Posts Tagged With: Cows

Remembering Romania…

Bringing milk to collectionA short 13 months ago, I was in Romania — a fact that was brought powerfully back to me when I opened my July National Geographic and saw a story titled “Hay. Beautiful.” about the incredibly bio-diverse, grass-growing meadows of Transylvania.meadows

Ahhhh, I spent a lot of lovely, fragrant time in those meadows…meadow

…because that’s exactly where Heifer International works: alongside the poor, hard-working, rural Romanians…shepherd3

..who generally own less than 6 acres, live on about $5,000 a year, and raise cows and water buffalo that each eat four or more tons of hay every winter. (And yeah, that’s a lot of hay.)farmer hay

Romanian cows and buffalo (and sheep & goats) raised on that transcendent Transylvania hay produce some of the most delicious, rich, soft, creamy milk, yogurt and cheeses imaginable…Cottage cheese

…but since communism fell in 1989, Romanian farmers have lacked the volume, organization and distribution to sell their dairy products on any viable scale. Dorica & goat

Yet as other economies of Europe stagger to regain their footing, more Romanians are returning home from jobs abroad to work their own hay fields, raise cows, and produce milk. Milk me

Heifer is there to help make that endeavor economically profitable with EU-approved milk collection centers, new storage and cooling equipment, and distribution channels that will hopefully save the meadows…meadow

hay stack

what a meadowsave the cows…Calf 3860

…and save the farms.hay stacksAnd personally, I think that’s a mission well worth supporting.In her garden..

Romania is romantic, lush, gloriously fertile… landscape

…and filled with people whose traditions and agricultural knowledge stretch back to medieval times. wise woman

Sarica-big sheep coat for shepherds

Lucretia It’s a country totally worth seeing – and worth saving for the next generation!Bunaziwa girl from Belin

Categories: Agriculture, Heifer International, Photography, Romania, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 20 Comments

Jumbo Shrimp … and no, that’s not an oxymoron.

 Duang Thi Anh Tuyet is a tiny slip of a woman—beautiful like a butterfly but in constant motion like a bumblebee.

The mother of two boys she has severe stomach problems and can’t work, but like most moms “not working” in developing countries, (or developed ones, for that matter) she does more before breakfast than most folks do all day.

Mrs. Tuyet at the edge of her shrimp pond.

Tuyet is part of a Self-Help Group that Heifer started in 2008 in her small village of Duc Tan in the Mekong Delta … and she’s made the very most of every opportunity presented to her. She got her first cow four years ago, and in record time had her first calf, passed it on to another needy family, then had another female calf.

Tuyet’s very photogenic (and curious) calf.

With the $100 in revolving loans that Heifer offers each family, she then bought 7 Muscovy ducks, 20 chickens, and a sow that is about a week away from having her third litter (and the piglets sell for $50/each). She repaid that loan, too.

An embarrassment of riches: the third litter is due in 10 days!

Not content with all that fecundity, Tuyet and her husband (who works in a rice-polishing factory for $4 – $6/day), dug a pond on their single acre of land and bought 50,000 black tiger shrimp larvae to raise in the dry season, when the salt water rises up from the sea through the Mekong River and floods their pond. The shrimp will feed for four months on plankton left behind by their saline-resistant rice crop, get bulked up for a few weeks with commercial feed, and then sell for about $3,300 – or $400 net profit.

Checking the size of her Black Tiger shrimp.

Tuyet’s beautiful 17-year old son.

With all the work she does with her animals, don’t think for a minute Tuyet is overlooking her sons. Her 17-year old is looking at universities and her 6th grader is tops in his class and earning a full scholarship – despite the fact that the family’s thatched roof house collapsed a year ago, and was only rebuilt to its current concrete sturdiness with a hand from Heifer’s Self-Help Group and its friends in government agencies.

Unfortunately, in Duc Tan, the majority of Heifer beneficiaries who got cows have sold them for easier-to-raise pigs and chickens (a faster way of earning income but subject to greater price fluctuations in the market, and diseases) but Tuyet wisely hedged her bets and raises all the above: cows, pigs, chickens and shrimp.

The final product … yummmm!

When I asked her group leader, Nguyen Van Hong, what Tuyet was doing that made her so successful with all her animals, he said, “Tuyet works very hard, harder than others. She takes care of her animals very well and knows exactly what they eat and what they need – from the good food she raises, to the vaccines she gives at the right time. She’s very precise.”

