Red meat is frequently ridiculed as an unhealthy food. Environmentalists blame cows for eating too much, too.
Cattle are frequently victims of the weather, including the current drought in Guanacaste. And cattlemen are the first to characterize their business as low-income.
Consequently, the Costa Rica cattle numbers have been in dramatic decline.
A La Garita expat is following in the steps of his father in an effort to reverse all that. He is Loray Greiner, who sees his mission to be developing a Costa Rican cattle industry known for exceptionally high quality and unique pieces of meat. He said he wants to help Tico cattle ranchers to regain their dignity.
Raising cattle is a lot more complicated than just turning some animals onto some grassland or convenient field. But some ranchers do just that. Not far from one of Greiner’s haciendas, cattle can be seen trying to find food among mature oil palms.
Not far away is his Hacienda Sur, more than 220 hectares near Paritta where Greiner seeks to explain the complexities.
His father, Fred, who died in April 2011, styled himself as a grass farmer. And that is where the various research emphases start. Greiner continues to try to find a perfect combination of grasses and legumes for his cows.
Many expats do not realize that cattle ranchers here face seasonal problems like their counterparts in the north. Although there is no cold winter here, the dry season is a time of little food for animals in the field. Cattlemen like Greiner cut grass in the good times and pack it into silage trenches for the dry period.
Less ambitious farmers have been known to just let their animals forage for themselves and then send them to slaughter when they are at the point of starvation.
Like his father, Greiner is experimenting with African grasses such as bracharia and other species to provide the protein needs of his stock. “What we’re doing now is trying to find legumes that can coexist with these tall, fast-growing grasses,” said Greiner. “In other words, we’re trying to make a nutritious salad that contains more protein and nutrients for the cattle.”
Sometimes the problems are unexpected. One species of grass is so thick that bird predators cannot catch little creatures like mice living there. This attracts snakes, such as the dreaded fer-de-lance that killed three of his animals.
Beef production also is a research challenge for Greiner. In fact, he sees so many problems related to raising cattle that he is considering establishing a non-profit research center at his Paritta ranch. He said he would seek young academics to continue his work and the work of his father to seek his two holy grails: A perfect forage for cattle that also is good for the soil and that exceptional high quality, unique piece of meat.
The cattle have a special problem, the heat. Like most tropical ranchers, the stock has a lot of brahman blood. These are the long-eared animals of Indian origin that can survive in difficult times and are generally unaffected by Costa Rican coastal temperatures. An imported European breed such as an angus, for example, would immerse itself in the nearest waterhole and spend its life panting, Greiner noted.
Much of the stock is brangus, a genetic mixture of both breeds. But Greiner hopes to cross with a very special cow, the legendary Japanese wagyū from which comes the renowned Kobe beef. Wagyū commands astounding prices in Asian markets, perhaps $100 or more per kilo. Those who pay that amount say the price is worth it.
Scientists say that the Japanese cattle produce beef with a high percentage of monounsaturated fats, the so-called good fats. That is an argument against those detractors of beef.
Because it is so special, the Japanese are very protective of the wagyū, so Grenier said he managed to obtain the semen from Alvaro Clachar, another breeder who labored 10 years to bring the genetic material into the country.
“If this particular cross of cattle becomes successful and widespread in Costa Rica, it will be because of the insight and efforts of Alvaro Clachar,” said Greiner.
Genetics is another complexity for the expat. Some of his first generation crosses are exactly what he wants. Sturdy, efficient animals with superb angus meat and the meaty rump of the brahman. But some of these desirable traits vanish in the subsequent generation. So Greiner seeks a strain that breeds true.
The Paritta ranch is an oasis amid monoculture like oil palms and bananas. The more than 540 acres hosts all sorts of birds and other creatures, in part because the Greiner family was an early adopter and proponent of environmentally-friendly practices.
Surprisingly, Greiner’s main job is publishing an Asian investment newsletter in Thailand where he used to be based. So he is balancing two major businesses, including the cattle ranching that has Costa Rican supermarkets as customers.
If he is successful with his goal, there will be more emphasis in the market on beef quality and a substantial reason for Costa Rica ranchers to export more of their production.