Cattle And Prices At La Anita
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
"Well, here are the cows; what say you of them?" They were simply nice, tidy, practically pure-bred Short-horns, with great lusty calves, wonderful to see. They were grazing the short alfalfa. It gave a fair bite and was green and, possibly, growing a wee bit.
"I am sorry that you did not come sooner; I recently sold my steers, under three years of age ; 500 of them brought $28,00d, gold. I suppose many men do better than that in' the United States, but these were young cattle and of course they had never been fed maize or anything but grass and alfalfa that they picked for themselves. I sold also 55 calves for $24.20 per head; they went for slaughter, and I sold 380 cows, fat ones, for $32.56 each. All were grown on the place. The total sales of cattle thus foot up to $41,703, gold. Is that good for a farm of 5,000 acres in North America?"
"I do not know; our large land-owners do not as a rule tell us of their operations. I guess you are up with them, but tell of your expenses."
"Well, here is my payroll; I am my own superintendent. I have one capitaz who has wages equal in your gold to $422 a year; part of that is a premium I pay him of 25 cents each for every calf that is raised. Then there are, all told, six peons whose wages are, counting food, $24.20 each per month. Then I suppose I pay out for extra labor during haymaking about enough to make my labor bill sum up a little more than $4,000 a year, gold. Mind you, that is allowing me for superintending $1,200. Then there are repairs and dip and all that. Well, all the expense foots up—let's see; may I put in interest on the investment at 8 per cent? Very well; let's figure a bit. Here it is: total expense, $31,486 and total revenue from cattle, wool of my 250 sheep and pelts, $42,223. I am not borrowing money, but just allow that the land ought to earn. at least 8 per cent on the capital invested. What we get beyond that is profit. We get more than 8 per cent, a little more than $10,000 or $2 per acre. I am sure you would count that very small in North America.
"But we can and will do better when we get more alfalfa. We are going to lose a lot of cattle this winter. There is no escape for it. The locusts ate and destroyed our winter grasses—those that come from seed each year. Those grasses alone can make growth during the winter; men say that alfalfa will, but here is a pasture from which all cattle have been kept for, more than a month; there is no growth whatever." A heavy sigh came and a look of sorrow passed over the genial face of our host. Apparently he was right; he no doubt had to take the hides from many of the cows before August.
"I do things in an old-fashioned way, Mr. Wing —a way that men with large places can not well imitate. For example, I take the cattle off the alfalfa at night and put them in paddocks, so that they can not trample it while the frost is on it. The frost does not harm the alfalfa, if it is not touched until it has thawed out, so we carefully exclude the cattle until the sun has warmed it again. That pays well. We have these large tanks fed by your American windmills so convenient that cattle do not have to roam far to get their water. We handle our cattle as gently, I am sure, as you would on your stock farms in North America, and they are as gentle. Would you like to see what we can do with alfalfa feeding alone in the way of making fancy beef?"
We drove to a small paddock where he had four fat steers, three years old, that he was feeding with a little alfalfa hay; they also picked green stuff. It was incredible; they were fit for the International show. They had thick fat all over them—far too much of it, the packers would say, and, being pure-bred cattle, well selected, they were very pretty. "I just saved these back to see what prices they would bring later on, when fat cattle are scarce. Will we not some day feed maize to our cattle? I doubt its coming soon, Mr. Wing. This is a glorious land, but a devilish one too, in some ways. Alfalfa, grass and sunshine are sure; all forms of crop growing are uncertain. Then our farmers are not cattlemen, as are your farmers in North America; they own nothing but the work animals they use and maize is dear to buy and our maize is very hard and flinty. It would require to be ground before it could be fed to cattle. We have no part of Argentina where maize or wheat or anything else but alfalfa is a sure crop, owing to drouths and locusts. Alfalfa is the bedrock on which Argentine prosperity is based, and year by year this foundation is widening.
THE WORK OF THE VAQUEROS
"Come and see the men marking some calves."
That scene revived old memories ; it was done nearly in the same manner as we did it on the old Range Valley ranch. The cows and calves were run through a chute which separated them, putting only the lusty 500-pound babies in a corral by themselves. How fat and fine and pretty they were! Then by hand they were caught by the necks with riatas, snubbed to posts and caught by the heels, thrown on their sides, all the men working afoot, because Mr. Murphy wished the babies treated gently. At this point his practice is new to me; he ties two feet together and lets the calves lie until all in the corral, or at least a number, are caught and tied. The tying takes but a moment; the other ropes are removed. They are then branded, as with us, only that the steer calves are branded down on the leg—so low that the brand does not injure the hide. When much younger they are dehorned with caustic potash or a chemical dehorner. He had not heard of our American use of common powdered concentrated lye, but promised to give that a test.
