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General Mitre, in his History of Belgrano, has said of the River Plate Territories:—

The natural pastures invited the inhabitants to the pastoral industry. The vast littoral placed the country in contact with the rest of the world by means of fluvial and maritime navigation. Its salubrious and temperate climate rendered life more pleasant and work more reproductive. It was indeed a territory prepared for live-stock breeding, constituted for commercial prosperity, and predestined by acclimatization to be peopled by all the races of the earth. Thus we see that the profitable occupation of its soil commences to be realized by means of live stock brought overland from Peru and from Brazil; that the commercial currents of the interior converge little by little towards the River Plate; that abundance and well-being are spread by this means; and that the first external act of the colonists after the foundation of Buenos Aires in 1580 is the exportation of a shipload of the fruits of their own work (hides and sugar), which awakens immigration and the commerce of importation.

This reference to the “commerce of importation” is an indication of the limitations under which the colonists laboured under Spanish rule. They might import from Spain as much as they could, but a very jealous guard was put on their exports lest these might compete with the industries of the Mother Country.

Seventy-two horses and mares were landed by Pedro de Mendoza when he founded the first settlement of Santa Maria de los Buenos Aires in 1535. Many of his followers were killed by the native Indians, but when Juan de Garay coming[250] down through Paraguay laid the real foundations of the present capital of the Argentine Republic, he and those with him were surprised to find wild horses grazing on the Pampa. These were the descendants of those brought by Mendoza and the ancestors of the present equine stock of the River Plate countries, a stock which has, however, in common with all the live stock of these countries, been improved out of all recognition in the course of the last half-century by imported European strains. Still the wild descendants of Mendoza’s animals, acclimatized through countless generations and become hardy in their free life, were no bad raw material to improve upon.

The first appearance of cattle on the River Plate Pampa is, as has already been mentioned, credited to seven cows and a bull said to have been brought from Brazil, through Paraguay, by two Portuguese, the brothers Cipriano and Vicente Goes, early in the last half of the sixteenth century, but other cattle were introduced in far larger quantities about the same time or a little later under the conditions of the appointment of Juan de Galazary Espinoza as Treasurer of the River Plate. To Nunflo de Chaves is credited the honour of the introduction of the first goats and sheep in 1550.

Evidently large numbers of horses, cattle and sheep afterwards strayed in a semi-wild condition down south from Peru and Brazil, attracted by the wealth of pasturage.

The early history of the export trade of the River Plate colonists in hides, tallow, wool and jerked beef, is one of smuggling and bribery of officials. Nevertheless, even under such difficult circumstances and costly methods many settlers contrived, by also trading in European merchandise, to amass great wealth, the fortunes of many of them, says Mr. Gibson, amounting to over £60,000 sterling.

Meanwhile the increase of cattle was astounding if one did not consider the difficulties in the way of its utilization. In the middle of the seventeenth century anyone could take all[251] he wanted from the wild herds up to 10,000 or 12,000 head, or more by obtaining licence to do so from the Governor.

The rights of free export of animal produce from Buenos Aires to Spain and open trade with the interior were first granted to the River Plate Colonies in 1778, under the Vice-Regal rule. But it was the Independence of the Colonies in 1810 which freed them from all commercial trammels and was the real commencement of their present agricultural and pastoral prosperity. Since then no events (except, of course, the advent of the railway in 1857) in the annals of the export commerce of the River Plate have been of greater importance than the founding of the Argentine Rural Society in 1866, and the discovery by Tellier of the preservation of meat at freezing point submitted to the Paris Academy of Science in 1872, and of Ferdinand Carré’s improvements for the transport of chilled meat.

The first freezing establishment in the River Plate was that erected by Se?or Eugenio Terrasson at San Nicolás, in the Province of Buenos Aires, in 1883, and in the following year the legislature exempted frozen and chilled meat from the payment of export duty.

Over 99% of the whole exports of frozen and chilled meat from Argentina comes direct to the United Kingdom,[42] and we get quite one-half of the whole of our overseas meat and grain supplies from the two River Plate Republics.

The past half-century has seen amazing changes on the vast pasture lands of Argentina and Uruguay. The first of these was the invasion of what had formerly been the exclusive domains of cattle and sheep by agriculture. Little by little, wheat, especially, ousted the flocks and herds from an ever-increasing radius from the port of Buenos Aires. Land values increased as agriculture flourished till the time came when stock-breeders found themselves outbidden by wheat-growers[252] or, rather, landowners found it more profitable to grow wheat or maize on lands which were economically accessible to transport. As the railways grew so did this almost exclusively cereal area.

