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Argentina-A visiting New Zealand Farmers view

by Jan Wills Secretary General of World Hereford Council.

“I Travelled to Esquel in the Chubut area of Patagonia by bus from Bariloche. At the beginning of the five-hour journey I was surprised how similar the mountains and lakes were to many areas in New Zealand and in particular Queenstown in the South Island.
Gradually the scenery changed. Urbanisation dwindled away. The trees became smaller or disappeared and only native vegetation seemed to thrive. I was reminded of my schoolgirl geography lessons when I summarised the Patagonia province by thinking: “The area is very big.

The population is very sparse and the farmers produce huge quantities of quality wool which is important for the economy of Argentina.” #adp02

In 2007 I met and hosted Maria Gonzalo when she visited New Zealand. She invited me to visit the Esquel area where her family live and farm. She assured me that not only does the land produce great quantities of wool, but it also produces a great number of Hereford cattle.

My position as secretary general of the World Hereford Council offers many opportunities to visit Hereford breeders in all the places of the world where pedigree registered Hereford cattle are bred, so I accepted Maria’s invitation to visit her region and see the Hereford cattle. No other secretary general had ever visited the district so my visit was the first for the Chubut Hereford breeders.

In many places of the world Hereford cattle must compete for a position in the beef industry but in the Chubut area they dominate and are easily the most popular choice of breed for beef production.

Hereford cattle are natives of Herefordshire, a county of England. Of course they thrive there and I wondered why the early pioneers to the area would think they would do the same in Patagonia, as it is vastly different. The only similarity I could think of was the cold winters and even those in England would not compare with the harshness of those in Esquel.

I was delighted with the way the Hereford breed had adapted to the environment in Patagonia and in particular to the Chubut area.

This summer has been very stressful for most farmers in South America. The drought has been the worst recorded in some areas and yet the Hereford cows still produced a good calf and look well on the limited forage that has been available. A New Zealand farmer would doubt the value of the native pasture, but the stock reflect the value of the pasture and the animals all look well, so the forage must be of high protein value. It is respected and carefully maintained by the local farmers.

I visited Rio Pico where the Gonzalo family estancia (large cattle ranch) is situated. The day I arrived they were loading wool to send to the market. I had never seen so much wool in my life. It was piled high on the trucks, covered and tied down ready for transport. For me it was a wonderful sight.

We inspected the pedigree Hereford cattle. The herd sire expressed an ideal carcass and one which would be popular anywhere in the world today and his group of cows were in ideal condition.

As I don’t speak Spanish, Maria kindly translated and escorted me on other farm visits in the area.

I went to the Trevelin district and visited El Parque where I met Rita and Kenneth Berwyn. Kenneth is the fourth generation to farm the property which was originally purchased by his grandfather’s uncle.

Hereford cattle were brought to the farm in 1905 and they have been there ever since. The estancia has many natural springs so water is plentiful. The garden surrounding the house is immaculate. We inspected the cattle which were extremely placid in nature and looked very well. It was a pleasure to meet the Berwyns and learn about the early beginnings of Hereford cattle in the area.

We travelled onto Rio Frios and met Sylvia and Ricardo Llreo. Once again I was impressed with the group of Hereford cows and calves I saw. The calves were well fed and looked in good condition for weaning. The cows were milking well. The bulls being prepared for the shows were very impressive, showing good growth and thickness.

While I was on this property I learnt about the volcano ’Chaiten’ and the damage it has done to the estancias in this district. Ash was evident everywhere and a few inches thick in places. It looked like icing sugar but was quite heavy and did not dissolve with rain. The long term effect is not known but it certainly was causing some health problems for the animals.

Our next visit was to the Tecka Estancia. This is a very big estancia and it was difficult for me to imagine just how big it was and how difficult it would be to administer. Carlos Morale Jo and his young son Fransico gave me a conducted tour of the property and we drove over 100km within the boundaries looking for cattle. Again those I saw were very good examples of the breed.

My next visit was to Carlos Otamendia’s property where I saw an impressive embryo programme for his sheep and Hereford cattle. I was particularly attracted to a donor cow and was pleased to also pick some of her progeny from the mob. She was a very worthy donor cow and one any breeder would be proud to own.

Carlos imports Merino genetics from Australia and I inspected his young rams in the woolshed. I was not able to judge or comment on the rams but what I did notice in the shed was 20 fox skins drying, ready to be collected for the bounty revenue. Foxes thrive in the area and prey on sheep and often even attack young calves.

Sadly it was time to leave the area. I had been welcomed at all the properties I visited and received wonderful hospitality. I had seen many Herefords grazing contentedly at estancias but I had to continue my journey to Sarmiento and then onto Buenos Aires and Uruguay. I was saddened to leave my friends at Costa but I felt privileged to have been and seen so many good Hereford herds which have adapted well to the environment in the Chubut area. I hope to return one day.”

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