False teeth for the older cows down in Argentina: South American ranch provides plastic dentures to keep costs down
April 23, 2014
The American Society of Animal Science (ASAS) is a professional organization with about 6,000 members who are primarily animal scientists in education, industry, and government roles. The Society partners with the Argentinian Association of Animal Production on their annual meeting, and we have a speaker exchange with them. I am currently serving as President of ASAS, and last October I was invited to attend the Argentinian meeting to speak about future needs for beef cattle research. It was a fascinating trip and one I'm glad I was able to take.
The group I was traveling with flew into Buenos Aires, one of the largest cities I have ever visited. We were there in October which is early in their spring season, so the weather was very mild. From Buenos Aires we traveled to Corrientes, which is near the Brazil-Argentina border for the meetings. Corrientes has a population of approximately 325,000 and is located on the eastern shore of the Paraná River.
Before visiting Argentina, I assumed that most, if not all, of the population is of Spanish descent. While the Spanish influence is quite prominent, it soon becomes obvious that Italians and Germans (who immigrated to Argentina following World War II), and indigenous people have significant influence on the Argentinian culture.
We were delighted to find some excellent Italian restaurants in both Buenos Aires and Corrientes and it was also interesting to experience the blend of cultural influences on the cuisine. Beef is a staple in the diet in Argentina. We had both grass and grain finished Argentinian beef and noticed some obvious flavor and tenderness differences between the two. An interesting cultural difference in Argentina is when meals are eaten. Restaurants are not open round the clock. In fact, most close from mid-afternoon until evening. So if you miss lunch for some reason, you have to wait for your next meal which is between 9 and 11 p.m. most evenings.
The Argentinian delegation scheduled a tour of a large ranch approximately two hours east of Corrientes for us. The cattle there have quite a bit of Bos indicus influence in their breeding program which is necessary because the ranch is essentially located in the tropics. The ranch breeds their heifers as two-year-olds and calves them for the first time as three-year-olds due to the heavy parasite loads, heat stress, and relatively poor quality forages in this climate.
One of the interesting outcomes of this practice is that they have a greater economic incentive to keep the older cows around as long as possible since this is less expensive than developing replacement heifers. This results in the use of plastic dentures in the older cows as they lose their teeth! No one in our group had ever seen this before! The dentures are essentially a plastic plate held in place with epoxy. They have some that have been in for one year and they expect them to last one to two years beyond that. Because of the language barrier, it was difficult to get a clear picture of the cost, but it seemed to be about $50 per cow.
The ranch utilizes an early weaning system where the calves are weaned and shipped to grazing lands further south to improve rebreeding on the cows and to reduce the cost per head for shipping calves closer to terminal markets.
Argentinian beef cattle producers and U.S. producers face some similar challenges. Because of higher crop prices the last few years, some grazing land is being broken up and farmed, putting pressure on cow numbers. Many of the policies of their federal government make it more expensive to produce beef, and inflation is a major problem. We also discovered there is a black market for U.S. currency!
The presentation I gave was through a translator. I would say a few sentences and then the translator would translate them into Spanish. I never knew if what I was saying was translated accurately, but the audience was gracious and seemed to enjoy what I had to say! The Argentinian people love soccer (which they call football), so I shared with them a bit about the success of the NDSU football team and showed them a few pictures from our national championships. This helped to make an instant connection with the audience, especially the students. The U.S. federal government was in the midst of the government shutdown while we were there, and the Argentinian people I interacted with found this quite humorous.
Argentina is a wonderful country, and I would encourage you to visit if you ever get the chance. I found the people very welcoming and eager to learn more about the U.S. and very hospitable hosts. ❖