Cattle farming in bygone Colombia


The following conversation was held with a 50+ year-old Colombian man. (I’ve kept the original lines of the Colombian with minimum editing for maximum authenticity)

Me: So what’s your plan for the Christmas holidays?

Colombian: I may go to Villavicencio. (VV is a very popular place for Bogotanos to take a dip in the pool over long weekends, as it’s hot, at a low altitude – 500m, supposedly 3-hour drive from Bogota without traffic.)

Me: What’s special about VV?

C: It’s nice. There are activities that are nice.

M: What kind of activities?

C: Cattle-related.

M: For example?

S: For example, for the baby cows, you need to put them down on the ground to stamp them, vaccinate them and give them a pill.

M: Ok.. Do you still do that?

C: I used to ride a horse and use a rope to make a special loop to catch the cows. The rope we used was also made on the farm from cow skin. First, we would dry the cow skin under the sun. Then we would roll it up into a rope. We would constantly use cow fat to rehydrate the skin while rolling it, to make it elastic and easier to roll.

M: Wow, so that’s like a cowboy?

C: Yes that’s exactly it! And my grand dad even carried a gun!

M: Ok.. What was that for?

C: He used it to shoot some cows.

M: Why?!

C: Because they are different.

M: Why did he have to kill them though? Why not just put them away, separate them from the rest?

C: Because they are bad animals. They are wild. They had not been stamped.

M: So they don’t belong to him?! They are not part of his cattle!

C: They were, but they’ve since become wild cow.

M: How is that?

C: The farm is very big. Sometimes some animals like to be on their own and wander off to live in the forests.

M: So why does it matter?

S: Because they come back and disrupt the rest of the herd. And they are not stamped so they haven’t been vaccinated.

M: Then why weren’t they stamped?

S: Because they slipped the initial process.

M: How would that be possible? I understand you have a farm where all the cows are and when they need to be stamped you just check them one by one.

C: Actually the farm is very big and you may not be able to control all the animals. 40 years ago, the farm of my granddad had 30.000 hectare.

M: Oh my god..!! That sounds big!! How many cows did he have?

C: 2,000 at that time. So these cows live in pockets of land in this big area. In the farm, a river runs through it. There are jungles along the river. Sometimes some cows just run away into the woods.

M: Why do they go into the woods? What’s in the woods? Is there food?

S: No actually. That’s why they’re rebels. They like to be alone. They go away during the day and come back at night to sleep.

M: And where do the rest of the cows sleep?

S: They just stay outside.

M: Don’t they move into the barn at night? I’m from the city so I know nothing about farming. What I thought what happened was that at night, the cows stay indoor in a barn. In the morning they are let out into the fields to roam about and at night they go back.

C: No! That’s not possible. A barn like those in USA is too expensive for cattle farms in the Llanos (plains).

M: So the cows just stay out all day? How come they don’t run way since the field is so big? I can’t understand – if I were a cow, why would I stay to be killed one day..!

C: There are natural barriers like forests and rivers and there’s food on the plains for the cows so they actually don’t want to go anywhere else.

M: So what happened to this farm? Why are you going to your friend’s farm and not your grandpa’s farm?

S: No..! It doesn’t exist anymore! When my grandma separated from my granddad, she got part of the land. But she got a lot of problem with it because of the guerilla. They started going to the farm near the river and forest, and set up a laboratory to cook cocaine.

M: OMG!

C: Once the FARC set up the operation in the area of the farm, my grandma started getting lots of problems with the local government because they started sending people to her farm asking questions and suspecting that she was a complicit. So she sold it for very little money.

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