That night, as I was undressing preparatory to going to bed, a man came bringing me a large revolver, carefully loaded, which he handed me with a smile. "Why, I do not need this!" I exclaimed in astonishment. "I am not afraid." "No, señor, but the patron desires you to have this by your bedside," was his grave rejoinder. I yielded and in the morning, which succeeded a night of peace, Mr. Murphy explained. "I felt that you might wonder, Mr. Wing, at my sending you the revolver, but I have had so sad an experience recently that I wish all who are under my roof to have means of protection." Then he told me this story. Him-self kind and considerate, his peons were his de-voted subjects, happy to do anything whatever he requested. He employed, however, a new man, a stranger to the neighborhood, from Corrientes. He observed that the new man had a sneaking way about him, and seemed fearful of some impending event. Then he learned that the man was a refugee from justice, that he was, indeed, a murderer or worse. When he knew these facts Mr. Murphy went to the man and frankly but kindly told him that while he would not give him up to justice he could not have him longer about the place. The man sullenly assented and Mr. Murphy thought that he went away. One evening, however, as Mr. Murphy was driving to the railway station this man sprang out from behind a bush and attacked him with a large knife, such as every peon carries. Happily, Mr. Murphy also had his knife with its ten-inch blade, and, drawing it defended himself, stabbing the man repeatedly and being himself also dreadfully wounded. He escaped at last, and recovered from his wounds, while the man was never seen again, so he could not have been fatally hurt. "You see, Mr. Wing, that this is not yet a tamed and gentle country," remarked Mr Murphy.
THE PLAGUE OF LOCUSTS
I learned many interesting things from Mr. Murphy. The locusts, or large grasshoppers, come swarming down from the North. The brood that arrives on wing does comparatively little harm, as the insects are mature. They lay eggs, however, in incredible numbers, and the young brood swarms over everything and destroys nearly all vegetation. After a time the insects rise up and fly away to the North again. The next year and the next they will return. Year by year they increase in numbers and destructiveness, until finally they overwhelm the country. "They fill the wells, stop the trains by opposing veritable barriers of their own bodies, obstruct the rivers in which they drown and sometimes by the accumulation of their bodies form a bridge over which the rearguard may pass."
There is a law that demands that the estancieros destroy the locusts. A happy thing it would be if that law could be observed, but what can a man do with 10,000 acres of land, a half-dozen peons and a million million locusts to kill? What they do is this. When they have notice that the "inspector of locusts" is coming they see to it that there is made ready a splendid breakfast, which is served at noon. They tarry a long time over the coffee and the wine that follows, and become exceedingly friendly. At last the inspector arises. "But señor, the locusts. My duty! What are you doing to destroy the locusts?" "Ah," the host replies. "Certainly. I forgot. We will go now to see. I will show you all."
In a field or paddock a hole has been hastily dug, and some fuel brought, perhaps some straw. "You see this hole, señor Inspector? Well, it is my plan to put the locusts in this hole, and here to consume them with fire. May they burn for ever, the little devils." "It is well," says the inspector, who then rides away well content, having performed his duty and having the reward of a pleased conscience and a full stomach.
ROADMAKING AND FENCES
Mr. Murphy loved a good road and kept in fine repair the bit that lay between his house and the railway, although he told me with some bitterness that certain of his aristocratic neighbors had gossipped maliciously over the fact that he and his son had worked at this road with their own hands, doing peons' work. Industry, in that land, seems a virtue to be kindled in the heart of a hireling only.
Everything that Mr. Murphy did was well done; his fences showed his usual thoroughness. We in North America have much to learn from Argentina in the matter of fences. Their fences far excel ours in strength, durability and efficiency. They rarely use woven wire, but large, smooth, galvanized wires, which they put through the posts, holes being bored for this purpose. There are wooden stays between the posts; the wires pass also through these stays. The wires never rust, being of English or German manufacture and well galvanized. They are always splendidly taut, being held so by .good ratchets, one to each wire. The Argentines know how to brace an end post so that it can stand against any strain—a trick that we should learn in North America. The way it is done is to excavate a little way beyond the end post and plant there a solid block of durable wood, a "deadman." From this a stout twisted cable reaches to near the top of the second post, usually set about four feet from the end one. A stout bar of wood horizontally between the tops of these posts completes the brace. The diagonal wire cable passes into the earth just where the end post emerges from the ground and anchors behind it, a few feet away. Thus the cable is not in the least in the way, and no force that can be applied to the fence will dislodge or move ever so slightly that end post. Moreover, it has taken the minimum amount of material.
