Historical photo of people gathered around a cow.

Our History

75 years of lasting change

Historical photo of people gathered around a cow.

For more than 75 years, Heifer International has worked with people all around the world to end hunger and poverty and care for the Earth. 

Historical photo of Dan West leaning on a tree.

How Heifer International Began

In 1944, Dan West began outlining a simple but groundbreaking plan to tackle hunger around the world. West, a farmer from the Midwest and Church of the Brethren member, had recently returned from feeding weary refugees during volunteer service in the Spanish Civil War.

 

He’d seen firsthand that giving people food was a short-term solution, whereas providing them with animals offered a steady supply of nutritious food for an entire family. 

His philosophy still inspires Heifer’s work today. Partnering with farmers across a range of different livestock and crops, we create unique solutions to local challenges. Together, we build inclusive, resilient economies, so communities can develop effective ways to end global hunger and poverty in a sustainable way.

These days, Heifer International generally provides animals to participating families through local channels in the countries we serve. But early on, the organization shipped livestock from the United States to other countries. During their travels, these animals were cared for by "seagoing cowboys": ranchers and farmers who aided Heifer in its mission by lending their expertise in animal husbandry and agriculture.

Historical Photo of Seagoing Cowboys

The Seagoing Cowboys: A Part of Heifer History

In the years following World War II, more than 7,000 men and women accompanied shipments of cattle, pigs, goats and other livestock across land, sea and air to deliver them to families in Europe. For many of them, these trips presented a series of firsts — the first time setting sail on a ship, the first time crossing the ocean and the first time visiting another culture. For many of these seagoing cowboys, their faith was tested as they witnessed the devastation of the war, but came away with a renewed sense of hope and purpose after helping families in need.

Collage of illustrations from history videos with the 75th anniversary logo.

A Timeline: 75 years of impact

Heifer International was born from that simple idea of empowerment, and for 75 years the organization has worked tirelessly to give families a hand up, rather than just a handout.

Explore the history of Heifer International and see how donors like you have helped bring over 34 million families out of poverty.

Explore Our Decades of Dedication

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