Writers: Jordan Adams and Madeline Rivera
It is every college student’s dream to have the opportunity to participate in a study abroad. Visit a foreign country, learn a different language, experience another culture, make new friends, and learn something that we never knew about ourselves. During the summer of 2018, nine animal science students and one biomedical science student had the opportunity to study abroad in Brazil. The objective of the study abroad was to compare ruminant production schemes in the northeastern and southeastern regions of Brazil to those found in the United States. It is easy to assume that the production of livestock is similar across the globe, regardless of environmental and technological restrictions. However, to our surprise, we saw a great many differences.
It is important to note that globally, Brazil has the largest commercial number of cattle. The majority of these dual-purpose animals are found in smaller family-based operations, all managed in a similar structure. Brazil is also a developing country, meaning that not all producers have access to technological advancements or resources
that we as Americans have taken for granted, which explains why Brazil is only the second largest beef producing country in the world. This was especially evident when we visited farms in the Northeast of Brazil and learned that almost everything was done manually, from harvesting crops and silage to hauling enormous amounts of water on a daily basis during the drought. In America, cow-calf operations sell calves to largely industrialized feedyards that finish them and send them to slaughter at approximately thirty-six months of age. We push for low birth weights, early puberty, high rate of gain, high marbling and palatability. The United States grading system has yielded higher quality and uniformity across the board. A vast majority of our carcasses grade select or choice, meaning the meat we consume is very tender.
When we ate at an authentic Brazilian steakhouse in northeast Brazil, aside from enjoying the endless stream of meat brought to our table, we noticed that the meat is tougher and that there is no marketed differentiation between beef cattle and water buffalo meat. There are laws against castration and the utilization of growth implants, limiting the production industry even further.
Since their Bos indicus breeds naturally reach puberty at an older age and they are grass-fed, production time between cow-calf and finisher is nearly doubled. The end product is neither uniform nor high in quality, but there are also no grading systems or discounts. The packing plant only discounts for carcasses heavier than 1300 pounds, merely because their facilities are not built to manage carcasses heavier than that.
Research facilities brought to our attention the lack of black-hided, Angus type cattle common in the United States. The breed does not match their temperate environment; it requires more resources and expenses to maintain. Zebu-type cattle such as Nellore are known for their increased parasite, disease, and heat tolerance, improving production in subtropical climates. There were many requests from students to see Indubrasil cattle because of this, but they are not nearly as common as we were hoping.
Sheep and Goat Production
As this study abroad was focused on comparative ruminant nutrition and production, small ruminants such as sheep and goats were included. It is not common in the United States to eat lamb chops or mutton, except for seasonal or ceremonial dishes, which causes the demand for sheep production to be reduced. Sheep and goat populations tend to be more concentrated in developing countries and localized in dry tropical and subtropical areas of poor agriculture potential. Small ruminant production is more sustainable in northeast Brazil due to the large semi-arid regions and biomes containing adequate forages. While touring one of the research facilities on campus, we were able to try our hands at milking the goats and learn about the research done with their rumen and duodenal cannulated goats. After learning about the process behind the production of goat milk products, we got to taste goat milk ice cream, which is very creamy!
The same concept of matching an animal to its environment applies in dairy as well. Brazil has the second largest dairy cow population in the world. When we hear dairy, We are certain that a black and white Holstein cow comes to mind. Due to their high milk production, Brazil utilizes the Holstein crossed with a Gyr zebu type animal to produce the Girolando. Although these cattle are more aggressive, they are best suited for milk production in warmer climates and currently produce 80% of Brazil’s milk. While in Brazil, we got the chance to tour several dairies that breed and operate using Girolando cows. Most of these dairies were small, family-owned operations in the northeast region of Brazil, much like the beef cattle operations we visited. One family dairy that we toured utilized “elephant ear” cactus as an inexpensive alternative source of water and energy in the diet. Many farms mixed their feed manually or allowed grazing with a supplement, or solely fed grain.
After visiting mostly small dairies, we had the chance to tour the 3rd largest purebred Holstein dairy operation in Sao Paulo state in Brazil. Utilizing technology that we use in the United States, this operation had 1,700 lactating cows that produced an average of 37 liters of milk per day. We were all amazed by how organized and technologically advanced everything was and could have stayed and watched the process all day!
