Special post: Celebrating the 75th anniversary of Heifer International’s first shipment to Europe

May 14, 1945, is a special day in Heifer International history. It marks a dream finally realized.

The Heifer Project, Dan West’s dream of sending cows to Europe to help starving war victims, came to life in April 1942. The Church of the Brethren Northern Indiana District Men’s Work organization adopted West’s idea and named a committee to get it going. The idea caught on, and by January 1943 it became a national program of the Brethren Service Committee. However – and this is a BIG however – with World War II raging, shipping live cargo across the Atlantic was simply out of the question. And not for the lack of trying on the part of the Heifer Project Committee to get heifers to Belgium and Spain. In 1944, with plenty of heifers ready to go, the committee sent a small pilot shipment instead to Puerto Rico.

Concurrently, the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration was in the planning stages of how they would operate when hostilities ceased. Despite West’s attempts to get UNRRA to agree to ship Heifer Project animals, UNRRA did not intend to ship live cargo. But when the Near East Foundation requested bulls for Greece to help the country’s devastated dairy industry rebuild, UNRRA approached the Heifer Project for assistance with a pilot project of their own. Brethren Pennsylvania diary farmer and Guernsey breeder Benjamin Bushong was drafted to obtain the bulls for the Heifer Project and see them to the ship. May 14, 1945, just six days after V-E day in Europe, six purebred bulls sailed for Greece. Bushong became Executive Secretary of the Heifer Project later that year and often joked that the first “heifers” to Europe were “six bulls.”

Brown Swiss bulls donated by the Heifer Project after arrival in Greece, May 1945. Credit: UNRRA photo.

Read the story of that first European livestock shipment for both UNRRA and the Heifer Project in two parts here and here.

Congratulations Heifer International on another live-saving milestone!

Dr. Martin M. Kaplan: Heifer International’s second seagoing cowboy delivers bulls to Greece, Part II

Today, we resume the adventures of seagoing cowboy and veterinarian Dr. Martin M. Kaplan as he oversees the transport of six pedigreed Brown Swiss bulls to Greece aboard the Swedish M/S Boolongena, meaning “kangaroo” in Australian dialect.

“Molly’s John of Lee Hill,” renamed Parnassus by the Greeks, being led to the consecration service in Greece for the six bulls donated by the Heifer Project, August 1945. UNRRA Photograph.

The ship departed St. John, New Brunswick, Canada, on schedule May 14, 1945. The next morning, Kaplan was introduced to the “experienced assistant who could understand English” which he had been assured he would have. “He was a good soul, about 55 years old,” Kaplan says, “whose extensive livestock experience was gained on a farm for a short time when he was a child.” Kaplan soon came to realize that “hi” was the extent of the man’s English. “We misunderstood each other beautifully with the immediate consequence that he fed the bulls twice as much concentrated feed as I had indicated. The lately arrived package of drugs [for the bulls] proved its value.”

After ideal weather the first few days, Kaplan says, “we entered a period of pitching and rolling during which ‘the kangaroo’ lived up to her name, until we reached Gibraltar.” Orders for a change in the ship’s Greek destination from Piraeus to Patras necessitated a six-day stay in Gibralter. The new route ran through an area where the magnetic mines laid by the Nazis had not yet been cleared, so the ship had to be demagnitized.

While in Gibralter, a “near-catastrophe” occurred, Kaplan says. “Duke, the oldest and strongest bull sporting two nose rings, indicating previous trouble, became restless. Duke broke the chain which partially confined him.” Then Duke made a “mighty heave backwards.” He tore the rings out of his nose spraying Kaplan with blood as he was trying to fix the chain. They now had “a pain maddened bull loose in what was too obviously an inadequate enclosure for an animal in his state.” Kaplan slowly retreated and advised those watching to “get out on deck and up on the hatch if the bull made a break.”

“There was little we could do until he had quieted down,” Kaplan says. So they went to dinner. Kaplan went to bed that night and dreamed of being chased by the bull.

Kaplan reconstrained the bull, then, by giving him “a Mickey Finn in his drinking water,” 40 times the strength needed to incapacitate a sailor, “which made him merely buckle slightly at the knees,” Kaplan says. But it gave Kaplan the time he needed to insert new nose rings and replace the collar with a much sturdier rope, “strong enough to lash a ship to a dock,” he says.

