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Born and raised in USA: livestock for world poor

By Peter TongeStaff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / May 15, 1986

Rutland, Mass.

ROSALEE Sinn walks past the barn stalls housing goats, kids, some rabbits, a chicken or two and, yes, even a guinea fowl, to lean on the split-rail fence surrounding the cow pen. The 20 or so two-year-old heifers inside, born and raised on New England farms, will soon be flown to the dusty plains of Jordan. They are America's gift to some impoverished residents there, part of an ongoing program that has helped raise the living standards of the rural poor in this manner since the final years of World War II.

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Heifer Project International (HPI), the private development agency sponsoring the program, promotes self-sufficiency and independence by providing quality breeding stock -- cows and goats for the most part, but also rabbits, chickens, and even bees -- to qualified individuals too poor to purchase stock of this caliber.

But HPI faces an unusual challenge right now.

The organization has an ``unparalleled opportunity to bless others,'' but an inability to take full advantage of the situation because of a shortage of funds, says Mrs. Sinn, director of Overlook Farm here, Northeast regional headquarters of the Arkansas-based agency.

The opportunity results from the federal government's dairy-herd buyout program, aimed at reducing the oversupply of milk by cutting the number of dairy cows by 1.55 million during the next three years.

Many farmers accepting the buyout offer would rather see their bred-for-milk animals go overseas than have them slaughtered and add to the oversupply of meat at home -- thus eliminating one glut by creating another. These concerns have resulted in hundreds of offers of young cows or heifers (not yet in milk and therefore more readily shipped) pouring into HPI headquarters in Arkansas and its five regional centers, including this one at Overlook Farm.

But while HPI has all the stock it can currently handle, it is frustrated by a lack of funds to ship the animals to needy recipients. The cost of air-freighting animals can range from a low of $750 to a high of $3,000 each, depending on the distance involved. ``It's generally much cheaper to ship people than cows,'' Sinn points out.

Those among the public who have heard of the situation have responded generously with donations, ``but more is needed if we are to take full advantage of the present opportunity,'' she says.

HPI -- or, simply, Heifer, as the largely volunteer staff calls it -- works on the credo that to give a poor man a cup of milk today only means that he will be in want again tomorrow; but give a man a cow and he has milk on a permanent basis along with the self-respect and dignity that accompany his new sense of independence.

Dan West, an Indiana farmer, founded HPI after his own experience distributing relief supplies to hungry families during the Spanish civil war. The futility of giving handouts and seeing the food run out long before the lines of hungry people led him to ask the question: ``Instead of endlessly giving powdered milk, why not give a cow?''

But Mr. West attached one condition to all HPI aid which puts it above most forms of charity. It is this:

Each recipient must give the first female offspring of its cow or goat to someone else, who does the same thing in turn. The effect is a self-perpetuating gift that over the years can have a marked effect on the living standards of a region.

The first shipload of young heifers went to Puerto Rico in 1944; since then thousands of all types of farm animals have been shipped to 107 countries and to 33 states within the United States. Included with the original gift is training from a Heifer representative in the care and feeding of the animal. Also, all would-be recipients are evaluated for their ability and willingness to undertake their new farming opportunity. No animal is simply dumped on a needy family and left, Mrs. Sinn insists.