An Argentinian veterinarian has designed a cheap and simple device that could revolutionize cattle husbandry on the pampas by preventing pregnant cows from reaching the slaughterhouse.
Enrique Turin, a professor at the National University of Northwestern Buenos Aires, designed and is producing what he says is the world’s first bovine intra-uterine device (IUD). He has patented his invention in Argentina and in Europe.
The IUD is designed for cows that have already given birth to five to seven calves and are being fattened for slaughter.
Turin, 47, began experimenting with homemade bovine IUDs 20 years ago. Today, he has a small factory built to his home in Pergamino — 245km north of Buenos Aires in Argentina’s livestock and agricultural heartland — to produce the US$3 devices.
The cheap and simple items have been a success: About 2.5 million bovine IUDs have been exported to places like Brazil — a world beef-producing giant — and Spain. Spanish officials have even approved one of Turin’s models for use in sows, especially since the castration of boars was recently banned due to animal welfare concerns.
Cows need to reach the slaughterhouse with an empty uterus, but “that’s not the case in Argentina,” Turin said. “There’s a high percentage of females that have finished their reproduction cycle and arrive at the slaughterhouse already pregnant.”
These pregnancies affect 5 percent of slaughtered cows, which in Argentina — one of the world’s top beef producing countries — means about 1 million animals a year.
The problem is more than ethical, because 10kg of meat per animal can be lost because the nutrients fed to fatten the cow are instead consumed by the fetus.
With the IUD, “we estimate that 5 percent more of beef will be produced per animal” and considering the number of animals involved, “it’s a significant figure,” Turin said.
The Argentine government has taken an interest in the invention and this year agreed to finance the distribution of 440,000 bovine IUDs over two years to ranchers with small and mid-sized herds, Argentine Deputy Minister of Livestock Alejandro Lotti said.
About 20,000 ranchers with up to 200 cattle will benefit from the program, Lotti told reporters.
There are 58 million head of cattle in Argentina, government figures show. If widely used, the IUD would revolutionize cattle husbandry on the pampas, where bulls and cows mingle freely.
Red meat is a staple of Argentine diet, but consumption has dropped 50 percent from 1958 to 2011. Today, the average person consumes 53.4kg of beef a year, down from 98.4kg, according to the Argentine Beef Promotion Institute.
Beef production has also dropped. Many ranchers sold off their herds in 2008 and 2009 in the midst of a drought and widespread complaints about government policy. Some of those ranchers switched instead to products like soybeans, which is now Argentina’s largest export.
Marcos Franco, an expert on animal obstetrics and behavior at the Universidad del Salvador, is impressed by what he has seen.
“I see this as something truly revolutionary,” he told reporters.