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CoinLab’s ‘Give A Goat’ charitable Bitcoin mining program.

Your computer’s graphics processor might be more charitable than you think.

CoinLab, a Seattle-based tech startup that focuses on the Bitcoin digital currency, has come up with a way for PC users to take advantage of their spare GPU cycles to raise money to buy goats for impoverished families around the world.

Yes, real goats. This is not FarmVille. The software program is grounded in the mechanics of the Bitcoin system — in which units of the digital currency are generated in exchange for adding computational power to the Bitcoin network.

Mike Koss and Peter Vessenes

CoinLab, co-founded by Seattle entrepreneurs Peter Vessenes and Mike Koss, normally works with game developers. CoinLab’s program lets gamers voluntarily install a program that makes their idle computing resources available to generate Bitcoins, in exchange for in-game virtual goods and points from the developers.

In the spirit of the holiday season, CoinLab recently created a charitable version of its software for anyone to use — called “Give a Goat.”

Users who download and run the Windows-based software can donate the spare processing time from their GPU to generate Bitcoins for charity. CoinLab says it will donate 100 percent of the proceeds to Heifer International, which provides animals to families to help alleviate hunger throughout the world. For every $120 raised through the Bitcoin mining, they’ll be able to send a goat to one family.

CoinLab explains on its Give a Goat page, “By giving a goat to a family in need, you are providing them with path to lifting themselves out of poverty. The milk goats produce is nutritious and valuable, so the family can stay healthier themselves and sell extra milk as an extra source of income. Goat manure is also a useful fertilizer, so families can make their farmland more productive. Finally, the offspring of the goats can be kept to grow the family’s herd, or sold for additional income.”

They estimate that someone with a good graphics card can earn up to $1 per day toward a goat by running the program. CoinLab will take care of the donation (after converting the Bitcoins into U.S. currency, unless the Heifer project wants the Bitcoins).

The software even comes with a dashboard and dials for users to track their contributions.

Bitcoin was a hot topic in the tech industry at one point last year, but the virtual currency’s price volatility and other problems made many people skeptical. Vessenes and Koss are big believers in Bitcoin’s potential, and hope to help legitimize it for more widespread use. The company raised $500,000 this year from investors including Tim Draper to push ahead with Bitcoin projects.

More background on the “Give a Goat” program is available here.

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