Heifer International

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Heifer International
FounderDan West
TypeEconomic development charity
FocusAgroecology, sustainable development, work with communities to attempt to end hunger and poverty and care for the Earth.
OriginsChurch of the Brethren
Brethren Volunteer Service
Heifers for Relief
Area served
Key people
Surita Sandosham, President and CEO
Arlene Withers, Chairman of the Board
WebsiteOfficial website Edit this at Wikidata
Formerly called
Heifer Project International; Heifers for Relief (1944–1953)

Heifer International (also known as Heifer Project International) is a global nonprofit working to eradicate poverty and hunger through sustainable, values-based holistic community development.[1][2][3][4][5][6][7] Heifer International distributes animals, along with agricultural and values-based training, to families in need around the world as a means of providing self-sufficiency. Recipients must agree to "pass on the gift" by donating animal offspring, as well as sharing the skills and knowledge of animal husbandry and agricultural training with other impoverished families in the community.[8][9][10][11][12][13][14] The organization receives financial support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, BlackRock, Cargill, Mastercard Foundation, Walmart and the W. K. Kellogg Foundation.[15]

Based in Little Rock, Arkansas, United States, Heifer International started with a shipment of 17 heifers to Puerto Rico in 1944.[16][17][18][19][20]

Origins and history[edit]

Heifer International started as Heifers for Relief in 1944.[16][17][18][19][20] Its founder, an Ohio farmer named Dan West, was a Church of the Brethren relief worker during the Spanish Civil War. Working with Quakers and Mennonites, West directed a program where hungry children were given rations of milk.[18][19][20] In 1938, West was ladling out milk to hungry refugee children and wrote later that he thought, "These children don't need a cup [of milk], they need a cow."[16][17][18][19][20]

When back home in Indiana, West took the idea to his neighbors and church. This led to the formation of the Heifers for Relief Committee in 1939.[16][17][18][19][20] In 1942, West was approved by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to pursue the idea as a national project.[16][17][18][19][20] The charity was incorporated in 1944 and sent its first shipment of 17 heifers to Puerto Rico. Several local farmers who knew West donated the animals.[16][17][18][19][20]

The first cows were named, "Faith", "Hope", and "Charity", and recipient families had to promise that they would donate the first female calf to another poor family.[16][17][18][19][20] West asked farmers and church leaders to donate pregnant dairy cows due to calve soon so that impoverished families could have milk for years to come and not have to worry about breeding the cows.[16][17] Heifer International would eventually broaden its scope to distribute fish, chickens, pigs, goats, sheep, cattle, oxen, water buffaloes, bees, llamas, alpacas, camels, frogs and rabbits to poor rural communities around the world.[16][17][18][19][20]

Heifer International's first paid employee was Thurl Metzger, a member of the Church of the Brethren who started as an unpaid volunteer and served as executive director/program director and director of international programs of Heifer International for 30 years.[16][21][22][23][24] Metzger started his tenure as a seagoing cowboy. Seagoing cowboys volunteered to accompany the animals to their overseas destinations.[16][19] From 1951 to 1981, Metzger served as the executive director and director of international programs of the nonprofit and diversified the program's offerings as well as the geographic regions Heifer International was serving.[16][21][22][23][24] Eventually Metzger guided Heifer to work in developing nations instead of war-torn regions.[16]

In the early 1970s, Heifer consolidated its U.S. distribution network by buying several large farms, including a 1,200-acre ranch in Perryville, Arkansas, as livestock holding facilities.[16] The organization moved its headquarters to Little Rock, near the Perryville ranch, in 1971. Livestock are now sourced from within country or regionally.

In 1992, Heifer International appointed Jo Luck to its helm as CEO.[16] Jo Luck is a former member of Bill Clinton's Arkansas gubernatorial cabinet. Before serving as CEO and president, Luck was the director of international programs for Heifer International.[16] Heifer International's budget boomed to almost $100 million under Jo Luck's leadership.

In 2008, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation awarded Heifer International a $42.5 million grant to help poor rural farmers in East Africa double their incomes by increasing their production of high quality raw milk to sell to dairies. In 2012, the foundation followed up with an additional $8.2 million.[25][26][27]

In 2010, Pierre U. Ferrari was named CEO of Heifer International. Ferrari became president and CEO after Jo Luck's retirement.

In 2011 Heifer International has committed to help rebuild rural communities and to improve economic opportunities through livestock inputs and management in Haiti as part of the 2011 Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) Annual Meeting.[28]

Passing on the Gift[edit]

Passing on the Gift is part of Heifer International's charitable model. The nonprofit grounds all of its projects in its 12 Cornerstones of Just and Sustainable Development.