One precisely beautiful farmer

When I asked Tuyet the secret to her success, she replied, “I believe that if you try really hard, have good trainings, and are motivated, you can pull yourself out of poverty. That’s my goal.”

Tuyet is small… but she is mighty. I hope all her big dreams come true.

Categories: Animals, Farming, Heifer International, Inspiration, Photography, Travel, Vietnam, Women | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 27 Comments

Cows R Us

Rwandans love cows. They have songs about cows, they have dances, their whole culture is based on the love of the cow.

The beautiful umushagiriro (cow dance) — I guess those are their horns.

And Rwandans are infinitely patient and gentle with their cows — even when they are being kind of .. pushy.

This Heifer heifer walked right into the ceremony, butted the speaker, went for the drinks & nobody batted an eye.

Kirehe, Eastern Province

So it makes sense that the Rwandan government would partner with Heifer, an organization named after its favorite animal, to help 6,382 families in the poor rural district of Kirehe earn a living, improve their land, and feed themselves. It’s part of the government’s national initiative called A Cow for Every Poor Family — that remarkably (well, not really) is based on Heifer‘s beautiful training/giving/passing on model.

Why a cow? I asked Kirehe veterinarian Dr. Jean de Dieu Niyitanga that question and he had this succinct answer, “Cows mean milk and money.” Then he waxed poetic and scientific about what cows need to thrive. For someone like me who thinks a cat requires far too much attention, raising a cow sounds like an inconceivable amount of work. So I asked him to elaborate.

“First you have to love your cow, because if you love your animal, you’ll treat it well, feed it well, and keep it clean and healthy.” Okay, but what does that exactly mean?

The cows Heifer gives to poor farmers in Rwanda are pure breeds, either Jersey cows (brown) or Friesians (black & white). They produce a lot of milk (up to 30 liters a day) but they also demand a lot of food– about 1/10th of their weight in food a day in grass, cereals and legumes that the farmers must grow and harvest. Cows also need a salt lick to provide calcium, potassium and sodium to replace the minerals lost when they are producing milk.

Like any nursing mother, heifers drink a lot: 50-80 liters of water a day, depending on their weight, and that also has to be carried on somebody’s head back to the home.

Cows are big, gentle animals but they require shelter from the elements. So before getting a cow, every participant has to build a shed with 6 bags of cement (@$16/bag) provided by Heifer for a concrete floor to keep the cow’s feet out of dung, wet mud, and to facilitate manure-collection. They’re also given aluminum sheets for roofing – and required to pass on the same cement & aluminum when they pass on the gift of the cow to another poor farmer.

Veneranda Mukagakwandi & her cow & her cow sheds.

Alfred’s son digging the fields.

Then there’s the issue of keeping the cow clean: the shed needs to be shoveled out at least once a day, and the animal washed with soap and water twice a week (more water to carry). Cows must also be sprayed to protect against flies and ticks that can give them theileriosis, a tickborne disease that can kill them if left untreated. And the heifers are always watched closely for mastitis – or they can permanently lose use of a teat.

My brain was whirling with the possibilities for bovine disaster, but to Rwandans a cow simply means milk, money and manure. One cow will produce 3 tons of manure a year – and that is hugely important to the farmers planting their crops in the over-cultivated, poorly producing soil in Kirehe. Farmers report a 75-100% increase in ag productivity with the addition of cow dung– and that’s no small potatoes.

So, how has a cow specifically changed the life of somebody like Alfred Nsengimana? After Alfred had a home visit and was designated as able to raise a cow, (if you don’t have enough land or strength to take care of a cow, you’ll first be given goats or pigs), he built his shed and received the 182 hours of training that Heifer gives all participants – to make sure they know how to breed, lead, raise and take care of the animal.

After those six months of training, Alfred received a pregnant Friesian heifer, it gave birth to a female that he’s passed on to a neighbor, and now Alfred is earning $50/month from the cow’s milk – in a country where 60% of the population earns under $1/day. With that milk money (I love this entrepreneurial spirit so much!) he bought more goats and rabbits that are easier to raise and quicker to sell than cows, if the family needs money for school fees or health emergencies.

Then, Alfred dug a cistern in his back yard and he is also harvesting rainwater from the roof –so his family can make fewer trips to the town well to carry water back on their heads.

Water harvesting with a plastic-lined tank — how clever!

With milk to drink, meat to eat, and money in the bank, Alfred & his wife put a new cement floor & walls in their house—a real luxury. He would like to keep at least two cows, because then he’ll have enough manure to qualify for a bio-gas unit (half paid for by the government) that will mean they don’t have to collect and burn firewood and can cook in half the time.

