Going On The Lamb

“Thinking about poverty is so daunting. It seems like no one’s paying attention, and no way I can make a difference from my condo in the city,” said Mary Pitz. “I buy Fair Trade coffee and belong to a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture), but those seem so insignificant.”

After participating in Heifer Project International’s Women’s Spring Lambing, however, the Denver, Colo., resident came away “more optimistic than I’ve been in a long, long time.

“The weekend taught me that the small things — even a single cow or several goats — really are what make the difference. Small things multiply — and become big things. It was the combination of learning about lambs and goats, learning how Heifer works with communities, and the camaraderie of intelligent, caring women that really made it a unique experience,” Pitz said. “And of course, the wool classes. And learning to make goat cheese. And oh yeah — seeing lambs born was awesome!”

Pitz was among 75 volunteers who took part in this year’s Women’s Spring Lambing. It’s a program started in 1995 when Heifer was breeding sheep at the Perryville, Ark., ranch (45 miles outside Little Rock) and someone saw it as an opportunity to create a program to educate people about the organization.

Heifer has three learning centers in the U.S. focusing on world hunger solutions, organic gardening and sustainable agricultural practices. In addition to Heifer Ranch, there is Overlook Farm in Rutland, Mass., and Ceres Education Center in Ceres, Calif. At Heifer Ranch, more than 28,000 visitors a year become familiar with the root causes of poverty and hunger and Heifer’s work to help the poor achieve self-reliance.

Women are not able to own property in many countries, limiting what communities can do, which is one reason why the Lambing event is offered to females, said Beth Newman, marketing and public relations coordinator for the Heifer Ranch. Some of the program goals are to educate women about the mission of Heifer, give a brief introduction to agriculture and create a bonding experience for women to meet other women of similar interests, she said.

Heifer Project International, headquartered in Little Rock, Ark., works to address hunger and poverty around the world by providing livestock, training and other services to farmers and communities. The 63-year-old charity aims to give communities and families a “source of food rather than short-term relief.” Another cornerstone of the program is “passing the gift,” whereby recipients pass on their animals’ offspring to another family in need, creating a change of giving.

“Most people who attend are fairly or strongly aware of Heifer as they have been supporting and donating to our organization,” said Newman. “We do get some that have the Women’s Lambing program as their first experience with Heifer.”

As many as 50 volunteers live and work on the ranch, facilitating educational programming, caring for livestock and gardens, working in the gift shop or helping in an administrative role.

The Women’s Spring Lambing can range from a two-day Lambing Weekend event to a five-day Lambing Week, Newman said. “They all kind of run together that way all of our sheep are giving birth during times” that participants are there. Typically, there are about 60 ewes that will lamb, with anywhere from 70 to 100 lambs born from the ewes, she said.

Each of the programs includes a brief introduction to gestation, birth, and post-lambing care of ewes and lambs. Women also learn about gender equity, sustainable agriculture and Heifer’s livestock practices. Registrants can participate in classes on cheese-making or wool crafts and assist with the ranch garden and livestock chores.

“We get a mix of women who come here,” said Paul Casey, farm manager. Many are familiar with Heifer, some come with friends who don’t know anything about Heifer, he said.

Participants probably have been donating to Heifer, Newman said, and see the ranch as an opportunity for firsthand experience. All of this education is important because it connects them with what Heifer is doing, and lets them see ways how they can be part of the solution as well, she said.

In addition to learning about livestock and agriculture, each year women form unique bonds after working long days and watching the lambs be born. “At the end of the day, you’re tired, worn out. That all leads to special relationships between the women,” Casey said. He recalled one group last year that got together after the program was over one night, and ended up passing around a hat, eventually raising several hundred dollars. The donation was unique with that group, he said, but the bonding and friendships that are formed occur every year, with every group of women. “This one took it one step further, and one woman who wanted to do something with that friendship.” – NPT