  • Passing on the gift allows families and individuals who have received animals to be donors themselves.
  • Accountability allows for organization at the grassroots level. Community members decide together what kind of animal and assistance they would like. They also set goals, plan appropriate strategies to achieve those goals, and evaluate their success. Participants take responsibility for making the most of the tools and training they receive.
  • Sharing and caring. Participants become donors themselves and contribute to a more unified community.
  • Sustainability and self-reliance. Heifer training tries to empower participants to take charge of their own success; each project has an exit strategy to prepare farmers for self-sufficiency.
  • Improved animal management. Project participants learn key essential aspects of animal husbandry.
  • Nutrition and income are the rewards Heifer expects recipients to gain from their gift animal through the consumption and/or sale of animal products.
  • Gender and family focus encourages women and men to share in decision-making and community development.
  • Genuine need and justice. Ensures that those most in need are given priority in receiving animals and training.
  • Improving the environment includes such agroecological techniques as improving soil fertility with animal manure, promoting forestation, respecting and encouraging biodiversity, monitoring watershed conditions and minimizing erosion.
  • Full participation is expected within the groups that Heifer works with.
  • Training and education include formal sessions as well as informal farm visits and demonstrations. Each project group decides on its own training needs and local people are involved as trainers.
  • Spirituality is expressed in common values, common beliefs about the value and meaning of all life, a sense of connectedness to the earth, and a shared vision of the future.[17]

External audits[edit]

Charity Navigator[edit]

As of 2018, Charity Navigator scored Heifer International as a 3-star (out of four) charity with 84.71 points out of 100. Heifer International's financial performance was rated 2-star while its transparency and accountability was rated 4-star. Based on the income statement for financial year 2017, Charity Navigator showed Heifer's non-program expenses (for administration, fundraising, and liabilities) as accounting for 23.8%, and program expenses for 76.2% of its total expenses.[29]


GiveWell notes that while Heifer International is "commonly perceived as a way to 'give a cow to a poor family as a gift' ... this is in fact a donor illusion – donations support Heifer International's general 'agricultural assistance' activities."[30] GiveWell delineates concerns about the efficacy of agricultural assistance programs in general, and, specifically, those that involve gifts of livestock, stating, in conclusion: "Neither Heifer's website nor its grant application have provided the kind of information needed to address these concerns."[30]


In 1986, President Ronald Reagan recognized Heifer with the Volunteer Action Award and in 1990 President George H.W. Bush granted the organization the Presidential End Hunger Award.[7][16]

In 2003, Heifer International was named one of Forbes magazine's top 10 charities.[31]

Heifer International also received the 2004 Conrad N. Hilton Humanitarian Prize for its efforts to eliminate hunger and help communities become self-sustaining. It was the first U.S.-based organization to win the $1-million award since 1997.[32]

Heifer International received the 2006 and 2008 Social Capitalist award from Fast Company magazine.[33][34]

In 2007, the Heifer International Headquarters building was named one of the American Institute of Architects Committee on the Environment Top Ten Green Projects.[35]

In 2008, the Heifer International Headquarters building was named a National AIA (American Institute of Architects) Institute Honor Award Winner.[35]

In 2010, Heifer International President Jo Luck was named a co-laureate of the World Food Prize with David Beckmann of Bread for the World.[36]

In 2011 Heifer International has committed to help in Haiti as part of the 2011 Clinton Global Initiative[28]

In 2012, Heifer received Kiwanis International World Service Medal.[37]


The American Institute of Philanthropy gave Heifer International an "Open Book Credit" for making complete financial documentation available on request.[38]