Biogas – a giant leap for woman-kind: no collecting wood/cooks in half the time!

Alfred’s neighbor Jean de Dieu Habayarimana is 24 years old and an orphan responsible for raising his two younger brothers. He doesn’t have land to grow forage for a cow, so he received the gift of 2 pigs from Heifer last December and proved himself so good at raising them, he was given the stud pig for the community – which means that he’ll get 1 piglet from every brood his pig sires.

If you’ve got no land for a cow, take the pig!

This Kirehe Project is a massive undertaking, requiring a daunting amount of work from Heifer (home-visiting every prospective family and giving 182 hours of training to each beneficiary), the government, and all the local organizations across five pilot zones in 12 sectors of the Eastern Province. But 1,000 heifers have been already given in 2011 (and 360 passed along), with 1,145 more to be given this year (plus 2,000 South African Boer goats and 562 purebred pigs). That means that families like Alfred’s will be given the chance to take this opportunity and leverage it to feed their families, earn a living, double their agricultural productivity, and climb out of poverty.

The real beneficiaries of Kirehe’s big project.

Makes me feel like hollering Oyee! Amata Iwau Kuruhimbi, which means something like Let us always have milk in our homes!

Yes indeedy.

Categories: Africa, Animals, Heifer International, Inspiration, Photography, Poverty, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 27 Comments

Til the cows come home.

Rural Romania is so beautiful, it can be hard to see the poverty that is staring you right in the face. But make no mistake, it’s there in almost every village; in the orphanages that take in 80,000 to 100,000 abandoned and orphaned children every year; and in the deep lines etched in the faces of farmers who possess a few hectares of land, maybe one horse, a small house, and work like crazy through 5 months of summer to survive the 7 long months of Transylvanian winter, with virtually no way to get ahead or make an income.

Gheorghe Coldea, Rasca farmer.

So Heifer International, Rotary and Bóthar , a wonderful Irish charity working in Eastern Europe and Africa, decided that things would start to change for these Romanian farmers when cows fly… literally.

Now that’s what I call a jetway!

Following the success of their predecessor program, Farmers Feed the Children, Heifer & Bothar established Milk for Orphans and air-lifted into Romania 140 pregnant pure-bred Friesian cows (famous for producing copious amounts of milk and beef). These heifers were distributed to the poorest members of rural communities that lie in the hills around Transylvania’s capital of Cluj-Napoca last November and this May.

Right at home in Rasca.

These farmers will raise the heifers and pass on the first female offspring to another impoverished family. In addition to feeding their own families and having milk to sell for income, the farmers will also provide fresh 300 liters of fresh milk, yogurt, sour cream and cottage cheese to institutionalized orphans and disabled children, whose state food allowance is about $2.50 a day. Ultimately, the program will benefit more than 1,000 children every year.

An orphanage for disabled children in Cluj.

A rare picture of Gina indoors.

What a beautiful program to witness in action! In the village of Rasca, Gina Rosu  (one of 14 children raised in abject poverty) had big plans for her mama heifer and baby calf, and was using the milk income (Friesian cows produce about 20 liters of milk a day, compared to local cows’ 10 liters) to buy piglets, build a new concrete pig sty, and establish other sources of income.

Gina and her husband are unemployed but very hard-working  and totally focused on giving their two children a far better educational future than they had. (Though Gina has only an 8th grade education, she’s managed to teach herself English and Spanish.) And just like American parents, they are struggling with the teenage angst of their artistic daughter Anca, for whom they don’t have money to buy paints, and the high energy antics of son Johnny who’s a musician like his dad.

The real beneficiary of Gina’s heifer: young Johnny Rosu.

Angela and her amazing boletus mushrooms.

Angela is Rasca’s  Milk for Orphans community leader and her house and barns are spotless; clearly, she has a gift with cows and her home is the milk collection center for the village. She also buys the boletus mushrooms and arnica that everyone hunts in the hills surrounding the village to sell in the Cluj market. With Olimpio, community leader and Heifer-trained animal health worker, Angela is the go-to person for help with any animal issues in the village. In fact, while we were visiting, Olimpio got five calls for artificial insemination. (Once a cow secretes the fluid that tells you she’s in the mood, you have 8-10 hours to get her the goods. Clearly, we were like Michael Bolton for the female cows of Rasca.)

While clouds piled up in the Rasca sky, and Olimpio went to work making the way for more cute heifers, we went to visit the last family of 25-year old Lenuta and her husband Adrian.  They were the poorest couple we saw in Rasca.

