Searching for Cuba’s Cows

Jorge Milanes Despaigne

Cows on the road. Photo: Angel Yu

HAVANA TIMES — “Look mom, a big ram!” yelled a kid at the top of his lungs, thrilled at seeing the animal through the bus window. He was going to Pinar del Rio’s Viñales valley for a daytrip with his family. His comment made some passengers laugh.

They thought it funny that, at his age (6), he wasn’t able to tell a cow and ram apart.

His mother leaned towards him and whispered in his ear: “That’s not a ram, Kevin, that’s a cow. Don’t you remember when your uncle showed you the cows at his farm last year?”

The boy listened, a marked look of innocence on his face, searching for the image of a cow in his mind. He couldn’t find it. He seemed confused.

The passengers who laughed said:

“It’s natural for a kid in Cuba to confuse the two animals. What’s unacceptable is that I, a thirty-year-old man, should also be a bit confused,” one of them said, “It’s been years since I’ve seen a cow and I don’t remember what they look like.”

“If it’s confusion we’re talking about,” another one said, “that whole business of ‘chicken in lieu of fish’, the fish we’re supposed to get through the ration booklet, that’s just plain chicken. You have to make that point clear to kids, because, with time, they can start thinking chickens come from the sea. At least the ram and cow are both land herbivores, so the kid’s not that far off.”

The kid was looking at the faces of those who talked, not realizing he had sparked off a debate. Interested in seeing a cow in its natural environment, he turned towards his mother and asked:

“Are there cows where we’re going, mom?”

“Yes, love, there are many cows in Viñales and you’ll get a chance to see them,” the mother tenderly answered.

“Mom, do people eat ram?”

“Yes, son.”

“And cows?”

“Cows also,” she said.

“Mom, why don’t you ever buy cow meat?” The mother smiled, pretending not to have heard the kid. She changed the subject.

We adults know cows well: their habitat and their precious beef. Though there is research suggesting beef is a carcinogen, it continues to be consumed.

Not in Cuba, though, not in your dreams. The only affordable way to get your hands on some beef is getting it prescribed by a doctor. Otherwise, you have to buy it at very high prices in hard-currency stores, when they’re carrying it. Luckily, I am not a fan of beef.

It’s better to stick to fish.

Looking at a cow in Cuba can be enough to raise suspicions and land you in jail.

4 thoughts on “Searching for Cuba’s Cows

  • As an Agricultural student from England in the mid 60’s I remember information about Dr Preston and his work in Cuba but I think it is unfair to say the Scots would not buy the beef !

  • In 1965 Fidel Castro Ruz employed Dr. T. Reginald Preston to establish the Instituto de Ciencia Animal about 30 miles east of Havana. Dr. Preston previously worked at the Rowett Research Institute in Aberdeen, Scotland where he introduced the concept of feeding beef cattle with barley – and he was subsequently known as the man who introduced barley beef. – the Scots public described the barley fed beef as tasteless and would not buy it.. When going to Cuba he tried to recruit some 20 scientists from Scotland without much success. He worked in Cuba until 1971 before leaving for the US. His main endeavor in Cuba was to feed beef cattle on molasses and sugar cane waste. The cattle he used for his experiments in Cuba were bred from Friesian cows and Zebu (Indian) bulls. Clearly the experiments came to naught but I understand that the Institute is still in existence, although as explained in Senor Despaigne’s article, Cubans are not able in general to obtain beef – 49 years after Preston’s work in Cuba commenced.

  • The Castros are simply inept. Cattle-raising simply involves keeping the herd healthy and fed. The cows and bulls do the rest. It is hard to imagine that as you drive south along Interstate 5 in California near the central valley town of Patterson (no relation I think) and there are herds of cattle to the east from the highway to the horizon that this is a complex operation. Just 50 miles north of Mumbai in India, you can barely drive through the lower caste villages because of the cows run amuck. Cuba need only hire a handful of bovine animal husbandry experts to get it started and nature does the rest. Hay and alfalfa used to feed the cows are grasses that would easily grow in Cuba’s climate. For all the Castros proven competence to confound US intelligence, they remain unable to grow enough food and raise enough livestock to feed their people.

  • Stay away from cows.
    Killing one will send you to jail for more years than killing a person.

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