American farmer Dan West, the founder of Heifer International, was serving as a Church of the Brethren relief worker in Spain during the Spanish Civil War when he became frustrated at being forced to decide how to allocate a very limited amount of food aid (see rationing, triage). Upon his return to the United States, he founded Heifers for Relief, an organization dedicated to providing permanent freedom from hunger by giving families livestock and training so that they "could be spared the indignity of depending on others to feed their children." The basic philosophy of Heifers for Relief was based on the proverb, "Give a man a fish; you have fed him for today. Teach a man to fish; you have fed him for a lifetime." West also conceived the slogan "Give not a cup, but a cow." Each participating family would study animal husbandry and agree to donate any female offspring to another family. In this fashion, he imagined that a single gift would multiply far beyond the original investment. Heifers for Relief became an official project of the Church of the Brethren's Brethren Service Committee in 1942, and the first shipment of 17 heifers went from York,
 Heifer International today
Today the organization is known as Heifer International and gives gifts of cattle, sheep, rabbits, honeybees, pigs, llamas, water buffalo, heifers, chicks, ducks, goats, geese, other regionally appropriate livestock, as well as tree seedlings. As of 2006, these animals and plants have been distributed in more than 125 countries around the globe. Each gift perpetuates Heifer's interest in agroecology and sustainability.
Heifer International works to ensure that the gift of each animal will eventually help an entire community to become self-sustaining. Animals such as goats, water buffalo and camels are "seven M" animals: they provide meat, milk, muscle, manure, money, materials and motivation. Once its immediate needs have been met, a family is free to sell any excess at market. Heifer International provides a breeding animal along with the gift animal so that it can produce offspring. Participating families are required to "pass on the gift", that is: they must give at least one of the female offspring to a neighbor who has undergone Heifer's training. In time, that neighbor will pass along one of the offspring of its animal, and so on.
Heifer International is involved in several other progressive global initiatives which provide people with clean water, access to education and emergency housing.
Heifer International is a nonprofit charitable organization based in Little Rock, Arkansas, dedicated to relieving global hunger and poverty. It provides gifts of livestock and plants, as well as education in sustainable agriculture, to financially-disadvantaged families around the world.
Traditionally Heifer raises funds from chapters organized around schools, colleges and churches. The organization also offers a "wedding registry" in which engaged couples can register for gifts to Heifer instead of traditional wedding presents. Currently, Heifer International is embarking on a campaign called Hope for the Future, which is dedicated to raising $800 million by 2010 to lift five million families worldwide to self-reliance.
Heifer International operates three learning centers around the United States. The Heifer Ranch, the previous site of the distribution center in Perryville, Arkansas was turned into the first educational center in the 1970s. Since then, the Ceres Education Center in Ceres, California and the Overlook Farm in Rutland, Massachusetts were built as additional learning centers. They offer experiential learning programs for visitors to learn about world hunger and poverty.