This tendency continued until what may almost be termed the “discovery” in the River Plate Territories of the qualities of Alfalfa (Lucerne).

The double value of this crop as fodder and for improving the land by collecting and depositing atmospheric nitrogen, caused it to be planted by every intelligent estanciero, and brought back much of the cattle to properties which had seemed for ever given over to wheat-growing. Other contemporary reasons for the reappearance of cattle on the home lands were the increased demand for good slaughter animals initiated by the newly established cold-storage and export business and dawning appreciation of the fact that one cannot for ever go on growing immediately successive crops of wheat on the same land.

Thus were laid some foundations of scientific farming on more civilized lines, in which stock-raising and agriculture combine for the profit of the farmer. The cattle industry and horse-breeding also, gained fresh impetus from the abundance of alfalfa now grown everywhere on a large scale and on brackish land formerly considered valueless.

Sheep only, with their nomadic nature which demands large areas on which to roam, their close-cropping manner of grazing and their faculty for quickly ruining alfalfa fields on which they may be allowed to graze, are still only found in comparatively small numbers on the high-priced lands of the East-Central parts of Argentina and the South of Uruguay, being chiefly relegated to outlying districts in which land is still of comparatively small value and particularly, in Argentina, to those parts of Patagonia the inclement climate of which suits them as it does little else.

Nevertheless, the finest breeds of sheep are chiefly to be[253] found on the “model” estancias, where as good live stock as any in the world is bred and intensive farming has begun to be appreciated for its own sake and on account of the normally ever-increasing value of land in all the most fertile and accessible rural districts of the River Plate Republics.

Durhams and Lincolns are the favourite breeds of cattle and sheep, though many fine strains of Herefords, Polled Angus, Merinos, Romney Marsh and Shropshires abound. No price is too high for the Argentine estanciero to pay for imported animals for the still greater perfection of his stock, and the great Show held under the auspices of the Rural Society at Palermo, a park-like suburb of the city of Buenos Aires, comes as a revelation to each expert breeder who travels, as many do every year, from Europe to the River Plate to see it. Money and care can do no better anywhere in the production of animals of the very highest quality. It may be noted that the prizes (always awarded by impartial foreign, usually British, judges) are more frequently gained by native Argentine breeders.

River Plate live stock suffers very little indeed from any of the diseases which are the breeder’s dread in most other countries; with the exception of sheep and pigs, the former being greatly subject to “fluke” and the latter to fever. Horse-breeding is carried on very successfully. The carriage horses exported by Se?or Martinez de Hoz and others are now well known in Europe and the race-courses of Argentina and Uruguay are the constant scenes of the display of very fine horse-flesh indeed. That Argentine-bred race-horses are more successful in South America than freshly imported ones is no doubt due to climatic causes. Argentine race-horses are here specified because horse-breeding has been brought to a higher pitch of perfection in Argentina than has yet been attained in Uruguay.

Poultry and pig farming may yet be said to be in their infancy in both Republics, simply because both countries are[254] still quite fully occupied with the two great established industries of producing grain and meat for export.

Given adequate population (how often must one ring the changes on this phrase!) very many rich sources of prosperity would quickly be disclosed to now almost unsuspecting European eyes. Poultry and pigs are two of the richest, and the most obvious for mention, in this chapter, of such almost latent sources.

The cold-storage establishment at Zárate, in the Province of Buenos Aires, some years ago erected a scientifically equipped plant for the curing of hams and bacon. But the difficulty is yet to obtain sufficient pigs of first quality to make the curing industry a success. Throughout the temperate zone of South America the climatic conditions are quite favourable to pig-raising; and food in the shape of maize and alfalfa is abundant at relatively small cost. When pigs and poultry receive the care which is now acknowledged to be necessary to, and given for, the best results from cattle, horses and sheep, River Plate poultry and pig produce will loom large on the markets of the world, besides supplying a daily increasing local demand.

What has been called the Alfalfa region because of the astounding yield of that forage given by its brackish, saltpetre-impregnated waters and sandy soil, lies to the West of the Province of Buenos Aires. Almost the whole of the two Republics are now, however, largely planted with alfalfa, the spread of which has grown rapidly since the several valuable qualities of that crop have come to be understood.

In many districts wheat has been sown on wheat year after year ever since the booming times of South American cereal export began. So that in many parts of such districts the soil can do no more, and in consequence the wheat yield has become unsatisfactory.

When these districts cease entirely to be able to yield any wheat at all, someone will lay down alfalfa as an alternate[255] crop and will find the cost of having done so, and of reploughing, say, three years afterwards, insignificant compared with the value of the quantity and quality of wheat the same land will yield after that process of alternation; not to mention the value of the three years’ three or quite likely four, annual crops of alfalfa taken off it during that period.

