Whether you're traveling to a new city, state or country there's always something to be learned and new things to see. Like in Brazil, it's more than just a tropical forest filled with plants, insects, birds and mammals. It's an agricultural country that supports over 212 million head of cattle and is the number one beef exporter in the world.
Where it Rains Every Day
You've heard of those places where it supposedly rains every day and questioned whether it was really possible. However, it is possible and does happen, as I witnessed on a recent trip to Brazil with other Genex and CRI representatives. While all states in the U.S. experience four seasons, that is not the case in the Brazilian state of Mato Grosso do Sul. It experiences two - wet and dry - and these two seasons have shaped the agricultural industry. Ranchers have adapted to produce cattle and crops specifically for this environment.
As the trip started I quickly learned the breed of cattle that excels in this hot two-season environment, Nelore. While they're not the cattle I'm used to seeing in the frozen tundra of Wisconsin, I appreciate their heat tolerance and parasite resistance, crucial for this environment.
I had never actually seen Nelore cattle, so it was fitting our first herd visit was to Quilombo, a purebred Nelore operation. The owner, Frederico Moreno, explained how the seedstock operation must sustain itself. Six years ago Frederico was challenged by his profit margin, so he decided to invest in technology by creating an integrated system combining crops and cattle. On his 17,290-acre ranch he grows corn, soybeans, grass, native plants and trees along with raising 2,500 Nelore. Because of the weather and soil, double and triple cropping is common. In one year, one the same land, Frederico plants and harvests soybeans, then plants corn and grass together, harvesting the corn and then turns the cows out on the remaining grass. This system helps maximize productivity of the land and cattle.
At Quilombo, the goal is to produce two types of bulls, one that excels in a grass system and one that adds yield to the carcass. This is achieved through A.I. and Gene Plus data, which is equivalent to EPDs.
During the wet season, December to March, breeding occurs. At Quilombo, everything is A.I. bred once, with Nelore heifers inseminated at two years of age so they calve at three years old. After calving, heifers are raised and incorporated back into the herd. The bulls are sold through an online sale or live auction in July and September.
As Frederico states, "Every production system needs a clear vision and ours is to utilize moderate animals with consistent genetics to produce cattle for the commercial industry."
Let's Make Protein
Taking a different approach on the use of Nelore cattle is Sete Voltas Ranch or Seven Turns Ranch. The philosophy is simple, as owner Paulo Almedia told us, "Let's make protein."
While it took more than seven turns and going over more than seven bumps to get to the ranch, what I saw upon arrival made it worth it. This 18,000-acre ranch runs along the Seven Turns River and supports 7,500 animals, 3,000 of which are cows. The base cow herd is Nelore due to their heat and tick resistance, but in order to produce protein Angus, Brangus and Wagyu genetics have been incorporated.
When Paulo took over management of the operation in 1997 there was a lot to be learned. The biggest change began in 1999. With the assistance of veterinarian Marcos Santos, his old friend and current CRI Genetica Brazil field representative, they introduced synchronization and A.I. It was a step in the right direction but came with struggles such as identifying the correct bulls for the environment. They had started using Simmental, Braunvieh and Angus sires with high growth EPDs.
Paulo recalls, "Those calves were tall and heavy with high growth, but we were not able to finish them with a desirable fat cover. That type of crossbred needed to be fed differently. They needed more than just pasture."
Realizing the problem, they began using American Angus sires with excellent fleshing ability rather than high growth traits. Moderate-framed bulls with high fat EPDs were more appropriate for the pasture system. In 2013 alone, Paulo used 1,500 units of Chisum. Mated to purebred Nelore, the Angus produced an F1 crossbred that combines some heat and tick resistance with added carcass yield and quality.
In Brazil there are three rules for crossbreeding cattle. Produce something that is black, shiny and has short hair. Many Brazilian producers create this F1 cross and deem it a terminal animal. Sete Voltas Ranch does not, because they're in the business of producing protein. Paulo realizes the benefits of the F1 and breeds them via A.I. to Brangus and Wagyu sires to produce terminal F2 crosses. The F2 cross lacks heat and tick resistance, but the carcass is highly desired by slaughter plants such as JBS or Marfrig, Brazil's No. 1 and No. 3 food processing companies, which Sete Voltas works with.
"To be a good businessman you have to have good working relationships outside the farm in order to compete and grow," informed Paulo. "It's these relationships with the slaughter plants, our veterinarian and CRI Genetica Brazil that have advanced us to where we are in the cattle industry today."
The South, Where Angus are Raised
Who knew you had to travel south for it to get colder, but this is the case in Brazil. The southern portion of Brazil is similar to the U.S. with both a summer and winter. Therefore, there are less Nelore cattle and more Angus and Red Angus cattle.
In the southern tip of Brazil is Porto Alegre. There, I learned about the Brazilian Angus industry. I toured S2, a purebred Angus and Red Angus operation comprised of 150 cows, 90 percent of which are Angus and 10 percent Red Angus. S2 utilizes A.I. and embryo transfer, specifically U.S. genetics. The herd began 25 years ago with an embryo from the U.S., and they continue to use U.S. sires such as Traveler, Density, Net Work, Final Answer, Chisum, Big Sky and Sakic.
U.S. genetics, specifically Angus, have highly impacted the cattle industry in Brazil. Since the first Angus bull was imported from Uruguay in 1906, many influential Angus bulls have been introduced. Of the top 15 most relevant Angus bulls, five are from the U.S. and two are Genex sires: Make My Day and Net Worth. In 2013, the Brazilian Angus Association's top two sires for registrations were Genex sires: Pendleton and Net Worth. According to the Brazilian Angus Association, in 2012 over 1.6 million units of Angus semen were imported from the U.S. This number continues to rise and so does the overall number of cattle in Brazil.
Brazil is more than just a rainforest; it's a diversified agricultural country with sights set on the future - agriculture and the cattle herd are expanding. So whether a producer is utilizing Nelore, F1 crosses, F2 crosses, Angus or Red Angus, they're crucial to the continued growth of the Brazilian beef industry.