This is an independent blog and is not affiliated with any particular church, group or conference. The term Bruderthaler refers to a specific ethnic or cultural Mennonite heritage, not to any particular organized group. All statements and opinions are solely those of the contributor(s). Blog comprises notebook fragments from various research projects and discussions. Dialogue, comment and notice of corrections are welcomed. Much of this content is related to papers and presentations that might be compiled at a future date, as such, this blog serves as a research archive rather than as a publication. 'tag

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Cattle Theft Spotlights Mennonite Nelore Herd

    Mennonites have been known to maintain herds of many types of cattle.  In the USA for instance, every Mennonite family had traditionally maintained a couple of dairy cattle – probably either the Dutch Holsteins or Jerseys – most commonly, probably a mix between the two.  Russian Mennonites on the great plains of Assiniboia most often seemed to favor the Angus breeds grown for beef – Red Angus or Black Angus – still the most commonly noticeable cattle when driving through the Northern Prairie ranch country.  The newest arrival on the scene for Mennonites in Lustre-Volt for instance are not cattle at all but rather traditional North American Bison, which are both highly acclimated and marketed as a healthy beef alternative.
    According to GAMEO, Russian Mennonites had traditionally grown East Friesland Cattle but developed their own breed, the Molotschna Cow or German Red Cow in Ukraine.  (Note that various breeding guides indicate that the Middle German Red is now often referred to as the German Red.)
    Mennonites in Brazil and Paraguay have also developed an affection for the Asian breed Nelore of Indian Zebu descent, which is known for its endurance in hot climates and its versatility as a milk, beef and cartage breed.  Zebus breeds are distinguished by their fatty humps, long dewlaps and droopy ears (Wikipedia).

    Photo:  Rescued herd belonging to Peter Redecopp Wall from Nuevo Durango  near Curraguaty, Paraguay, showing the 47 cattle recovered (of 53).  Wall’s herd is based on the Nelore which are the standard beef cattle in Brazil and Paraguay.  Also pictured is Abraham Wall, president of Nuevo Durango.  Photo © and courtesy of Pablo Medina of ABC Color.

Curruguaty Region (c) Wikipedia
    According to Wikipedia, the Nelore arrived in Brazil in 1868 and the breed book was established in 1875, just a year after the great Migration by Mennonites out of Russia to the New World(s).  Though, Wiki indicates that Nelore did not become the dominant Zebu breed in Brazil until the 1960s.  Prior to that, the Indo-Brazilian had dominated.  Today, breed profiles from Oklahoma State University indicate that as there as many as 100,000,000 Nelore cattle in Brazil or about 80% of the national herd.
    For Mennonites in the Chaco, and elsewhere, the Nelore represent resolution of numerous local challenges to cattle production.  Wiki indicates that the breed is “hardy, heat-resistant, thrive on poor-quality forage, and breeds easily, with the calves rarely requiring human intervention to survive.”
    They are the perfect fit for the hot, dry, isolated Chaco.  In fact, Nelore are noted for their ability to adjust to about any environmental challenge apart from the extreme cold.
    Nelore have been adapted to the Mennonite colonies of Belize as well – notably in the Blue Creek Mennonite Colony / Community.  Apparently, breeders in the Cayo region have focused on developing a new strain resulting from the cross breeding of Nelore with Black Angus.
    B. Roberson, wife of a Belize Nelore breeder John C. Roberson, describes the benefits of the breed as follows:
(c) University of Oklahoma
   “So what characteristics distinguish this breed? Smaller ears, relatively smaller bones (Note the smaller legs) , less dewlap flap, cleaner underline (less reproductive problems in  pastured animals), hardy, long breeding life (normal for cows to be calving regularly past 16years of age: yes they start breeding young, too), metabolic efficiency, small calves at birth ( 55 to 60 pound calves, which can shock an unsuspecting rancher - petite, but rapid gainers. One of larger breeders here states he has not pulled a single Nelore calf in 17 years with the breed), and meat which is leaner and of exceptional high quality and palatability are just some of the virtues of Nelore,” (Belize Ag Report 2009, p 17).

(c) Aidan Cotter, Ireland, 2007.
    Roberson indicates that the slaughterhouses in Belize are paying a 5₵ per pound premium for Nelore over other beef breeds due to their higher dressing ratios ($1.15 to $1.20 per lb).
    Beef production has shot up in Latin America.  Brazil currently exports almost 4x as much beef as the United States and Argentina is expected to catch up to Canada by 2015.  This is not including beef imports from Uruguay, Paraguay or Bolivia.  In fact, Uruguayan specialty steakhouses, or churrascos, are now as ubiquitous to Europe as Australia’s Outback™ is to United States suburbs. 
    Mennonite attendees of the 2009 Mennonite World Conference were treated to a steak dinner donated by a local Mennonite rancher.  Even the Mennonites from Montana (traditional American beef cattle growers since the days of Teddy Roosevelt and the Cisco Kid) were impressed with the quality of the meat.
     On the other hand, this growth in beef production has not come without cost.  Just as the prairies of the United States, Canada and Mexico were domesticated and settled for beef production, so too are the veldts, wastes and grasslands of the Chaco, Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay. 
    Mennonite colonies have increasingly come under attack in the Chaco region for expanding their ranches into previously undeveloped areas – especially in the British and East Coast United States press.  While much of the criticism is seemingly tourist-based and unscientific, it is a public relations and rural development issue that promises to be closely monitored in the future. 
    It should be noted that much of the criticized expansion in the Chaco has actually been by giant foreign producers from Brazil, though the British and American press continue to see Mennonite settlers as foreign – which is another issue the Russian Mennonite diaspora will have to increasingly engage.  Also, reports indicate that there might be significant red herring agendas in operation – big business vs. independent farmers, various competing political motivations and even cattle export competition from the United States and Britain – two of the biggest critics of the South American beef industry.
    Regardless, the expansion of the Mennonite cattle industry in the colonies of Latin America has demonstrated the same survivability and dedication to responsible, informed agricultural improvements  for which their Dutch-Prussian-Russian forebears were known.  Whereas the Mennonites of Molotschna once transformed agricultural practices on the steppes of Ukraine, and then established new crops and varietals to the American prairies from Kansas to Saskatchewan, they will do so in South America as well.  One wonders if some of the traditional Mennonite-oriented schools wouldn’t be wise to start investing back into rural development and agronomy departments to both encourage and tap this continuing agrarian expertise.  It would be a great way to maintain the Mennonite (and Amish and Hutterite) heritage while continuing to promote responsible development and ecology through our global service organizations.
 B. Roberson: Nelore Cattle, Belize Ag Report, May 2009

An interesting article on the origins of domestic cattle in present-day Iran:

DNA Traces cattle back to a small herd in Iran 

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