After a tense passage through the mined area, the ship docked in Patras, only to discover the message of the change in port had not reached the people who were to prepare the dock for unloading. A flying stall was constructed on the spot, and the bulls were offloaded and trucked to Athens and the experimental farm waiting for them. “Athens swelled visibly with pride as we entered with the bulls,” Kaplan says. “My contribution to the swelling was a not inconsiderable sigh of relief. May their seed flouish.”

Consecration of the six bulls begins with centuries old prayers at the Superior School of Agriculture in Athens, the first of many breeding centers to be established, August 26, 1945. UNRRA photograph.

And flourish their seed did. Heifer Project sent another six bulls to Greece in February 1948, and UNRRA sent a few more. “Since the program started … over 16,000 calves have been born and more are coming every day,” states John Halpin, Artificial Insemination Program Director in Greece, in an August 1949 article in The Brown Swiss Bulletin. “These calves sired by outstanding selected sires will have a tremendous influence on the future dairy industry of Greece.”

Mr. F. I. Elliott of the Near East Foundation examines through the microscope the sperm taken from the first bull, after which farmers gather around to have their first glimpse of microscopic life. UNRRA photograph.

The Joannis Golemis family receives the first calf, a bull, born through the artificial insemination program in Greece from the sperm of “Orangeville Bell Boy”, renamed Imittos. UNRRA photograph.

Next post: Heifer Project’s second shipment to Puerto Rico and two seagoing cowboys at odds.

Dr. Martin M. Kaplan: Heifer International’s second seagoing cowboy delivers bulls to Greece, Part I

It was an eventful crossing of the Atlantic for seagoing cowboy and veterinarian Dr. Martin M. Kaplan. His “unusual mission” started the day World War II ended in Europe in May 1945.

With his veterinary degree and master’s degree in public health, the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA) hired Dr. Kaplan to accompany six pedigreed bulls to Greece. The bulls were a gift of the Heifer Project to service an insemination program of the Near East Foundation. Greece had lost 40% of its cattle during the war. The insemination program would help the Greek dairy industry recover.

After a long train ride from UNRRA headquarters in Washington, D.C., Kaplan arrived in St. John, New Brunswick, Canada, the morning of Thursday, May 10, to meet his ship. However, when UNRRA contracted the Swedish vessel M/S Boolongena, the war was still on. “The neutral Swedes did not want to break rules by having a paying passenger on one of their freighters going into a war zone,” Kaplan says. So with his master’s in public health, UNRRA was able to sign Kaplan on as the ship’s doctor.

M/S Boolongena, 1952. Source: City of Vancouver Archives. Photographer: Walter Edwin Frost.

Kaplan soon met “the six crosses I would bear” and the man who had purchased them for the Brethren Service Committee, Benjamin Bushong. Bushong was to have tended the bulls until sailing, but an urgent development with the 50 heifers being gathered for Heifer Project’s next shipment to Puerto Rico pulled him away.

In Kaplan’s entertaining report to UNRRA, he says, “[The bulls] were in an isolated railroad car, 1½ miles away from the ship. All the feed and water were gone, ½ bale of hay remained, 2 bulls were completely unbroken, and darkness was approaching….After throwing this lapful at me, Bushong bid me a cheery good-bye, and assured me that I would have little trouble.”

Kaplan had the railroad car moved closer to the ship and procured feed and hay after which he endured “rain and snow for three days, a growing compost pile that assumed formidable proportions by the fourth day in the middle of the car, [and] six suspicious bulls.”

The Heifer Project’s six Brown Swiss pedigreed bulls after arrival in Greece, May 1945. Photo credit: UNRRA Photograph.

In the meantime, stalls were built under the forecastle deck, the location at the front of the ship that normally housed sailors’ living quarters. This meant having to get the bulls through a 2½-feet-wide doorway, “but it was the best location available,” Kaplan says.

Departure was set for Monday, May 14. At 6:00 a.m., two hours before loading time, Kaplan says, “I fed the animals heavily to dull the edge of their tempers for the forthcoming excitement (my drugs hadn’t as yet arrived). There was little difficulty in moving the animals individually from the railroad car directly into a horse-box, thence by means of a crane onto the deck. The delicate procedure was to lead them through a narrow doorway, up a 20 feet long wooden ramp, over obstacles reminiscent of a steeple chase, into their individual stalls.” This task fell to Kaplan when the longshoremen, normally the only ones allowed to touch the cargo during loading, “formally invited” Kaplan “to lead the bulls to their stalls. . . . I led four of them and was chased by two,” Kaplan says, “but they all ended up in their respective places with a net result of one slightly squashed finger.”

[to be continued in April 12 post]