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Cesar Guale Vasquez is not the only one in his family to capitalize on the help Heifer International brought to the Pedro Carbo area of Ecuador. His older sister, Brenda Guale Vasquez, is as impressive with her sheep as her brother is with his seeds.
Brenda Vasquez, 22, was the first in her family to attend university. She left for school in the city of Manta, about 100 miles away, intending to study medicine. "When I got there, there weren't any more slots to study medicine." The university was just starting a new program in agro-industry, so she signed up. "When I started studying, I thought it was so wonderful."
"The purpose of my study," she said, "was so I could come back to the countryside and I can work with my parents and help the community." And she has done just that. Three years ago, while she was away at university, Brenda Vasquez's parents received nine sheep from Heifer International. When she returned home earlier this year, the sheep became the perfect place to put her new education into practice.
The herd now stands at 43 sheep. They graze on pasture every morning and evening and are kept in a paddock with water and shade during midday. As Brenda Vasquez filled their water trough, she explained more about them. "These are called hair sheep. They don't grow wool all over." They are raised for their meat, which she said won a taste test at her university last year, beating pork and beef.
"It's delicious," she said, "but we also consider it a health food, healthier than, say, pork."
Brenda Vasquez has turned her family's nine original sheep into something much larger than simply a way to supplement their own diet; they are a marketing venture. "Other countries eat a lot more mutton than here in Ecuador," she said, and she wants to change that.
Later that day, a truck pulled up and three sheep were loaded into the back. Slowly, it seems, a local market is growing, and the price is good, at $2 to $2.50 a pound. But that doesn't mean she is resting on her success.
"We can begin by adding value—by not simply selling a slab of mutton," she said, "but having it butchered and on a tray, like in the supermarket.
"Here, we just butcher the meat and sell it fresh," Brenda Vasquez said, but her vision is to find ways to add more value to her meat and thereby earn a better price. She recently made her first batch of sheep sausage. "It's important to be able to put food away for those months when nothing is harvested," and sausage can be stored longer without refrigeration.
She is realistic about the steep investment it will take to set up the building, infrastructure and machinery necessary for such a venture, but she is also optimistic.
"I visualize that in the future we'll be producing a lot of sheep. And I want to make meat products—the sausages—and sell them to the supermarkets and make a name for ourselves as producers of lamb."