PIlar is thin, with dark hair and simple gold hoop earrings. She wears khaki shorts and a flowered blouse. In the pickup truck on the way to the ranch, the first day, she talked first about sheep flies and fecal samples.
Our soil is shallow, and you can see that the grass is more yellow where it’s most shallow. It’s been a few rainy years, llovedores, good for the grass but not necessarily for the animals. In dry years, their fleeces are heavier. In wet years, the rain washes the grease from the wool and they get flies, too. We have to drench them this week or next to kill the flies, the maggots, the screwworms. The Haemonchus, she wrote in my notebook. We have to check all the animals two times a week. I take fecal samples to know if we need to drench them.
it’s 150 kilometers from Wally and Pilar’s brick house in Salto to the ranch, but it takes about two and a half hours. After the first 30 KM, you turn off the asphalt and follow dirt roads that have huge divits from the lumber trucks that make the same trip every day. Pilar drives out two or three times a week and often spends the night.
We have 5 people working on our ranch now, which is unusual, most people have just one or two. It’s hard for me to find good quality people. I spend half my time trying to manage them. Fifteen years ago, before the economic crisis of 2002, people were careful, knew how to take care of things. But now they’re growing up town and only then looking for work in the campo. it’s much harder, to teach something to someone when they’re 18, 20.
PIlar manages 1400 hectares of grazing land with 2000 sheep and rams and 1100 cows. Wally drove the truck around the whole property so she could show me the grasses. She started transitioning the animals from set stock, where they stay in one paddock, to rotational grazing, about 7 years ago.
The animals look better, to me. I have less bare soil and I have fewer tracks that stay set into the earth. The leaves are wilder and they grow back faster. The water stays longer. and even in 2008, when i was just starting, a year when many many animals of my neighbors died because of drought, I didn’t have very many die.
At the highest point in the ranch, on the best pasture, we stopped the truck. The sun was setting and all the grass looked even and green. A few Nnandu, ostrich-type birds, bounded along in the next pasture over. PIlar used her iPad to snap a photo of our backseat - me and her two daughters, Milly and Josie. “Milly muchi, Josie Jo! photo with our visitor!” Then she turned to the land, slowly moving the screen across the horizon for a panorama. When she shows those photos to the next people who ask about her work, she will be able to pick out each paddock and underline each creek, point to the shadows or highlights marking where the earth is driest, where the cows won’t graze, where the grass is sweetest.