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How Ethical are Charitable "Gift of Livestock" Programs?

What the bleat happens once you buy a charity goat?

Giving charitable presents that keep on giving after you hit "buy" certainly have appeal. I'm a big supporter of items that empower families—like that proverb about giving man a fish and you feed him for a day... "Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime." So charities like Plan Canada are close to my heart. But it begs the question: just how ethical are those so-called ethical gifts? And what the bleat happens after you buy a goat?

Plan Canada has seen a few goats in its day, having raised 40,000 goats for families in developing countries in the last decade. But what goes on behind the scenes? Are such gifts all they're cracked up to be?

Why These Canadian Charities Deserve Your Dollars

Goats make a sound investment because they're relatively low-maintenance creatures that can generate wool, milk, and ultimately food. The goats are sourced in local communities, and given to select families within a few months of purchase. The families are then given all the tools and training to build a pen for their 'pet.' Veterinary training is provided, thereby squeezing out the middle man, and giving the owner full power over their animal.

And how does Plan work out the $75 price tag per goat? Well, the dollars and cents don't add up neatly. Rather, the donations are pooled, and families are identified according to need. While, in Zambia for example, male goats cost $200, females cost only $25, and usually three females are bought for every male. The cost also factors in said vet training and pen materials.

Goats are pretty resourceful and hearty creatures. They graze on virtually anything, and have low incidences of sickness, so they're a good livestock choice in terms of return.

“Most programs have a pay-it-forward aspect," said Plan's VP of donor marketing, Jeff Cornett. "The families most in need are delivered a number of goats to start a breeding program. Quite often the requirement is the first baby goat is passed on to the next family in that community, and then the next family benefits from the second generation of goats.”

So goats really are the gift that goes on giving, with goats passed on from one family to the next. And according to Cornett, the communities make "a real celebration" of it."

No kidding! I can now tell my 6 year-old with confidence that we can go ahead and get the goat. He's so tickled and taken by this idea. Though we can't afford the whole herd like he wanted, at least we can buy a goat—or two—in good conscience, knowing the program is well managed from start to finish. And that is something worth celebrating.

Goats not your thing? Check out Plan Canada's gifts of hope.