Beef Farm and Crocodiles
Today we visited a Beef farm in the Alajuela province of Costa Rica. This farm was 250 hectares with 110 animals. There were 5 horses and 4 milking cows and the rest were beef cattle. On this farm there is also 65 hectares of forest. The entire cattle operation is done on pastures but there is some corn silage and concentrate given during the wet season. During the wet season cattle are closer to the house and barn, and during the dry season they are allowed to go into the forest and further away from the barn. Most of the pastures that are fenced off use living fences to aid in the ecosystem stabilization. The cattle are free to consume any of the fallen fruit and none of the pastures are maintained. The pastures are left alone to be self sustained by the natural ecosystem, meaning no inputs and no removal of products. Most of the cattle are of the Brahman breed however there are some calves that are Angus cross that were apart of a breeding study in collaboration with the United States.
Cattle that are being sold at the local auctions are usually more profitable during the rainy season because cattle are typically in better condition. Usually cattle weigh between 550 – 600 kg when they go to auction. In terms of animal welfare cattle are vaccinated every four months, there is no castration or dehorning done and the vet does artificial insemination. Even though the terrain of the pastures is rough the producer does not have many injury problems. One interesting concept that was brought up was that access to water is where ever the cattle can find it such as a stream or creek. This is very different from Ontario, as we do not allow cattle to have free access to streams and rivers for water quality reasons. We walked all the way to the little pool of water that the cattle had access to for them to get water and it was a very steep and hot and sometimes difficult due to the loose stones. Once we got the water we stopped to catch our breath and then most of the group continued up to the top to see the view. It was a pretty amazing view of the town below us. Calving occurs all year round and about 2 weeks before calving the cows are brought closer to the barn but they still calve in the field. Calves are also left with the mother until they are either sold or brought in for milking.
It was mentioned that there are three challenges that face the beef industry in Costa Rica. The first is climate change due to longer dry season, the second is competition from surrounding producers and the third is price of beef. This beef producer is also a doctor and is trying to establish a coop for beef producers in the area that want to have differentiated beef products. The idea behind the coop is for farms to come together to produce meat that is antibiotic and hormone free as well as organic in hopes of differentiating their product in the market place. This task has not been easy though as there are many people who do not want to see this certification come together. He believes that this work will pay off due to the higher incomes from the distinguished beef product.
His advice to us was that we should set goals, make money and don’t ever do farming without an education and always have something else on the side as a hobby so you will continue to do your job well.
After the beef farm we were on our way down the south west coast of Costa Rica and we stopped and got to walk across a bridge that had lots of crocodiles underneath in the water and sunbathing on the sand. We also stopped at a lookout to see the view of the water and the beach.
My three learning points of the day were that the rules for cattle confinement are very different from those in Ontario as they are allowed to drink from the streams and rivers. The second learning point is that the cattle diets are not as strict as at home, the cattle are feed corn silage and concentrate but they are also allowed to consume natural grasses and fruit and not managed pastures. My third learning point is that there is no certified meat in Costa Rica. At home we have certified Angus and certified organic. The fact that the farmers are also having a hard time to get their products certified is interesting as well.