When UNRRA stopped shipping livestock in 1947, the Heifer Project lost its ready supply of ships for their heifers. This brought the organization to a critical juncture: they could easily bless what they had done and terminate the project, or find a way to continue.

The seagoing cowboys helped provide the momentum that kept the Heifer Project going. They were some of the first U.S. civilians to set foot on European soil after the war. When they returned home, they gave testimony to the horrible destruction of the war. Their stories and photos alerted the public to the ongoing need of relief. This testimony fueled not only the continuation of the Heifer Project, but of other relief organizations as well.

On a shoestring budget and with a lean staff, the Heifer Project persisted and grew. From its very beginnings, it operated under the philosophy of its peace church heritage of serving the neediest of people regardless of race, religion, or nationality and extending the hand of love to enemies, with nothing expected in return.

It is not surprising that its first shipment after UNRRA disbanded was to Japan – a load of 25 bulls to strengthen Japan’s dairy industry. A program soon followed sending heifers to Germany to assist the plight of Germans being returned to their homeland.

The Heifer Project reached into many more countries, evolving into today’s award-winning Heifer International, one of the most effective international development organizations in the world.

Changes after UNRRA:
• The size of shipments decreased, requiring fewer cattle tenders.
• Women were allowed to participate as cowgirls.
• The cowboys and cowgirls were no longer paid, but rather served as volunteers.
• Air shipments were added as early as 1949, still requiring the service of cattle tenders.
• The practice of shipping animals from the United States diminished throughout the 1980s. The Heifer Project’s focus shifted to purchasing acclimated livestock resistant to local diseases from the region in which each project was located. Only a few flights took place in the 1990s, ending the need for cattle tenders.

Although cowboys and cowgirls are no longer needed, volunteers remain a critical part of Heifer International’s work.

Click here for a list of Heifer Project shipments through February 18, 1950.

Header photo credit: Gale Crumrine, heifer distribution in Germany, 1950s.