One thing that we were unaware of was how much water buffalo contributed to dairy production in Brazil. In fact, many farmers are beginning to utilize water buffalo rather than cattle due to their dual purpose and potential in the future market. The milk produced by water buffalo is a lot higher in fat than cow milk, making it perfect for the production of cheeses like mozzarella. The water buffalo farm tours were a big hit, and not just because of how cute the babies were, but the different dairy products that we had the opportunity to try.
All of the dairy operations allowed us to sample their array of products, including ice cream, yogurt, milk, a variety of cheeses, and any dairy containing product you could think of. At the end of the day, nothing is better than being able to show farmers your appreciation for the products they relentlessly work to produce every day.
The ruminant production comparison was an educational eye-opener. We went to Brazil, and we are certain that you want to hear a little bit more about our personal and cultural experiences. Traveling around a country you have never been to is quite an experience. The tours and education we received provided us with a better understanding of what a developing country really is and how it differs from what we are used to. For starters, learning a new language is hard. It was not long before we all regretted not having learned basic terminology in Portuguese. It is extremely easy to take for granted the ease of communicating with our fellow peers. Thankfully, our wonderful faculty leader Dr. Tedeschi graciously translated conversations, menus, signs, and essentially anything under the sun. A few nights we were left to fend for ourselves for dinner. Unable to read menus, we relied strongly on pictures to communicate what we would like to eat. Half of our group found themselves at a restaurant that served meals in family sized portions, very typical in Brazilian cuisine. After ordering, they served a mountain of food, fit for a small army. Ironically enough, this theme continued for the extent of our trip.
Food should definitely be at the top of your list of new things to try. Surprisingly, we ate a lot of pizza. Brazilians like a cheese made from cow’s milk called catupiry, which is very soft and creamy. We also had the opportunity to try many things that were new to us, such as pastel, açaí, pão de queijo, and a popular soft drink called Guaraná! Pastel is a pastry that is filled with delicious meats and cheese, somewhat like an empanada. We had all heard of açaí in the United States, but when some friends we met at the University took us to try the açaí in Brazil we could not get enough, some of us even ordered some to-go for breakfast during the week. We were definitely not disappointed by the traditional foods in Brazil.
Also, a study abroad isn’t a study abroad without recreational activities. The second week we had the opportunity to go hiking and white water rafting through the Rio Jacare Pepira River. Thankfully our expert rafting guides prevented any of us from falling into the rapids, but they did soak us any chance that they got. To air dry, we zip lined across the park on a 1 km long line.
A lot of the farms that we visited were very far from our hotel. Unfortunately, that meant waking up early to leave but we could not start our day without our cup of espresso, a slice of yucca root cake and side of eggs. We were already a small tight-knit group, to begin with, but spend a couple of days with the same people in a van when they are hungry, and you will actually get to see their true colors. The longest drive was probably to and from Ranch Alegre, we encountered a road that when roughly translated to English meant “cow ribs”. After we spent two hours on this bumpy, cow-ribs road, we no longer questioned how it had earned its name. Enduring the cow ribbed road also made us realize how difficult it was for the producers to get resources to and from the ranch.
We could not have gotten anywhere without our very sweet driver Joaquim, to whom we all miss very much. He drove us to and from everyday, all across the northeastern region of Brazil. Always up before the sun, he treated us like his own children, and for that safety and security, we are grateful.
Near the end of our journey, a good majority of us were overly eager to head home to our fur babies, Whataburger, and paved Texas roads. This study abroad was a bowl of enjoyable experiences that we will not soon forget.
If you have any questions or would like to hear more about our time abroad, you can contact us anytime and we would be more than happy to talk to you!
Madeline Rivera: firstname.lastname@example.org
Jordan Adams: email@example.com
By the looks of it, the previous study abroad students had just as much fun as we did; check out the Facebook pages below to see more!
Learn more about the summer study abroad in Brazil:
For more information regarding news from the Department of Animal Science, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, Texas A&M University, please contact Maggie Berger at firstname.lastname@example.org or (979) 845-1542.