Lenuta has a severe hearing problem and all the money from last year’s hay crop had been spent getting her a proper hearing aid so she could hear the voices of her children Natalia and Darius.

Natalia, Lenuta’s mom and baby Darius.

The family lives in a one-room house on Lenuta’s father’s land, but luckily their Irish cow had given birth to a female calf (that would be passed on) and Darius was flourishing on all the fresh milk.

Natalia and the new baby heifer.

In the one tidy room the family lived in, Lenuta laid out a lovely, modest meal for us but I was ashamed to eat their precious food, despite being touched by their hospitality. Everywhere we went in Romania, we were lavished with food – which made me realize how important it was to ask the beneficiary farmers to help feed the orphans. Allowing a poor recipient to become a generous donor is a transformative act of dignity and a powerful demonstration of competence.

The refrigerator of the orphanage, packed with the bounty of Irish bovines and their farmer-owners.

And you can milk that for all its worth.

Categories: Animals, Farming, Food, Heifer International, Photography, Romania, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 19 Comments

Animal magnetism in Happy Valley.

After the dust and dryness of Ixcan, it was pure pleasure to arrive in Cunen, a verdant valley in El Quiche, Guatemala where Heifer International has had a project since 2006. (Not only because Cunen is beautiful, but also because it meant we could get out of the car we’d been bouncing around in for 4 hours).

The inimitable, devoted Maria Cruz.

The Cunen project is the work of 3 local organizations with Heifer, and there to greet us was Maria Cruz, a lovely 36-year old Mayan woman who has been the Heifer technician, animal-whisperer, and trainer in this area for 10 years. Although the Cunen project has been “weaned” and is on a maintenance schedule, Maria still travels here once a month by bus to check on the animals, answer questions, and visit the homes of Heifer’s beneficiaries – of which there are 36 in this town (and over 500 in the project). In fact, she is so devoted to her work that when she was temporarily laid off due to a cutback in Heifer donations, as a result of our economic downturn (hint, hint), she still took day and night calls about animal fevers and diarrhea from the four villages she works in. Apparently, having animals is about as time-consuming and worrying as having children (except they’re more grateful and don’t talk back).

Don Serbando

Don Manuel

In Cunen, even after the Heifer project has ended, the gift still keeps on giving. The cow above was received by Don Serbando Vasquez, director of the local association, and had a female baby that was passed on to Don Manuel Vasquez (whose 7 children grew up drinking its milk), and that female just gave birth to the cutie-pie new baby above. Cows live for 15-18 years and will have 5-7 offspring in their 13 years of fertility, so Cunen will see several more new generations of Heifer heifers—each of which will benefit a new family. As we walked from farm to farm, we jumped over creeks bubbling down from the surrounding mountains, bringing plentiful water to the fields that were everywhere springing to life with alfalfa, beans, snow peas, onions, oats, snap peas, corn, and napia grass. Lemon, orange, papaya, avocado and lime trees grew in orchards, and sheep and goats happily munched on forage crops in the tidy Heifer sheds Maria had taught the farmers to build.

Under-goat sheds' poop & urine collector -- how clever!

These sheds allow the farmers to efficiently collect the animals’ manure and urine – so they can make rich compost for their fields. Heifer trainings promote organic farming to liberate farmers from having to buy expensive, often dangerous chemicals and to protect the environment. Basic composting is enhanced with the help of some crazy California red worms that eat through the manure like Pac-Men, reproduce like rabbits, and are also passed along with the gift of an animal to a new family.

Speaking of rabbits, the Cunen families we visited also had plentiful pens of rabbits. These bunnies, like all the animals from Heifer, were bigger, better breeds that are chosen to improve the local stock, generation after generation. And because rabbits have 5-7 babies each litter and can have 7 pregnancies a year (yep, that’s 50 babies annually!) … that’s a lot of improvement really fast.

I'm fertile.. are you?

Andrea Canto-Camaha, Cunen farmer.

The people of Cunen were so likeable, friendly and eager to share their stories with us, it was hard to leave. Don Serbando gave us a parting speech, which he asked me to share with you:

We are very grateful to the Heifer donors. We know how much we have been helped and we don’t take it for granted. Because of the gifts you have given us, our children will grow up healthy and smart. We are living the Heifer dream.

It’s a dream that involves never-ending work and a boatload of struggle, but they have water. And animals. And hope.

It’s a happy valley.

Categories: Animals, Guatemala, Heifer International, Photography, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 21 Comments

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