Prior to traveling to Uruguay, I thought I had seen a bunch of cattle. I have seen the large beef cattle finishing operations of the midwest. In South Dakota, I saw a huge feedlot. This is very different from Uruguay, where the beef is grass-fed. Central Uruguay is covered in grasslands, which is why it is more economical for them to finish with grass. While there, we saw the La Estanzuela INIA station where they research beef and sheep fattening systems. The “Invernada 365 System” is one of INIA’s current projects, where they are studying how rotating animals through different feeding systems impacts intake, average daily gain, and the animal’s conversion efficiency. Overall, the Invernada 365 system imparts a higher average daily gain (in kilograms per day) and higher conversion efficiency ( in kilograms dry matter per kilograms live weight). This system places newly weaned calves into a rearing pen, giving them high moisture grain, haylage, and a protein/mineral/vitamin supplement. They stay in this pen for the fall and early winter. In the late winter/early spring, these cattle are moved to long pasture containing a combination of alfalfa, Dactylis (orchardgrass) and white clover. These cattle finish up the last four months of the Invernada system back on the same concentrate diet they started on.
Of the locally-owned ranches we visited, Angus Los Tilos in Treinta y Tres stands out to me in the number of cattle we were able to see when we visited. We saw both a herd of cows and their calves, as well as a herd of 2-year-old heifers. They allowed us to walk out into their herd and body condition score their cattle. They told us that they like to score their cattle about once a month to make sure that the cattle are utilizing their given nutrition properly. On Los Tilos’s scale of 2-8, an ideal score is 4.5-5. They also like to score at the beginning of breeding season and right at calving so that Los Tilos knows the cow is conditioned enough not only to support herself but her calf as well.