Terrible Relics Of Drouth
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
"There was not a tree nor a shrub within miles of here at that time. I suppose the camp fires (prairie fires you call them in North America), made the pampas treeless; you see that trees grow well when they are planted. I suppose if we had regular rainfall this land would be worth as much as your best land in North America. But we have our troubles. This walk that you admire so much is more than one-quarter of a mile long. It is dressed with a layer of burned bones. We use bones for heating our branding irons, and for other purposes as fuel, for we have no wood, and coal coming from England is dear. This walk represents the losses of one bad year of drouth. In one pasture where I had a lot of good cattle, practically pure-bred Short-horns, every animal died. It makes a good walk, as you say, but I do not know that the shareholders in Curamalan would enjoy walking over it. Yes, we can grow alfalfa; we do grow it somewhat. With hay in the stack such losses could be avoided; we have not reached that stage yet in these parts. We grow alfalfa only in a limited way, for the bulls and stallions. Here are the sheep; what say you to them?"
The only thing that I could say was that they were magnificent pure-bred Lincolns, in splendid condition. The shepherd caught a few of them so that we could look at their wonderful wealth of fleece, and feel the thickness of their flesh and their great spring of rib. "Would it not be better, Mr. Taylor, if they had a little Rambouillet blood in them, to fine their fleeces?" I asked. "Yes, that would make the wool more valuable, but how would you do it without a sacrifice? One needs a sheep that is three-quarters Lincoln and only one-quarter Rambouillet, so you see it takes now two crossings to get that, unless one dared to use cross-bred rams, and we never do that in this country. Do you in America?"
"Indeed we do, on the ranges ; we use them very much. What harm would there be in using on your best ewes some Rambouillet rams, saving the best of the ram lambs, of this cross, and breeding these to the pure-bred Lincolns I Your result would be sure to be the very thing you seek—the one-quarter Rambouillet and three-quarters Lincoln, with good mutton and the best wool in the world."
"It may be; but we are strong against using any but pure-bred sires in these parts. But come along; I will show you some of the cross-bred ewes."
They were grand of body and glorious of fleece, and I marveled all the more that the suggested cross is so little attempted. Often the Lincoln ram is used on the Rambouillet ewe ; it is seldom or never the reverse, so that in much of the best sheep country the Rambouillet is all but extinct, the Lin coin reigning supreme.
"That was a bad thing, that overstocking with sheep years ago; it seriously hurt the grass. I suppose men were led to do it by the coming of a succession of unusually favorable years. This land is all fit for agriculture, excepting the mountain, which is a small part, and is to be sold for colonization. I suppose it will bring about $30 per acre and be used for wheat-growing," said Mr. Taylor.
"You ask what it costs to care for these 45,000 sheep. We will step into the office a moment and get it all." In the office three bookkeepers were busily at work, and at Mr. Taylor's request the figures were soon put together, showing us that every item of cost of sheep excepting the use of land made a sum of about $26,000. With the land used for sheep and interest calculated it amounted to about $124,000.
SOME HIGH-CLASS SHIRE HORSES
"No, Mr. Wing, sheep-farming in Argentina cannot compete with grain-farming. You see we have few perennial grasses; in dry years the ground becomes as bare as your hand; the sheep keep alive by gleaning up the seed from the bur clovers; the cattle die, if one's land is heavily stocked; the old coarse grasses that kept cattle alive in bad years are mostly gone ; the plow will take all this land unless prices materially advance for live stock. But come out and see the horses; we have a corral full of them."
We found in the great corral a lot of high-class two-year-old Shire colts. How I wished for the genius and brush of Rosa Bonheur. There also were some exceedingly fine Suffolk colts. After assortment the finest of the Shires were placed by themselves, caught, haltered and led to great stables where each animal was given a large box-stall. "You see how tame they are, Mr. Wing? Taming is done when they are weaned; each one is then haltered and put in a stall for a week. It is a lesson that they never forget. Now tell me what you think of them."
I could only say that they were magnificent; that Argentina was assuredly a great country for breeding good horses. They have a great horseman, Frank Grimshaw, caring for them. They use the best sires that they can find in England. "What about alfalfa pasture for horses, Mr. Grimshaw?"
"Alone it makes too much bone; the colts are too tall and leggy. With grasses mixed in it is ideal. It is the only hay that we feed. In truth, there is no other hay in Argentina in amount enough to be worth considering. It is true that we have some advantages for horse breeding here. We put our mares in the big pastures and get 75 per cent of living foals from them. Is there a- land where there is not trouble? Our mares are dying right now, and some of the two-year-old colts; we do not know what is the trouble. Do you have the bot worm in North America? We have given for it every manner of medicine and even poisonous sub-stances. We have then killed the horse treated and found all the bots alive and unhurt. We have had veterinarians here by the week and month. You will need to go beyond Argentina to find a land where the weary cease from trouble and the veterinarians are at rest."
