Ever since moving to Memphis, I’ve dreamed of visiting the Heifer International facilities, especially the Heifer Village and Urban Farm. Little Rock is only a couple hours away by car, and the charity’s work has always interested me. (I got my start in the nonprofit world working with the national parks, so I really value Heifer’s roots in sustainability.) Given the opportunity to write this post, I knew I had to at least suggest a site visit!
I thought it was a long shot considering we are living through a global pandemic – but the stars aligned, and a visit to the Heifer Ranch was arranged. This working farm, purchased by Heifer in the 1970s, covers 1,200 acres and supports small-scale farmers with training and other resources to help them lift themselves out of poverty. It is managed by the Heifer USA team, which has supported more than 2,500 farming families since 2014.
You might think about Heifer’s work overseas and wonder whether the ranch animals are those that get distributed as part of their international food security efforts. They do not. Instead, Heifer has opted to purchase animals in the countries where they will be used. This reduces costs, as overseas shipping of livestock is quite pricey, and it reduces the stress of long-distance travel for the animals. Another benefit to this approach is that buying animals in country helps to boost the local economies Heifer is trying to support in the first place.
So back to the ranch … the description on Heifer’s website perfectly sums up the ranch model, which is made up of three separate entities, Heifer Ranch, Cypress Valley Meat Company, and Grass Roots Farmers’ Cooperative:
From providing training and education on regenerative agriculture methods to the use of small scale, safe, sustainable, and humane meat processing methods, these groups support farmers’ needs from farm to table. Heifer USA represents an ideal value-chain, where farmers are supported and earn a fair wage, the land is improved, and consumers have access to high quality food to feed their families.
The land is a mixture of gardens and livestock surrounded on three sides by the Fourche La Fave River. Staff and volunteers live directly onsite – one volunteer has lived and worked there for more than 20 years! – and additional visitor facilities have the capacity to hold up to 100 people with lodging and conference spaces. (Hint: This would be a great corporate retreat site once it reopens to the public!)
The team applies an array of regenerative agriculture practices to their work, including rotating livestock between pastures, integration of forested areas for forage, fostering healthier soil with cover crops and crop diversity, and so much more. All this work results in some very positive outcomes like revitalized soil, higher quality harvest, reversal of carbon dioxide pollution, decreased watershed contamination and increased biodiversity.
What it all boils down to is this: Don’t fight the land; work with it.
I learned so much during my visit and met so many sweet animals. Here are just a few interesting tidbits, and most importantly, photos!
The Heifer Ranch is host to a herd of South Pole Cattle, known for their tolerance to heat and humidity – both of which you’ll find here in the south! Rotational grazing is the practice of rotating livestock from pasture to pasture. Once the ground cover is reduced to about 4 inches, the cows are moved, and then they won’t return to the same piece of land for 30-90 days. When determining which crops to plant in a particular space, the soil is tested for deficiencies and plants are chosen specifically to reintroduce the desired nutrients as a sort of natural fertilization process. This type of farming decreases labor and feed costs while helping to restore the land.
Meet Brandi. (It feels important to note: That “i” on the end of her name actually has a heart over it, but there doesn’t appear to be a way to type that!) She is one of the youngest South Pole cows at the Heifer Ranch. This sweet girl’s mama didn’t bond with her, so now she is hand-fed twice a day.
Chicks start out indoors for about two weeks. The space is highly regulated, with automated temperature control and feeding stations.
Then they are transferred to the outdoor portable pens, which are moved every day, giving these birds new spaces to explore and continual access to bugs. This strategy is good for the chicks and for the land, resulting in lush pastures fertilized by the chickens as they move around.
The Heifer Ranch team is currently raising about 400 piglets on the property for their partnership with Grass Roots Farmers’ Cooperative. Taking advantage of their natural instincts to root and clear, pigs are placed strategically to pare back pastures. The team is also in the process of cultivating pine trees in one section of the ranch to serve as a shady canopy during the hot summer months.
Even though the ranch team is not able to host their typical in-person education for experienced and new farmers, they are still working to spread this knowledge through virtual trainings. Check out the trainings on YouTube and Facebook.
Heifer is currently accepting applications for ranch volunteers, but for those who aren’t planning to take up farming anytime soon, the charity still has many other opportunities to learn about its work, get involved and spread the word about its mission! Here are a few ideas to start with:
- Take Hunger Off the Menu: Partner with Heifer to end world hunger by giving your employees and customers the opportunity to support families in need.
- Read to Feed Program: Sponsor or set up a fundraiser to support this campaign that is both educational and philanthropic. Cultivate the love of learning through a reading incentive program that gets students excited about helping others.
- Free educational resources: Anyone with kids (parent or teacher) is always looking for creative ways to expand their little ones’ horizons. Enter: Heifer’s free school programs.
- Perfect Match: Swipe left or swipe right – either way, be on the lookout for this employee engagement opportunity to launch later this year just in time for end-of-year giving!
Through gifts of livestock and training in sustainable agriculture, Heifer International supports farmers and business owners in more than 20 countries around the world. The end goal is to ensure that everyone enjoys a life free from hunger and poverty – and I think that’s something we can all get behind.
Contact our team today if you’re interested in partnering with Heifer International to incorporate these or other resources within your workplace!
For more about Heifer International, read “9 reasons Heifer International will save our world.”