LLANOS EASTERN, Colombia — Leading their horses, half a dozen Colombian ranchers herd cattle across the flat plains of eastern Colombia. They have a long way to go because this 4,000-acre ranch stretches to the horizon and beyond.
Unlike the United States, where almost all beef cattle are raised in feedlots and where cowboys are mostly a thing of the past, cattle in Colombia are raised in wide open fields. As a result, overseeing the herds requires the special skills of Colombian cowboys, known as llaneros – Spanish for “llaneros”.
With its lagoons, flocks of birds and panoramic views, this ranch is a magnificent setting for what is often a brutal job.
Back in the barnyard, the llaneros throwing the cattle to the ground, immobilizing them, then pressing several red-hot irons into their hides to identify their owner and the ranch where they are raised. At one point, they see a lost bull. To prevent him from disrupting the herd and impregnating the cows, one of the llaneros he draws his knife and quickly castrates the bull, who bellows in protest.
Also shocking is the fact that instead of wearing cowboy boots, most llaneros going barefoot They include Antonio Cova, who has been working on ranches since he was 13 years old and who says his bare feet are as leathery as an animal’s paw.
“It’s a tradition,” he explains. “You build up calluses on your feet so nothing hurts them.”
Llaneros they have been proving their toughness for centuries. Expert horsemen and marksmen, they fought alongside the South American liberator Simón Bolívar in the early 19th century to help secure Colombia’s independence from Spain.
In fact, some llaneros —like Antonio Cantor— continue to walk around with weapons. Pulling a pistol from his holster, he says, “The revolver used to be a normal part of your wardrobe.”
These days, llaneros they remain key to Colombia’s livestock industry. Most ranchers here cannot afford to send their herds to large, commercial feedlots. However, pastures in remote areas of Colombia are relatively cheap.
Abelardo Bravo, a businessman from Bogotá who bought this ranch 13 years ago, says he could not run it without his trust. llaneros.
“They are brave people,” he says. “AN plainsman doesn’t back down from anything. He may be 150 pounds, but he’ll be up against a 900-pound bull.”
Still, plainsman life is not all muscle and machismo.
While milking the cows before dawn, one of the llaneros sing softly so that the animals relax and give more milk. Indeed, llaneros They have their own genre of music and are quick to start singing. Cantor, the gun-packing plainsmanhe often plays a small four-string guitar, known as a cuatro, and sings songs about the joy of riding horses, herding cattle, and courting local ladies.
However, sometimes you wonder if plainsman traditions will endure. Ranches are getting smaller as they are passed down within families and now require fewer workers. Some llaneros they are taking easier jobs in the cities or in the nearby rice farms and oil fields.
But after nearly 70 years of raising cattle on the farm, Cantor says he’s not giving up.
“This is where I was born and raised,” he says. “This is where I grew old. And this is where I want to die.”