Afterward talking with a veterinarian who had been called to Curamalan, I learned that a certain pasture and watercourse were infected with worm germs and this and the consequence of the drouth accounted for the sick and dying horses.
We strolled through alfalfa knee-deep to see magnificent Short-horn bulls taking their ease. They say there is no loss from bloating in the fall, although there is some loss in the spring. We had tea in a handsome vineclad house, where dwelt Frank Grimshaw (a Lancashire man) and his dainty Scottish wife from Stirling.
I left the region of Bahia Blanca with sincere regret, conscious that my trail would not likely ever again lead to this land of fine men. I quote :
EASTWARD FROM BAHIA BLANCA
"In my fur-lined coat I sit in the. train going over a good roadbed through a land to the eye astonishingly like Wyoming, bearing eastward to-wards Tres Arroyos. The plows are busy, for some rains have come and I see a new thing—fields of oats sown for the winter grazing by sheep. We pass a village where many of the inhabitants are of Danish descent, and I confidently expect to see some-thing different from what is typical of Argentina. Here I am disappointed and astonished ; the only sign of the Dane is in some yellow-haired children on the street, and a few signs with Danish names on them, so surely is all else swallowed up in the Latin flood.
"Tres Arroyos is a city of possible 6,000 people and the most abominable streets that I have ever seen. They are nearly impassable, although there are stepping stones for foot passengers at the crossings. Again fortune is kind to me. I have a room into which pours sunshine and as I Write a group of villagers gathers outside my win dow to watch my clicking typewriter. I have had a walk to the suburbs to see some really fine eucalyptus trees and to my astonishment and disgust I find that tomato vines are not yet frosted. The weather is unlike our fall weather at home; there is a steady chill in the air, a dampness from the nearby sea. There is less difference between the temperatures of day and night than with us.
"We met some estancieros who were farmer-like people, reminding me strangely of farmers I have met in Normandy or even very much of the type of men I have known who managed farms and enjoyed doing it in the United States. The Basque type is common here. Basques come from the mountains between France and Spain; they are a race apart. No one knows whence they came, and their language has affinities for some of the languages of the American Indians. They are natural shepherds and good ones—thrifty, hard-working and some of them resemble our ideals of old English Squires. An old fellow was so interesting to me because I could understand his Spanish better than that of any one I had encountered, so after we had left him I remarked to the doctor `Well, that man must speak good Spanish; I could under-stand nearly every word that he said.' `On the contrary, Mr. Wing, he speaks about the worst Spanish I ever heard, and you understood him be-cause his Spanish is so much like yours."
We visited one evening a great Italian café. It contained 150 small tables ; hundreds of people were drinking coffee, hot milk and other things. There was fine music and at intervals a moving picture show was given. I have seldom seen such excellent pictures; there was no flickering to them ; all was as steady as in real life. They seemed often to end unhappily; the doctor said that was intended so that people would feel a little sorrowful and order some-thing to drink to cheer them up. No one was drinking much; in fact, the people are exceedingly temperate in most of the country. Nice little children came in to watch the pictures. It was the chief place of interest in the town. It is curious that a bank building there is finer in appearance than any in central Ohio. It is of cement plaster on rough brick, but these people employ architects who are thoroughly educated.
We met by appointment two estancieros in the café; one was an Italian from near Naples; the other a French Basque. Now they are both rich. The Italian was a fine stalwart man; he must have come from a northern family, transplanted to south-ern Italy. He was intelligent, interesting, courteous and handsome. The Basque was not so big a man in any way, yet intelligent and courteous. They own many thousands of sheep, and the land on which the sheep live. I was interested in their telling me that men are beginning to sow oats for the sheep to eat as winter pasture, and that the mingling of agriculture and sheep was making numbers increase; elsewhere in the province they have been decreasing gradually but appreciably.
I visited a man who has an estancia outside and lives in Tandil. It was the first time I had been in a town dwelling. Of course it was against the sidewalk, and one story; the hall led direct to the patio. In this case the patio was not closed at the back, but joined a small orchard. In the patio a lemon tree was full of fruit and bloom; there also were small orange trees, a sweet cherry tree and roses. In the tiny orchard were pear, apple and cherry trees, mostly pears, and a huge cactus tree. It was odd to see these things down in that part of the world. The senora took us to her dining-room. The' floor was of American pine, scrubbed very white; the furniture was black walnut; there was a rug under the table. There were two large colored chromos of fruit and some fancy calendars on the walls. I liked the walnut sideboard; on it were two white china hens that we saw in America thirty years ago and the use of which I never understood. By the way, every railway car and nearly every room in South America has a duster made of native ostrich feathers. It is a useful article in a land that is filled with dust.