Angus cows, from “garden animal” to leading meat production in Argentina | The USA Print


In one of the most popular neighborhoods of Buenos Aires, Palermo, is the site of the Sociedad Rural Argentina. There, two rural laborers cut the hair and groom a large black bull weighing more than 700 kilos. At his side, others repeat the operation with a cow. Outside the pavilion, in the shower area, some specimens are soaped and cleaned with great care. They are the best specimens of the Aberdeen Angus or simply Angus bovine breed, leader in Argentina, and they are prepared to participate in a contest. Of the nearly 50 million head of cattle in Argentina, more than half are Angus and the percentage rises to 70% if crosses with other breeds are taken into account. But at the party with which the Argentine Angus Association celebrates its centenary, they remember that it was not always like this and at first they were viewed with suspicion.

A century ago, at the Rural Exhibition of 1920, the three cattle breeds introduced in the South American country beat their record prices, but with great differences between them. 110,000 pesos were paid for the most valued Shorthorn, 90,000 for the great champion Hereford and only 22,000 pesos for the best Aberdeen Angus.

A bull is paraded through the competition ring, in the Argentine Rural Society, Buenos Aires, on May 26 of this year.
A bull is paraded through the competition ring, in the Argentine Rural Society, Buenos Aires, on May 26 of this year.Enrique Garcia Medina

“The Shorthorn had a triple purpose: it gave milk, meat and was used for work in the fields. The Angus was only appreciated for its meat”, explains the president of the Argentine Angus Association, Alfonso Bustillo, to justify the initial leadership of this breed, which had also been imported from the United Kingdom several decades before.

Virtuoso, the first Aberdeen Angus bull registered in Argentina, and the heifers Aunt Lee and Cinderella arrived in Argentina by ship from Scotland in 1879 at the initiative of rancher Carlos Francisco Guerrero Cueto. Their black color, their smaller size, but especially the absence of horns that characterizes this breed, made them receive them with mocking comments. They were baptized as “garden animals” and their owners were treated as eccentrics who sought to “decorate the hacienda in black,” recalls Juan Carlos Grassi in the book published by the association on the occasion of its centenary. In 1908, almost three decades after its introduction, it was still a very minority breed: there was one Angus for every 58 Shorthorns and every 43 Herefords, according to data from the Agricultural Census.

The expansion of the railway in Argentina “made robust animals no longer necessary for pulling carts and moving loads and changed the order of priorities for evaluating the qualities of bovine breeds,” says Grassi, explaining how in the new scenario , the Angus breed began to grow faster than the others. Already in the middle of the last century it began to be the most numerous breed and its advantage continued to rise until today.

“It adapted better than the others in Argentina, it is the best for meat production,” summarizes Bustillo. At the auction held during the exhibition at La Rural, the best female was sold for 700,000 pesos (about 5,650 dollars), almost double the price paid for a common heifer.

Farm workers shower several Angus cows outside the pavilion of the Argentine Rural Society, during a cattle fair, on May 26.
Farm workers shower several Angus cows outside the pavilion of the Argentine Rural Society, during a cattle fair, on May 26.Enrique Garcia Medina

Bustillo points out that around 75% of Argentine meat exports are Angus or Angus crossed with another breed, although most of the local production stays in the country. Argentina is one of the most carnivorous countries in the world —almost 50 kilos of beef per capita are consumed, nine times more than in Spain—, but breeders denounce that sales abroad could be much higher were it not for the restrictions imposed by the Government. In 2021, Argentina exported 571,200 tons of beef, which represented a decrease of 7.6% compared to the previous year.

For a few decades, the improvement of the breed has gone through genetic innovation, according to experts. In farms with more technology, the cows receive a hormonal treatment and are then inseminated at a fixed time to increase the chances of pregnancy and systematize production. Among the stands at La Rural, those dedicated to in vitro fertilization techniques stand out, with catalogs of the best valued animals. Anyway, almost 150 years after the arrival of the first three specimens, the Angus has definitively conquered the Argentine countryside.

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