We had a nice three days at La Hacienda Santa Maria La Antigua, a 2,500-hectare ranch 95 kilometers north of Santa Cruz. It is a working dairy (1,000 head of Holando-Argentino cattle) farm and beef ranch (2,000 head of Brahman cattle). The ranch has a small hotel and spa which caters to foreign and domestic tourists. We had a wonderful stay which has been the highlight of the summer for us. We were the only guests staying at the hotel so we had the place to ourselves. It felt like our own private ranch!
The 2,500 hectare property is located about 6 kilometers via sandy road from the village of Buena Vista. It is very close to one of my favorite places in the world, the Amboro National Park. We were not able to get into the park on this trip, but we did get to do some walking in the forested areas as well as explore the pantanals (wetlands) of the ranch.
We learned all about the dairy industry, watching the whole process of getting the cows into the corral, showering them with a misty spray for 15 minutes to calm them, and then the mechanized milking. We got to sample fresh milk straight from the cow and drink from the refrigerated tanks. I learned that the biggest milk producing cow on the farm produces 37 liters of milk per day and the average life span of a dairy cow is six years. They are in milk production about 6 months a year.
The kids were more interested in the swimming pool, games area (billiards/table tennis) and karaoke. They also have pet caimans, toucans, cats, etc. that the kids enjoyed playing with. I went out for walks in the wetlands and saw a huge variety of neotropical birds. You can see my nature blog for more photos and stories.
I have mixed emotions about ranches. It was nice to see cows actually eating grass and being outdoors. They eat about 60-70% forage and 30% grains. The industrial-agricultural model of meat and milk producing in the US reduces this. The owner treats his employees well and has really made a tourist service for the local and brought income to a poor area. I don’t like however, the loss of habitat for wilderness and I hope he can preserve more land for forest. He is probably one of the better land managers, as most Bolivians are ignorant to environmental concerns. I will definitely reduce my consumption of beef, which I don’t eat a lot of, just because I see how much energy it takes to bring it to the table.
The silence, darkness, stars and the sounds of a tropical night were intoxicating. It really lifted my spirits and recharged my psyche to be at the hacienda. We also benefited from a lack of internet connection and it was good to interact with the children in an old-fashioned way.