This form of intensive farming will probably be the first to become obligatory, for economic reasons, on the generality of owners of land situated in the chief cereal areas.

Till to-day, landowners in these large favoured tracts have grown wealthy with little trouble and no thought as far as purely agricultural enterprise, as apart from stock-breeding, is concerned.

All this is, however, a digression from our present consideration of stock-raising, except as regards the increasingly intimate connection between stock-raising and agriculture in the most thickly populated districts; for the Argentine Rural Statistics (more availably complete than those of Uruguay) show that the much greater proportion of cattle is in the Provinces of Buenos Aires, Santa Fé, Córdoba and Entre Rios which are four of the chief cereal areas. And though there are more cattle in the province of Corrientes than in either of the three last-named Provinces, the vast herds of one of the largest meat-extract companies account for much of this. So that it may be taken that the Provinces of Buenos Aires (represented by a long way by the highest figures), Santa Fé, Córdoba and Entre Rios, with the Territory of the Pampa Central in respect of cereals, are the regions which, together, are the richest in Live Stock and cereals in Argentina.[43]


The following interesting table of the difference in numbers of cattle, sheep, and horses in 1895 and 1908 is taken from the Argentine National Census taken in the latter year, the latest census of the kind taken throughout the Republic.

More (+), less (-) in 1908
Federal Capital and the Island of M. García     -     11,538     -     7,072     +     7,367
Buenos Aires     +     2,605,339     -     18,025,479     +     844,568
Santa Fé     +     1,098,439     -     1,019,371     +     509,609
Corrientes     +     1,382,639     +     1,733,462     +     187,039
Córdoba     +     754,554     -     602,552     +     579,080
San Luis     -     98,925     +     314,439     +     67,290
Tucumán     -     23,058     +     25,134     +     57,151
Entre Rios     +     360,829     +     795,284     +     132,510
Salta     +     9,398     +     63,670     +     26,115
Catamarca     -     7,357     +     28,899     +     19,050
Jujuy     -     16,337     -     62,830     +     8,673
Mendoza     +     61,252     +     120,186     +     51,268
La Rioja     +     170,603     +     60,025     +     22,986
Santiago del Estero     +     37,350     +     316,978     +     96,668
San Juan     +     12,629     +     37,237     +     3,458
Central Pampa     +     65,517     -     486,100     +     52,534
Rio Negro     +     197,409     +     3,715,067     +     142,875
Neuquen     +     20,022     +     315,528     +     47,680
Chubut     +     305,051     +     2,076,322     +     152,925
Santa Cruz     +     14,778     +     2,018,302     +     28,524
Fireland     +     11,055     +     1,335,186     +     9,910
Chaco     +     181,327     +     2,318     +     13,163
Misiones     +     24,102     +     3,382     +     10,895
Formosa     +     192,300     +     20,044     +     13,058
The Andes     +     905     +     54,133     +     121
Republic at large     +     7,415,099     -     7,167,808     +     3,084,517

The result of the comparison is to show that in the provinces and territories of the Republic, the number of cattle has increased by 7,415,099 head, and that of horses by 3,084,517 head, whereas sheep have fallen off by 7,167,808.

The following are the figures for Cattle and Sheep respectively as calculated by Se?or Emilio Lahitte, Director of the Division of Rural Economy and Statistics in the[257] Argentine National Ministry of Agriculture, existing in each Province and Territory of that Republic on the 31st December, 1911.
Federal Capital     14,338     1,222
Province of Buenos Aires     7,045,523     28,934,475
” Santa Fé     4,055,624     1,612,799
” Córdoba     2,251,744     2,753,773
” Entre Rios     2,260,078     6,721,976
” Corrientes     5,030,396     5,937,432
” San Luis     861,831     1,565,326
” Santiago del Estero     1,121,374     1,344,024
” Mendoza     395,327     745,701
” San Juan     174,835     191,752
” La Rioja     600,582     234,587
” Catamarca     382,108     230,201
” Tucumán     653,458     234,591
” Salta     892,248     630,681
” Jujuy     172,387     1,128,321
National Territory of Pampa Central     399,460     5,751,856
” ” Misiones     154,328     24,761
” ” Formosa     359,139     46,397
” ” Chaco     562,412     25,052
” ” Los Andes     2,057     108,523
” ” Rio Negro     379,312     8,476,993
” ” Neuquen     295,770     1,099,161
” ” Chubut     651,511     5,091,132
” ” Santa Cruz     55,442     4,946,677
” ” Tierra del Fuego     14,726     2,564,073
” ” Isla Martín García     218     —
Totals     28,786,168     80,401,486

The 1908 Census showed that more than one-fourth of the whole cattle of the Republic were Durhams, rather less than one-sixth Herefords and the remainder made up of very much smaller quantities of Polled Angus, Dutch, Red Polled, Jerseys, Flemish and Swiss, their numerical importance being according to the order in which they are here stated, from a total of 125,829 Polled Angus to 3401 Swiss.