The Better Business Bureau's Wise Giving Alliance (WGA) reports that Heifer International meets all of its standards for charity accountability.[39] The WGA found that Heifer International is truthful in its representations of how money is spent, does not allocate an excessive part of its budget for fundraising or administrative expenses and makes its financial statements readily available to the public.[39]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Kristof, Nicholas (2008-07-03). "The Luckiest Girl". The New York Times. nytimes.com. Retrieved 20 Dec 2013.
  2. ^ Ferrari, Pierre (2013-10-15). "Rural Women Take Power Over Poverty". Huffington Post. Retrieved 20 Dec 2013.
  3. ^ "Bill Gates: United Nations Needs To Be 'More Efficient' To Help Poor Farmers". Huffington Post. 2012-02-23. Retrieved 20 Dec 2013.
  4. ^ Ferrari, Pierre (2013-07-15). "We Must Close Gaps in Inequality and Poverty". Huffington Post. Retrieved 20 Dec 2013.
  5. ^ "StrikeForce for Rural Growth and Opportunity" (PDF). U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). usda.gov. Archived from the original (PDF) on 22 January 2014. Retrieved 20 Dec 2013.
  6. ^ "Secretary Vilsack Launches USDA "StrikeForce" Initiative to Boost Rural Economic Growth and Opportunity" (press release). U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). usda.gov. 2013-03-26. Retrieved 20 Dec 2013.
  7. ^ a b Johnston, Ashley (2012-06-01). "Life Lessons". Memphis Magazine. Retrieved 20 Dec 2013.
  8. ^ Kristof, Nicholas (2012-12-05). "Gifts That Change Lives". The New York Times. Retrieved 20 Dec 2013.
  9. ^ Singer, Peter (2011-01-22). "Does Helping the Planet Hurt the Poor?". Wall Street Journal. wsj.com. Retrieved 20 Dec 2013.
  10. ^ Ferrari, Pierre (2013-09-18). "If We Fail Women Farmers, We Fail the World". Huffington Post. Retrieved 20 Dec 2013.
  11. ^ Lateef, Asma (2013-03-18). "Why Development Works". Huffington Post. Retrieved 20 Dec 2013.
  12. ^ "Heifer International". Forbes. forbes.com. Retrieved 20 Dec 2013.
  13. ^ Waghorn, Terry. "Pierre Ferrari: Taking Stock at Heifer International". Forbes. Retrieved 20 Dec 2013.
  14. ^ "Food industry exec leads hunger-fighting nonprofit". NBC. 2010-10-28. Retrieved 20 Dec 2013.
  15. ^ "Partner with Heifer International". Heifer International. Archived from the original on 2022-07-23. Retrieved 2022-07-23.
  16. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q Moser, Margaret L. (2010). Derek Jacques; Paula Kepos (eds.). "Heifer Project". International Directory of Company Histories. Detroit: St. James Press. 112: 207–210.
  17. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Kerby, Rob (2006). M. Odekon (ed.). "Heifer Project". Encyclopedia of World Poverty. 2: 476–477.
  18. ^ a b c d e f g h i "Heifer Project". Brethren Historical Library and Archives. Retrieved 20 Dec 2013.
  19. ^ a b c d e f g h i j "Seagoing Cowboys and the Heifer Project". The Civilian Public Service Story. civilpublicservice.org. Mennonite Central Committee. Retrieved 20 Dec 2013.
  20. ^ a b c d e f g h i "Seagoing Cowboys and the Heifer Project: The Maryland Story" (PDF). Catoctin History. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2013-12-24. Retrieved 20 Dec 2013.
  21. ^ a b "Thurl Metzger, 90, Who Led Heifer International, Dies". New York Times. 2006-08-01. Retrieved 20 Dec 2013.
  22. ^ a b "Thurl Metzger, Heifer's leader for 30 years, dies". South Bend Tribune. Retrieved 20 Dec 2013.
  23. ^ a b "Thurl Metzger, 90; Ex-Leader of Charity Heifer International". LA Times. 2006-07-31. Retrieved 20 Dec 2013.
  24. ^ a b "Thurl Metzger". Mississippi Civil Rights Project. Retrieved 20 Dec 2013.
  25. ^ "EAST AFRICA DAIRY DEVELOPMENT PROJECT" (PDF). Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Retrieved 20 Dec 2013.
  26. ^ "Clinton, Gates Enlisted in Heifer Chief's Hunger Fight". Bloomberg. Retrieved 20 Dec 2013.
  27. ^ Nsehe, Mfonobong (2012-07-06). "Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Grants $8 Million To Help African Dairy Farmers". Forbes. Retrieved 20 Dec 2013.
  28. ^ a b "Heifer International | Ending Poverty and Caring for the Earth". Heifer International. Retrieved 2022-06-18.
  29. ^ "Heifer Project International". charitynavigator.org. Charity Navigator. Retrieved 14 May 2018.
  30. ^ a b Karnofsky, Holden (27 December 2009). "Celebrated charities that we don’t recommend". Section, "Heifer International", with links to related posts containing details of the critique. GiveWell. givewell.org. Retrieved 13 May 2018.
  31. ^ "Genuinely Needy". Forbes. 2003-12-08. Retrieved 20 Dec 2013.
  32. ^ "List of Conrad N. Hilton Humanitarian Prize award winners". Hilton Foundation. Retrieved 20 Dec 2013.
  33. ^ "Social Capitalists: Heifer International". Fast Company. Retrieved 20 Dec 2013.
  34. ^ "Heifer International". Fast Company. Retrieved 20 Dec 2013.
  35. ^ a b "Heifer International Headquarters". The American Institute of Architects. Retrieved 20 Dec 2013.
  36. ^ "2010 World Food Prize honors grassroots leaders David Beckmann, Jo Luck". The World Food Prize. Retrieved 20 Dec 2013.
  37. ^ "Kiwanis International presents 2012 World Service Medal to Heifer International". Heifer International. 2012-06-30.
  38. ^ "Heifer International". Charity Watch. Retrieved 20 Dec 2013.
  39. ^ a b "Heifer Project International". Better Business Bureau. Retrieved 20 Dec 2013.

External links[edit]