Animal “gifts” no gift at all
While Christmastime is often denounced for having been overcome by commercialism, more and more people want to share their good fortune by giving to those in need. It’s the time of year when non-profits of all kinds go into high gear with their fundraising campaigns. Food banks have collection bins in every grocery store, Santas are ringing bells on busy street corners to raise money to help the homeless, and international organizations spend big money on advertising and direct mail in an effort to capitalize on the overall generous mood of the season.
There are almost countless ways to help people less fortunate than you. You can sponsor a child in another country, you can feed a family for a month (for surprisingly little in many parts of the world), you can pay for vaccinations or school uniforms for children, fund a well in a village, support women in small business, support literacy training, fund a community garden, pay for neonatal care, provide mosquito netting to reduce the risk of contracting malaria, help children orphaned by AIDS…the list goes on and on. But in all of these wonderful initiatives, there is one that stands out as being an incredibly bad idea: the “gift” of farm animals.
The thinking is that farm animals will provide a source of nourishment and potentially a source of income; cows and goats = milk, sheep = wool, chickens = eggs. But it’s far from that simple.
- Animals need to eat too, and they can’t just “live off the land.” An animal could well become one more mouth to feed. Keeping livestock is a spectacularly inefficient use of already scarce resources. If the land is arable enough to grow something for animals to eat, it would be put to better use planting actual crops. It takes 16 pounds of grain to produce one pound of beef — imagine how far 16 pounds of grain would go to feed people.
- Animals require water and the larger the animal, they more water they consume. A cow, for example, can drink up to 90 litres of water a day. If clean water is hard to come by, this is a problem from the get-go.
- Mammals only supply milk if they’ve given birth. What happens to the babies? Will they simply be slaughtered?
- Animals get sick too. They require specialized care to maintain good health. How can a family too poor to feed itself properly take on the care of an animal? This leaves the animals themselves vulnerable to suffering and painful deaths from disease, starvation, or inhumane slaughter.
Experts like the World Land Trust denounce “gifts” of animals as economically and environmentally disastrous, contributing to water shortages, desertification of land, and even detrimental to the very people such gifts are intended to help when children are pulled out of school to help tend the animals. The animals suffer, and the people suffer too. If you would like to extend your generosity to people genuinely in need in foreign countries, there are many, many better ways to do so than to give an animal to a poor family. Any of the other gifts mentioned above, and many more besides, are truly helpful. You can help educate people, help them start and sustain small businesses, help them get started in sustainable agriculture, help prevent and heal disease, help supply clean water. Those are gifts worth giving.