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Wednesday, February 3, 2016

14 days without Ranch Dressing: My Trip to Brazil

Oi! ("Hi!" in Portuguese)

This past summer, I was very fortunate to have the opportunity to travel abroad on a faculty-led study tour. I went to Brazil for two weeks and could not have had a better experience to cap off my years as an undergrad and transition into my Master’s program. Because this class was for course credit, we were assigned with writing a blog and reflection piece. I never chose to publish mine, but thought Food for Thought might be a great means to share a little bit about my trip and my post-trip reflections.

Day 1: Travel

Day 2: Arrived in Cuiaba and enjoyed our first Brazilian barbeque. The first thing I tried was a chicken heart (not on purpose...), everything after that point was delicious!

Day 3: Toured the wetland region via horseback and boat called the Patanal. This area supports not only wildlife, but a herd of Nelore cattle and is a place where cattlemen worry about the threat of jaguars and large snakes to their animals. No extra charge for caiman crocodile.

Day 4: We visited Fazenda Kamayura, a Nelore-Angus ranch. Nelore cattle are a Bos Indicus breed that are ideal for the heat and humidity of Brazil. We also visited Anna Sophia Ranch, which raises cattle and teak wood.

Day 5: Visit to Fazenda San Helena, a 150 year old farm that raises purebred Nelore and Panteneiro show horses.

Day 6: Visited Fazenda Luciana, an integrated cattle and farming operation, and Fazenda Tetia, a large corn and soybean operation.

Day 7: Toured Agropecuraria Fazenda Brasil, a large cattle production company, they cover all aspects of production with cow-calf, backgrounding, stocking, and finishing phases. Hint: cowboys on mules are not only awesome but can pull off one heck of a photobomb……

Day 8: This day involved a 40 km ride on Brazilian back roads in our large tour bus only to arrive at the farm and see oil dripping from our bus. Despite being miles away from help, this farm was a little oasis in the middle of nowhere. Thankful to the hospitality of the owner of Cava do Cardeira and its beautiful location, we enjoyed the day AND learned about their sheep and water buffalo production.

Day 9: Toured a JBS packing plant, great experience to see this side of their cattle industry! We also visited a sugar cane farm. Brazil produces ethanol primarily from sugar cane.

Day 10:  Visited a coffee farm from the 1800s and a bovine in-vitro fertilization company. I bottle-fed a cloned dairy calf!

Day 11: Travel day to Foz do Iguaçu

Day 12: Perhaps my most anticipated tourist activity on our trip, the Iguaçu Falls, one of the world's largest waterfalls. First, we toured a bird park. To tour the falls, we loaded into a boat with ponchos and life preservers and were driven up the rapids underneath a "smaller" waterfall. Sounded like a good idea to us!

Day 13: Toured the Itaipu dam between Paraguay and Brazil and began our long journey home. I missed my family and friends, I missed sleeping in the same bed for more than 2 nights, and as the stereotypical Midwesterner, I missed ranch dressing... Brazilian food is very flavorful and condiments are difficult to come by. The day we found ketchup at a restaurant was a very exciting day on the trip.

I could go on about the impressive details of each production system, the warmth and hospitality of the Brazilian people, and the many mishaps and resulting laughs that is a study abroad trip. But, I chose to reflect on the biggest difference and similarity that I noticed between Brazilian and American agriculture.

The major difference was that the majority of cattle producers do not castrate their male animals, but rather feed them out as bulls. This was surprising to everyone, as we correlate castration with better-tasting beef due to the steer’s ability to deposit more intramuscular fat than a bull because of reduced testosterone. When we asked the various producers who did not practice castration what their motivation was, they explained it had to do with the packing companies. In Brazil, there is no financial incentive at the slaughterhouse to castrate because the meat is graded strictly on yield, or quantity. There is no premium for better quality meat, or meat with better marbling. Additionally, as one of the world’s most important beef exporters, the European Union (EU) is an important market to Brazil. This means that they must stay within the regulations laid out by EU political bodies, which eliminates several technologies that often accompany castration, such as implants. It took a while to get used to seeing pens of bulls in a feedlot, but this is a component of the system that makes Brazil such a large exporter, so that was really interesting to learn about.

One similarity to the United States that I noticed, although very broad, is something that I feel can be applied to Brazilian agriculture and all people involved. That is, those that produce livestock seek to do the very best for their animals and their operation. More specifically, they seek to incorporate technology, make decisions based on minimizing input costs, and have great respect to the environment and increasing its sustainability. This seems like it might be a “no-brainer”, but I feel that it is a common theme that those in agriculture seek to share with consumers. Agriculturists all over the world operate with regard to animal welfare and sustainability, both financially and environmentally. Successful operations keep these both in mind. Yes, Americans and Brazilians are raising very different types of cattle in completely different environments, and have different limitations on the types of technology each may implement. However, when it comes down to the bottom line, both they have common goals of contributing to global food production while doing the best they can for their animals. For example, AFB is utilizing data technology to grow and market their cattle and maximize profit, but we noticed in their working facility a sign describing the five animal freedoms and how to work animals with respect to their flight zone. The rancher from Fazenda Kamayura admitted that increasing the amount of Angus genetics in his herd would certainly bring more profit at the packing plant. However, more Angus would create animals that would not tolerate the heat as well and are also too costly to feed, as they require more nutrients than Nelore.

In conclusion, although I have been fortunate to travel to several countries prior to this trip, I feel that I have gained a great deal more from this experience because of the opportunity to study global agriculture. I believe that travel is a very important tool for self-development. I find that when I travel, I return home with greater appreciation and awareness for the blessings in my life, as well as a sort of confidence that comes with seeking to gain world perspective. Additionally, I have always found that no matter how far away I go, humans, and ultimately, agriculture, are more similar than they are different. When trying to articulate my reaction to international travel, I found a quote by Ralph Waldo Emerson: “Though we travel the world over to find the beautiful, we must carry it with us, or we find it not.” I will certainly carry the excellent impression I have formed of Brazilian agriculture and beef production with me as I continue to pursue my career in animal nutrition.




  1. Definitely not the pictures I expected from this trip. Parrots? Those birds are so colorful and friendly, you guys really must have had the time of your lives. Love the pictures of all the horses ad the cowboys, but, it must have felt great to get back home to your own ranch once the trip finally can to a screeching halt.

    Wilbert Bowers @ Mirr Ranch Group



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