As has been said, Lincolns are still in most favour among sheep, followed by Romney Marsh and other long-wool breeds, Shropshire, Hampshire and Oxford Downs, Southdowns and Rambouillets and Merinos.


The reason for the great preference shown for Durhams is their reputation for combined meat-carrying and milking qualities, in which latter Herefords are relatively deficient. The dairy industries are already developing on an important scale.

There are practically no parts of the River Plate Territories except their forests, mountains and certain as yet unirrigated tracts, such as the Valley of the Rio Negro, which are not naturally adapted to cattle or sheep raising, or both, and at present Live Stock is to be found in almost exclusive occupation of close on 96,000,000 hectares out of the calculated total of 300 million hectares of cultivable land in the Argentine Republic. These figures are taken from the 1908 Argentine Census, above referred to.

The parallel figures for Uruguay are not available in such exact form of statement, but it may be taken that there are very few parts of that country in which cattle or sheep or both are not found.

Diseases of live stock are, as has been said, very conspicuous by their relative total absence in both Republics, and farmers in both Argentina and Uruguay are very sore about the sustained attitude of the British Government which refuses to permit the entrance of River Plate live stock on the hoof into British ports. The farmers are convinced that this refusal is due to the influence of British breeders who, while thus preventing what would otherwise be a serious menace to their own industry, yet benefit by the South American acceptance of very high priced animals imported from Great Britain for stud purposes. The weak point of this argument is, of course, that such importation of prize animals is in no way authoritatively enforced on the Argentine or Uruguayan, his obligation to purchase such animals arising only from his necessity to do so in his own best interests. The danger on his side arises from the possibility of latent tuberculosis and other disease, but this he now guards very effectually against, often at much[259] pecuniary loss to himself, by severe tests carried out by competent veterinary surgeons on all imported animals and the unhesitating sacrifice of any found to be infected.

The present writer is inclined to venture the opinion that the British Government might rely with safety on the certificates of Argentine and Uruguayan Government experts of the immunity of all cattle and sheep leaving either Republic on the hoof. It does, in effect, accept such certificates in regard to the condition of frozen or chilled carcases; and, morality apart, it may safely be taken that every Argentine and Uruguayan interested is much too fully aware of the importance to himself individually of the countries’ export trade to risk the slightest laxity in connection with the sure ascertainment of perfect immunity from disease or contagion of all animals shipped from his Ports.

As this matter now stands, the British authorities refuse to permit the importation of live cattle or sheep until such time as the Argentine or Uruguayan Governments can give assurance of the total absence of disease in every part of their Republics.

It can easily be understood that this practically postpones such permission to the Millennium, since it is most highly improbable that the whole of such vast areas of pasturage and the millions of head of live stock in Argentina and Uruguay should ever be without one beast affected in more or less degree by any contagious disease. One day, probably (before the Millennium), other counsels will prevail with the British Government and the whole people of Great Britain, as well as Argentine and Uruguayan estancieros benefit by the removal of the present comprehensive prohibition.

For his stock, the Argentine and Uruguayan farmer does not fear disease, that he and his Governments can and do very efficiently guard against, but he does fear drought which he yet has only inadequate means to combat.

The streams of the huge Pampean flat are few and far between, and are apt to dry up in exceptionally dry seasons.[260] Almost everywhere now the sky-line is dotted with corrugated-iron windmills which draw water from surface or artesian wells. But vast and costly irrigation (and drainage) works are needed before the whole available pasturage of the two Republics can defy the recurrence of times of drought which sometimes much more than decimate the live stock of enormous districts. Uruguay is, however, infinitely better provided with running rivers and streams than Argentina.

It was a long time before the native Argentine small farmer could be got to see the real economy of outlay on artesian wells and still in the more illiterate outlying Provinces are to be found men as yet unconvinced in that regard.

One of the agricultural instructors which the Argentine Government keeps travelling all over the country to give advice and instruction to farmers told the present writer not so very long ago that he had tried very hard but without success to persuade a man in a remote corner of Argentina, whose stock was daily dying of drought, to sink at least one artesian well on his property, and even offered to erect a windmill for him free of all cost except that of the actual mill.

