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

Heifer International celebrates 75 years of shipments in 2019

Even though the Heifer Project was birthed in 1942, Heifer International has for decades celebrated its anniversaries according to the date of their first shipment, July 14, 1944. Plans are in the works for celebrating their 75th anniversary this year. In honor of this anniversary, I’ll be sharing Heifer Project stories with you throughout the year along with seagoing cowboy stories.

Dan West, 1960. Photo by Kermon Thommason, courtesy of Brethren Historical Library and Archives.

For starters, I offer a challenge to all of you creatives out there! Coming off the holiday season is an appropriate time to share a delightful effort spearheaded by Heifer’s founder Dan West for Heifer’s 24th year. As I was researching his files at the Brethren Historical Library and Archives this past October, I came across a draft for words to a song Dan called “Twenty-four Years of Heifers” – to be sung to the tune of “Twelve Days of Christmas.”

At the end, Dan issued this challenge: “If you want to help this folksong to develop, you are welcome to try.”

So, dear creative readers! If you want to help this folksong (or any other) develop for Heifer’s 75th anniversary, you are welcome to try! I’d love to see what you come up with.

Here’s Dan’s draft:

TWENTY-FOUR YEARS OF HEIFERS – a musical conversation

Several – maybe many authors
Tune: “Twelve Days of Christmas”

1. Four Solos: a. Puerto Rican, b. Japanese, c. (duet) Korean, d. Egyptian, e. Ecuadorean

   a. In the first year of heifers Somebody gave to me
       A healthy calf – and new responsibility
   b. In the third year of heifers Somebody gave to me
       A healthy doe – and new responsibility
   c. In the fifth year of heifers Somebody gave to me
       Plane loads of eggs – they hatched into chicks
       That laid a million eggs – and a new responsibility
   d. In the sixth year of heifers Somebody gave to me
       15 healthy chicks – and a new responsibility
   e. In the ? Year of heifers Somebody gave to me
       A healthy gilt – and a new responsibility.

2. Four ignorant persons (singly at first)

      a. What is a heifer?
      b. What is a dough?*
      c. What is a guilt?*
      d. Why did they give?

(then together): What new responsibility?

3. The six “foreigners” together

      “PASS ON THE GIFT”
      This is what they said When they gave to us
      Living gifts of love – with that new responsibility

4. All together

      We have seen in Heifer Project
      – a way of building health
      – source of animal protein
      – “Complete amino acids” (Prof. Anton Carlson, University of Chicago)
      – “Source of love and laughter” (St. Francis of Assisi)
      – “Help them help themselves” (Sir John Orr, FAO Director General)
      – Restore their self-respect
      – “Democracy in Action” (Douglas Henderson, U.S. Ambassador to Bolivia)

* misspelled intentionally

That’s where he stopped. In my next post, I’ll share the musical score for Dan and Company’s creation.