European recipient countries.
– Plans to “[s]end BSC and/or other responsible [persons] with every shipload to destination on European farms” and report on such.
– Contingency plans for disposal of cows, calves, and milk products “in case of delays because of war uncertainties.”

Dan set his sights high with a suggested schedule of having 1,000 heifers ready by Autumn 1942, another 5,000 by spring 1943, 10,000 by that fall, and 20,000 each in spring and fall of 1944 and 1945.

“I believe our church has the resources to furnish more than ¼ of this total number,” Dan noted. “How much of the motive we have remains to be seen.”

Next post: Dan West’s rationale for the Heifer Project

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