Mr. Murphy's big warm Irish heart welcomed all sorts of bird life about the place. Among the interesting birds was the "perdice," a small partridge-like bird, larger than our quail, with a long neck. It is said the bird is of the family of ostriches. Perdices are great runners and seldom fly. They are exceedingly neat and trim in appearance and make delicious eating. They -ought to thrive in the southern states of the Union and in California, and should be introduced. Men catch them with nooses of fine wire on sticks, riding hard after them on horseback.
FRIGORIFICOS AND PACKERS
We should have been glad to linger longer at La Anita, for there was an air of comfort about the place, comfort for man and beast, and it seemed thoroughly safe and sane from a farming and cattle breeding standpoint. With genial Mr. Murphy we went to Buenos Aires, where a few days' work remained to do. For one thing, the doctor and I made two journeys of study to "frigorificos," or freezing works—one at LaPlata and the other near the city of Buenos Aires. We found very little difference in methods of killing cattle there and in Chicago. We found, in fact, that one great plant was owned by North American packers. At La Plata the steamers came close to the frigorifico and the frozen carcasses were hurried on board ship, where they hung in long ranks, hard frozen, during the long voyage to England. Fine ships they were and they carried many passengers.
It was amusing in South America to note in the newspapers the often reiterated statement that the advent of American packers and exporters of frozen meats meant the beginning of all sorts of terrible things for the estancieros. Seeing that the American packers immediately on their advent advanced the prices for good live cattle, the estancieros were inclined to accept the inevitable. I suspect that the English and native-owned frigorificos, although not in a "trust," had been shrewdly man-aged to depress prices as much as could be. Assuredly the estancieros will fare better under our methods, for our packers are never averse to paying good prices for animals of quality.
Perhaps as English-looking a region as any that we saw was near LaPlata, where we passed for miles through a great estate with noble woods of eucalypts and other trees, and many gentle deer feeding in the open, grassy glades. And this reminds me of a wrinkle that I saw one day in the zoological garden. In a great open cage were many monkeys. Two large pigs kept them company and gleaned the morsels of food thrown on the floor by visiting people. The weather was very cold and the monkeys rode on the backs of the pigs, thus keeping their feet warm. The pigs, accustomed to monkey ways, did not object. The combination might. work well in some of our zoological gardens.
I left Argentina with real regret, conscious that in my short remaining term of life I could hardly hope to see it again. I had seen none of the great breeding farms on which are kept high-class pure-bred cattle and sheep. Sometimes one can find on such farms as many as 10,000 pure-bred animals kept in splendid order. Argentina is distinctly a foreign land; there is in it no hint of the United States, apart from the use of some of our agricultural machinery. Even that is being imitated in England and made there for Argentine trade. The people neither know us nor care much for us in any way. They have some faults, yet the better I knew them, the better I liked them.
I spent one morning studying the central market of Buenos Aires. This is a wool and hide market, with considerable wheat also stored and shipped. It is the greatest market in the world and housed in probably the largest building in the world. Here a great part of the wool of Argentina is consigned, although there is a similar building of less scale at Bahia Blanca and much wool is exported direct from the various ports of Patagonia to Europe. The wool is stored indefinitely. It is bought and assorted. The wool destined for the United States is most carefully selected, to have it as light-shrinking as possible; it is then skirted; this process takes off the inferior wool of the legs and bellies as well as the heavy locks of the breech. From this market it goes to private warehouses, where it is baled for export to England, Europe or the United States. A large percentage of the wool ultimately destined for the United States passes through London and is there bought by our buyers. Doubtless, a similar great building in the United States, say in Chicago or New York where would come nearly all of our wool to be assorted, classified and sold, should be of great advantage to both manufacturers and producers.
Señor Estevan Castaing, the president of the market, showed us in person the market and the various sorts of wool displayed therein. It is notable that the wools of the South, having in them more sand, are heavier than those of the province of Buenos Aires, while the wools of the North lack more or less in strength of fibre, although because of their light shrink they command high prices in the markets (the wools of Entre Rios, especially). Señor Castaing says that the amounts of wool received shrink year by year. This is due to the laying out of sheep farms in alfalfa and maize. He predicts that in time wool will cease to be a great item of export from northern Argentina, though the Patagonian provinces will continue to grow, with some rapidity, in their production of the staple.