About Animals

Frequently asked questions about animals and Heifer International

Why animals? Why not crops instead of animals?

Many of the world's people have little or no land and are often faced with steep terrain; rocky, acidic soil and scarce water. They are likely to raise a few goats and plant grass and trees rather than plow up the land for grain crops. Heifer understands how important appropriate livestock are to these people, and we work with them to ensure that the balance of crops, livestock and trees remain consistent with good ecology.

We help our project communities improve their stock and teach them to protect the environment. The animals and training that Heifer provides to these families improve their quality of life in many ways. For example:

  • Income is generated through the sale of animal products such as milk, eggs and wool.
  • Byproducts such as manure can be used to power cooking stoves or used as fertilizer to improve crop production.
  • Multipurpose animals like water buffalo and cows are reliable sources of lifesaving milk and milk products beneficial in combating malnutrition. These animals also provide energy by hauling heavy loads and can be rented to neighbors for extra income.

Small animals such as chickens require little space and consume crop byproducts or insects unsuitable for humans.

How do animals and people work together?

Animals provide families with draft power, financial security, manure, wool, transportation and protein from milk, eggs and meat. Heifer project partners take great pride in owning livestock and consider their well-being as a primary responsibility. They provide their animals with protection from predators, clean water, food, exercise space, comfortable housing and humane treatment.

What does Heifer do to ensure the long-term health and well-being of gift animals?

We appreciate and share your concern about the well-being of animals within Heifer International. By teaching and example, we make every effort to see that our project partners around the world share it as well.

Our field staff is equipped with a variety of skills that help project participants prepare for the challenges and problems they encounter by providing training prior to receiving any animal gift. A significant component of this training (and of the follow-up evaluation) is that feed, water, shelter, reproductive efficiency and health care are the essential ingredients in successful livestock management. These must be available so that the livestock provided by Heifer International can be kept healthy and productive. The animals should be a vital part of the farm activities without causing an extra burden on family members or the farm resources in general. The species and breed chosen must be appropriate for the area. Our expectation is that our project partners will provide care for the animal in an environment that minimizes stress and satisfies its basic behavioral and social needs.

Moreover, since all recipients of Heifer International animals contract to "Pass on the Gift," (give their animal's offspring to another family in need), the whole community is attentive to the well-being of these precious and valuable creatures. Basically, these animals are the Project Partners' life blood: they do not want to injure them and often develop close bonds with them.

Additionally, most projects have an internal monitoring committee to ensure proper care. 

Heifer publishes several brochures on how this is accomplished, including Heifer's Guidelines and Standards for Animal Well-Being that you can read below. Other materials are available by contacting Heifer's Donor Services at 855.9HUNGER (855.948.6437).


How does Heifer decide where to purchase animals?

Heifer sources almost all of its animals locally, within the country of the project. Although this is our preferred method, there are rare occasions where a particular breed of animal is not available locally and may be sourced from the nearest available country. We do this to meet the specific needs of project participants, especially in areas where we may be working to reintroduce agricultural practices. It is our preference to source locally, but availability sometimes requires us to look at regional options.

Does Heifer ship animals?

In the 1960s, Heifer transitioned from shipping animals internationally to purchasing and redistributing local or regional livestock. This eliminated the long, laborious journey overseas. However, there are rare occasions where a particular breed of animal is not available locally and may be sourced from the nearest available country. We do this to meet the specific needs of project participants, especially in areas where we may be working to reintroduce agricultural practices. It is our preference to source locally, but availability sometimes requires us to look at regional options.

Does my money really go toward the purchase of animals?

As a donor, you are given the opportunity to designate gifts to specific country programs or for specific animals. Gifts are deposited into various animal accounts, such as "llama/alpaca," "tree seedlings" or "bees." We have different accounts for every type of Heifer International animal. When any animal fund becomes depleted and there is still a need, monies from any other animal fund can be used where needed most. Meeting the needs of hungry families always comes first, but we do our best to accommodate your wishes, too.

Every gift to Heifer International represents a gift to our total mission of purchasing and transporting food and income-producing animals, as well as providing intensive training in animal husbandry; environmentally sound, sustainable farming; community development and global education. Again, gifts designated for a particular project or animal are used as requested until that need is fully met. Any remaining money is put to use where it is needed most.


I'm a vegetarian/vegan and uncomfortable with the idea of supporting animal donations. Do people eat the animals that are given to them? What can you tell me about my concerns? What other options do I have for supporting your work to end hunger and poverty?

We share your concern for animal welfare, animal health and animal rights and have many vegetarian employees and supporters. But when people are living hand-to-mouth and livestock development will give them a future, we answer their urgent requests for help whenever possible. This stops the practices of destroying forests and ruining the land, and lowers the rates of starvation and death due to easily preventable diseases. We recognize that a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle is a wonderful choice where it is possible, but must admit that oftentimes such a diet would not meet the nutritional and economical situation faced by our partners or be culturally appropriate.

We have many projects around the world where the animal does not provide any food directly to the family whatsoever, but rather is an integral player in developing various other sources of primary foods. The manure enriches the soil; draft power enables families to market excess vegetables, milk or other produce; additional income pays for schooling, clothes and food. In the case of smaller animals, however, many provide increased protein for impoverished families. Also, through careful management and record keeping, these project partners are increasing their income through the sale of offspring, eggs, furs, hair and so forth from these animals.

But we understand our responsibility and obligation to provide other options for earning your support if you cannot in good conscience go along with our animal donation practices and outlook. In addition to animals, many Heifer donors opt for a "greener" future by honoring friends and family who love the outdoors with gifts of trees. Trees are essential to life on Earth. They breathe out oxygen and breathe in carbon dioxide. They hold water in the soil and moisture in the air. They provide food and medicines for birds, animals and people. Planting fast-growing trees puts nitrogen back in the soil, serves as windbreaks and provides fodder, fruit, fencing and firewood.

Or consider honeybees! Honeybees are of great benefit to Heifer project partners as well. Honoring a friend or family member with honeybees is a gift that shows you cherish both people and the environment. The way bees work together is a lesson for us all. They produce food, care for the young, recycle waste and create an effective, efficient community. They pollinate fruits, flowers and vegetables in the process - a benefit for us. A package of Heifer International bees and a hive gives families better crops, candle wax, pollen for medicine and honey to eat and sell.