One of the highlights of last September’s trip to Argentina was visiting Mercado de Liniers.
Seven fifteen is an early start when you’re on holiday, but the Buenos Aires cattle market opens for business at 7.30am.
We were picked up from our hotel by a driver and Maria, our guide who has made tours of the market her speciality.
Cattle arrive overnight from up to 500 kilometres away. They are checked by a vet and weighed by pen then walk seven blocks from the scales to the market which covers an area of 34 hectares.
It is criss-crossed by a series of raised walkways which enable buyers, brokers and visitors to get a good view of the stock below.
Our party included farmers and stock agents. They didn’t understand Spanish but recognised the nods, winks and other body language of the buyers which is universal.
They noted how quiet the cattle were and put this down to the fact they were worked with horses which needed little, if any, guidance from their riders.
The experienced New Zealand sale-goers were also very impressed by morning tea – large slabs of steak and chorizo, (spicy sausages) cooked on the asado, the wood-fired barbeque.
All cattle must be sold no later than the day after they arrive and on Fridays all stock must be sold because there’s no market at the weekends.
The day we were there 8,500 head of cattle went under the hammer. The most sold in the three years our guide had worked there was 31,000, well short of the market record for a day’s sale of 42,00o.
A bell ringing for about five minutes signals the start of an auction. Prices went from 8.5 to 10 pesos a kilo, liveweight. As each pen is sold cattle are taken by men on horse-back to be weighed – manually and electronically. Both weights must agree because stock is sold by price per kilo.
Weights and prices are conveyed by fibre optic cable to a central computer and are available instantly on the market website so Liniers sets the price around the country.
The broker gets 4% of the price and .04% of the price goes to the market which is jointly owned by 55 livestock broker agencies.
When stock is transported from the market the trucks are tracked by GPS as a security measure to ensure the driver doesn’t drop off any cattle en route.
The neighbourhood grew up on the back of the market which still supports 2,500 families.
Outside the market is a monument to a gaucho, the only one of dozens in the city which pays tribute to a worker.
Our guide, Maria, who speaks perfect English, has her own company Bespoke Tours.