After grabbing our boxed(bagged) lunches it was on the bus and away heading south from El
Calafate. Taking in the last of the scenic Lake views, we paused on the side of the road to take in the valley where the Blake family had previously owned an Estancia. It appears that Mr Blake senior had a mind for taking on country with productive river flats.
We did ask about opportunity for irrigation, but the Patagonian summers are too short to enable any crop or pasture growth, as we were about to see further when we visited Gregory and Lilliana’s Estancia a few hundred kilometres south near Rio Gallegos.
On arrival we were met with aroma of BBQing lamb. immediately we were invited to eat with the family and gauchos. The lamb steak on bread rolls were very nice. I think this could have been the first really fresh bread of the trip.
Lamb steak in a roll and several midday wines, this is the life… After lunch it was off to the woolshed to view fleeces Gregory and his sons had prepared for us to look over.
They had gone to so
much trouble to show us their fleeces and penned sheep for the boys and girls in the group to pore over. This was the first opportunity for the group to really get their hands on wool and appraise the breeding program. Into the woolshed where there was a line of ram fleeces from over the past three years, showing the wool improvement that Gregory is striving for.
A Corriedale base, the wool was around 22 micron, bright in colour with heavy weight. The ram lambs were run through the race for all to inspect, and of the group delighted in being hands on checking impressive wools and body condition.
Some the girls and Henry were pleased to be able to have a look at the garden and especially the potato house used to store potatoes and onions all year around. Gregory’s family do not live on the Estancia, as it is common for families to live in the nearest town and to travel daily out to the Estancia. Nevertheless, the homestead was steeped in history, having being a flat packed kit home shipped out from England in the late 1800s. Never thought Ikea was around in the 1800s.
After what is now the regulation presentation of MacWool caps we wearily crawled aboard the bus for the run into town, taking an hour to travel and an hour at the checkpoint. Apparently all the paperwork wasn’t quite in order, but The Argentinian police finally let us through to Hotel Patagonia.
A few of our group headed out to the slaughterhouse, which is owned by 40 lamb producers from around the district as a co-op. Slaughtering had finished at 3pm and the plant completely washed down before arrival, but there was still plenty to see. The killing floor was spotless, and the General Manager of the plant gave a demonstration of the line. Not much automation, but certainly a very modern plant that exports 90% of its product largely to SE Asia. In line with the short Patagonian summer, male lambs are trucked directly to the slaughterhouse from Estancias.
The lambs are not sorted prior to slaughter, with all weights going through the line. It is only at the end of the line that the carcase weight is assessed and then chilled/frozen by weight range. The killing sheet categorises each mob in 2kg weight increments, going down as far as a 4-6 kg carcase weight.
The remainder of the group boarded our two small mini buses and headed to the Rio Gallegos Showgrounds. What a night.
Our group were hosted for dinner by the president and Committee of the Sociedad Rural De Rio Gallegos (equivalent to the local branch of NSW Farmers). The evening started with questions and lots of discussion around the differences and similarities in growing wool and sheep meat in Australia versus Patagonia.
The Argentinian farmers face many challenges, not just season and prices. They have encroaching predators in foxes and Pumas, and as the local guanaco (South American alpacas) population spreads there is competition for pasture. Pumas and guanacos are protected, creating challenges for lamb production. Argentinian government policy on export taxes has also had an impact on agricultural operations.
The exchange of ideas and practices lead to much discussion over another expertly prepared and delicious BBQ. After dinner the fun began and new friendships formed. As the wine flowed the language barrier slipped away and the serious partying began. The laughter got louder and hand gestures became even more expressive. At one point an RM boot was produced and Sharpy said no to filling it with red wine ‘ONLY champagne from the boot’, he said.
Within minutes a bottle of champers appeared from thin air along with straws, and we all sank to a new low for some (old habits for others) and passed the boot around. It was amazing how much we had in common with these people and we really enjoyed the opportunity to get to know everyone better. Language was no barrier when it came to partying.
The first bus headed for home around pumpkin o’clock with the second bus not too far behind. Thank goodness for a 9:45am departure the next day.