Buenos Aires Hours | 120-year-old Argentina cattle auction leaves Buenos Aires


Herders, livestock traders and the gauchos, emblematic figures of a country where grilling beef has long been a sacred ritual, are expelled from Buenos Aires.

At the end of December, the Mercado de Liniers, a vast open-air cattle market built in 1901, is set to hold its last auction in front of what will certainly be a tearful crowd. A brand new facility, erected on the windswept pampas southwest of the city, will replace it, marking the end of an era. “It’s all very moving,” says Ismael Frechero, a cattle buyer who has been roaming the Liniers pens for five decades.

In fairness, the time for the market in the city was over.

The shepherd Ángel González watches over the cattle on horseback. “More than one of us will shed a tear” when Liniers closes, said González, 62, who has worked at the market for four decades and whose sons also work there.

Between the huge compost heaps and the heart-wrenching incidents triggered by cattle trucks plying the narrow streets, tensions with city dwellers have mounted. They came to a boil one recent evening, when a starving crowd forced a driver to let out a cow and proceeded to slaughter it on the spot in the street.

“We ended up in a place that we weren’t meant to be,” says Pablo Blasco, a 45-year-old livestock broker.

Liniers farewell to the city of the cattle market
Cattle search for space in one of the 2,000 wood pens in the Mercado de Liniers. The golden age of Argentinian breeding saw more than 30,000 cattle per day traded in Liniers; today the number is closer to 8,000.

Liniers was never supposed to be in Buenos Aires. At the time of construction it was well outside the city limits. But the urban sprawl soon engulfed it.

Calls for closure first surfaced in the 1990s, starting a slow and winding process marred by setback after setback.

Combo 5 cattle
The wheels fell off a move previously planned in 2006, when a protectionist government intervened heavily in Argentina’s beef trade. But in 2017, the mayor of Buenos Aires set a deadline to evict the stockyards.

Officials who run the market hope the move to the town of Cañuelas will help revive business. Many pastoralists have started to make deals directly with slaughterhouses to avoid paying the exorbitant fees required to send their cattle to the city. Yet even today Liniers is the dominant livestock market in a country which, despite recent declines, remains both a major consumer and exporter of beef. Some 8,000 cows pass through its auction house on a typical day.

The new facility, a glittering monument of modern animal husbandry constructed at a cost of US $ 20 million, seems a world apart from the old.

cattle market 6
The Canadian-designed architecture of the New Cañuelas Market is a sanctuary of symmetry, with a 10-acre roof that will eventually supply all of the market’s energy and water needs by supporting solar panels and channeling precipitation.

At Liniers, the cattle enclosures were carved out of wood and the floors were made of beaten earth; in Cañuelas everything is made of steel and brick. At Liniers, transactions were scribbled on paper and pen; in Cañuelas, they will be digitally documented. There are even new safety instructions in Cañuelas for traders and gauchos on horseback: Out are the traditional cotton boina hats and soft alpargata slip-on shoes; helmets and heavy duty boots are strongly encouraged instead.

Frechero, 70, is preparing to move. “Imagine it: people came as boys, did their military service, went back to the market, got married while working here, and had families. But, he says, “we have to adapt.”

Cañuelas Cattle Market 7
At ground level, several details are inspired by Temple Grandin, an American scientist who developed methods for more humane treatment of cattle.

by Jonathan Gilbert, Bloomberg

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