Goat: The gift that keeps on giving

Photo credit: Heifer International

Photo credit: Heifer International

When I was growing up, my older brother and I raised dairy goats for 4-H. Thus, it was from an early age that I learned two things:

Male goats (young, uncastrated males are called bucklings; castrated goats are wethers) are a by-product of the dairy industry,

and,

By donating bucklings like ours to Heifer International, families in need worldwide are able to improve their breeding stock and thus earn a (viable) living.

The latter is the mission of Heifer International. Since 1944, the Little Rock, Arkansas-based nonprofit has provided livestock, animal husbandry and community development training to over 125 countries, with the goal of helping to “end world hunger and poverty.” That may sound like a lofty goal, but for nearly 75 years, Heifer has revitalized whole communities by creating agricultural co-ops, job skills, and commerce.

It's not all about goats for global food security. Photo credit: Heifer International

It’s not all about goats for global food security. Photo credit: Heifer International

Donating our goats to Heifer served a dual purpose in our household. My mom wasn’t comfortable selling them as meat animals, and because they were from top bloodlines, it made sense to use their genetics to diversify breeding stock, thus helping those in need. Donating to Heifer also made it easier to bid farewell to animals we’d named, bottle-fed and considered pets. Knowing they were destined to live overseas as revered breeding animals made a painful- and little-discussed- aspect of raising dairy animals less so, and for me, it sowed the proverbial seeds of a career spent educating consumers about sustainable agriculture.

Donating our goats to Heifer was the equivalent of being told to finish my dinner because there were “starving children in Africa.” But, the reality was- and is- that much of the world practices subsistence farming, and the gift of a dairy or meat animal can radically alter lives, enabling families to earn a sustainable living. As a result of improved genetics and economics (through the sale of by-products like milk, meat, eggs or fiber, as well as the muscle power provided by livestock like water buffalo and oxen), whole villages can thrive.

So, where does cheese (since we’re all about the cheese here at Haystack) fit into this global picture? Protein deficiency is a leading cause of malnutrition worldwide, and cheese and other dairy products provide a valuable dietary supplement. Cheese is also an important commodity product, and while not a staple food everywhere (climatic and religious factors play a role, which is why you don’t see cheese production in Southeast Asia or Africa, historically), dairy foods like milk, yogurt and butter are consumed worldwide. In countries like Nepal, which traditionally didn’t have a cheesemaking culture until the 1950s, the food has become an essential part of the diet and economy, thanks to foreign aid organizations.

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Yak milk supports this Nepali cheesemaker. Photo credit: Laurel Miller

While Heifer no longer accepts donations of live animals, they’ve implemented a way for everyone- from farmers to urbanites- to provide families throughout Asia, Africa, Latin America and Eastern Europe with livestock traditionally raised in their countries of origin. From goats, cattle and llamas to ducks, honeybees, rabbits and guinea pigs (known as cuy, the latter are a valuable food source in the Andes), you can donate tax-deductible funds that go toward a whole animal or animal share, which will go to a family in need.

It’s always wise to do your research before making donations to any aid organization; Heifer’s track record and data collection speak for themselves, and you can also choose to donate to their empowerment programs for women (which supply training in gender equality and business skills, and education for girls), as well as clean water, biogas cooking stoves, irrigation pumps, small business loans and more.

Donations to Heifer are affordable, too- for just $10, you can donate a goat share to a family in Africa, while $25 covers a water buffalo share. You can gift donations to family and friends through Heifer; their website enables you to create a personalized e-card. It’s not the latest version of Call of Duty or even a new pair of slippers, but there’s a certain cache to giving the gift of goat.

Happy holidays, from all of us at Haystack Mountain.

Photo credit: Heifer International

Photo credit: Heifer International

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