70 Years Ago Today

By Annie Bergman

October 3, 2019

Last Updated: July 14, 2014

70 Years Ago Today

Seventy years ago today, on July 14, 1944, the first  ‘seagoing cowboy’ boarded a ship in Mobile, Alabama, along with some unusual passengers: 17 heifers. This voyage lasted eight days and ended in Castañer, Puerto Rico, where hungry families were awaiting the arrival of the animals that held so much promise.

It was the first shipment of the newly formed Heifer Project (now Heifer International), and those animals helped to curb severe milk shortages in the island nation. In an excerpt from the article pictured above, cowboy Wayne Hostetler wrote, "The families were usually large and were very grateful for the gift of heifers. For instance, 'Faith' is to supply milk for a family of twelve children who have never tasted milk. When we visited some of these homes we noticed that these farmers did almost everything they knew how to make the heifers comfortable."

The First Cowboy

Found photos chronicling one of the first Heifer voyages overseas

Since that day the gifts of cattle, pigs, goats and other livestock have gone on to change the lives of 22.6 million families, or 114.9 million people, in more than 125 countries.

The seed for Heifer International was planted in founder Dan West while he worked as a Church of the Brethren volunteer in Spain. He had seen the horrors that war had brought upon the people there and thought that peace would begin when the hungry were fed. It was the "not a cup, but a cow" concept that he pitched to a group of Indiana farmers in the late 1930s that blossomed into the international development organization headquartered in Little Rock, Ark. today.

Heifer has grown and evolved over our 70 years. The first shipments of animals took place through a partnership between two organizations: The United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA) and the Brethren Service Committee of the Church of the Brethren. When the UNRRA disbanded in 1947, the Church of the Brethren thankfully kept the Heifer project going.  

Read more about the seagoing cowboys and cowgirls involved with Heifer.

By 1967, Heifer had shipped 1 million chicks to hungry families, many of which ended up in Korea after that war. It wasn't long after that Heifer transitioned away from shipping animals in the sourcing animals in country. What has remained consistent, however, is a solid foundation of values rooted in the tradition of Passing on the Gift.  To this day, a gift is passed on an average of nine times. 

In the past few years, we've committed to helping more people, faster. Our programs have gone from an average size of about 150 families to more than 1,000 and up to 10,000. We're focusing on how small-scale farmers can improve the environment and mitigate the effects of climate change; or how, collectively, these farmers can change the face of big businesses.  

Though today is our official anniversary, we've been celebrating our 70 years all year along with the UN designation of 2014 as the International Year of Family Farming. You can join Heifer International by helping us move Beyond Hunger at an event celebrating our 70 years of family farming. Join others in your area to become a community of change. Together we can realize an end to world hunger and poverty.