At last, one evening, the farmer consented to this proposal, but the following morning brought a cloudy sky. Pointing dramatically to this he said, “Why should I sink wells? See! Rain is coming.” After that, my friend, the expert, gave the matter up in disgust. It was of no use telling the farmer that drought might come again. Sufficient for the day had been the evil thereof; and, as for future troubles, why meet them half-way?

Uruguay is relatively very rich in sheep, which thrive well on her undulating lands, and exports wool to the annual value of well over £4,000,000.

The value of Argentine annual wool exports now totals over £9,000,000.

The real commencement of the pastoral as well as the agricultural industries of the River Plate in systematized[261] form was the introduction of fences by a landowner named Olivera, in 1838. As may be conjectured, the erection of boundaries where none had ever been before, on properties the titles to and limits of which were of the vaguest description, mostly partook of the nature of an arbitrary proceeding. So evidently thought Manuel Rozas, the tyrant; who summarily prevented Olivera from continuing the fencing the latter had begun on his estancia “Los Remedios,” although Olivera’s new boundaries were but ditches crowned with quick-set hedges of “A?apinday” (Acacias affinis).

After the death of Rozas, however, in 1844, an English estanciero, Richard Newton, first employed iron wire for some of the enclosures of his property; and, later, another landowner, named Halbach, completely enclosed the whole of his estancia.

The founder of the Argentine Rural Society, Dr. Eduardo Olivera, says in one of his agricultural essays:—

To these three men (Olivera, Newton and Halbach) the Republic owes the transformation of its pastoral and agricultural industries.

It was only after the enclosing of lands that refining of stock became possible. Previously, a stock-owner was always subject to invasion by stray animals (often in large numbers) belonging to his neighbours.

Thus, as we have seen, the first step, the introduction of wire fencing, towards the present development of the Live Stock industry of the River Plate was initiated by an Englishman, and it was another Englishman, Mr. John Miller, who, in 1848, imported from England, for a Mr. White, the owner of the estancia “La Campana,” Tarquin, the first shorthorn bull ever seen on the River Plate.

Therefore the River Plate Territories really owe their pastoral development as well as their railways to the Anglo-Saxon race.

Some ten years later it became the fashion to import[262] stallions of the carriage and riding kinds; it not being foreseen that the heavier breeds would also prove useful.

Then came the turn of sheep-breeding; first from imported Merinos. Later, Rambouillets were introduced and a little later again the Lincoln began to assert its right to the predominance it has since attained.

In 1866 the Argentine Rural Society was founded by a few leading estancieros. Still a private society, its admirable and constantly progressive efforts, usually crowned with success, have given it a status which is practically official.

The Society has a Registration Office which keeps authoritative Herd and Flock Books in which are entered the pedigrees of all the pure-breed cattle, sheep and horses in the country whose owners have applied for such registration; except thoroughbred horses and merino sheep, the breeders of which last have not yet arrived at the definition of the purity of that class of sheep. The walls of this Office are lined with the Herd and Flock Books of the Breeding Societies of Great Britain and her Colonies, and, as Mr. Herbert Gibson, himself a prominent member of the Society, tells us, “there is not in the whole world an analogous office which covers so diverse and numerous a registration.”

The latest (1908) official Argentine live stock Census gives the following tables of, respectively, the importation of pedigree bulls and cows and pedigree rams and ewes, from 1880 to 1907.
    No. of
Head.     Official
$ gold.
From the United Kingdom     14,624     3,770,031
” France     583     120,724
” Belgium     325     75,235
” the United States     169     41,200
” Germany     153     27,770
” Chile     113     27,034
” Italy     62     9,553
” Holland     50     5,300
” Spain     40     5,700
” Other countries     40     13,870
    16,156     4,492,372

    No. of
Head.     Official
$ gold.
From the United Kingdom     65,724     3,141,971
” Germany     3,327     207,833
” France     1,184     60,154
” the United States     502     33,250
” British Possessions     223     15,500
” Belgium     209     19,829
” Australia     125     5,100
” Spain     128     8,165
” Italy     56     540
” Holland     10     30
    71,488     3,492,372

Total value of cattle and sheep imported for breeding purposes during the above indicated period $7,588,780 gold—£1,517,756. These animals have proved worth vastly more than the prices paid for them.

Prior to this, in 1858, the first Rural Show was organized at Palermo. It was not a success. As Dr. Zeballos has written, “It was held in the midst of public indifference and passed utterly unnoticed by the press.” However, it seems to have only been a sort of fair at which all kinds of other wares jostled some rural produce. In face of this fiasco it is not surprising that no other Rural Show was held until thirteen ............
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