The magical landscape of Argentina

The perpetual Pampas and the spiky scenery of Patagonia are both out of this world, still very much a reminder of the wonders our planet exhibit.

In the exotic and mega-diverse country of Argentina, meaning “of silver”, you´ll find two of Mother Natures` most astonishing creations; The constantly windblown and fertile fields of the massive Pampas and the saturated blue lakes and piercing snowy mountains in Patagonia. They compete with each other on being the most stunning landscapes of this South-American country, shaped like the horn of a ram hanging upside down. Every day millions of sheep wake up to these magic sights of nature before they eat, mate and create their wonderful wool under round soft clouds that surely must remind them of themselves.

Just the fluffy word “Pampas” makes toes curl in anticipation. Its landscape has mystery written all over it, almost like the Universe. It feels endless, so big, at the same time the name Pampas, sounds homespun and cozy. The Pampas is considered one of the worlds last real wild resorts and its enormous golden planes stretches uninterrupted from the Atlantic coastline inlands all the way towards the Andes in the west. The Pampas is the size of Great Britain and Spain combined and its widely open playground is filled with stunning beauty and warm winds.

Organic wool in Argentina

Organic wool means that somebody has provided love and care during every little step of the wool making process - from before a lamb is born to the decades long handling of the grasslands. Devold are proud to present 100 % organic merino wool from Argentina Las Violetas. The organic farms follow strict codes for animal welfare and sustainable farming. “Patagonia is a special place because it has very good conditions for organic production”, says Armando Saenz, an agricultural engineer who supervises farms in Patagonia for our supplier Fuhrmann. “Because sheep live in grasslands where there are no pesticides or fertilizers”, he continues. The sheep also have immense areas of space to roam around. In Patagonia every little sheep enjoys on average 1,5 square miles of sublime nature.

"Organic wool comes from optimal care."

Devolds partnering farms managed by Fuhrmann in Argentina follows the Argentine National Health Authorities standards for primary wool production. These are recognized by the EU as equivalent to its organic standards and is either already approved and certified by the Global Organic Textile Standard Group or in the process to become so. To become a certified organic farm one might take different kinds of actions, and it takes up to 3 years to “detox” the farm. The difference between a conventional farm and an organic farm is related to the amount of impact it makes on the surroundings. An organic farm does not use any pesticides, harmful fertilizer or poisonous supplements on sheep or soil, in order for the wool to contain no chemical traces at all. The flora and fauna near an organic farm is also extremely well taken care of, and its biodiversity is much higher and richer than on any regular farm. And of course, organic farms treat their animals with great care, following the rules of “the five freedoms”.

Under G.O.T.S. certification, wool processing needs to meet the following criteria:

• Organic input - greasy wool needs to be sourced from an organic certified farm.
• Traceability – needs to be ensured by clearly marked storage areas in warehouses both for greasy and processed material and by process auditing as well.
• Chemical products - approved chemicals need to be in compliance with standards which are the most biodegradable in the industry and in constant evolution.
• Fair working conditions - all workers in the mill need to be registered and surveys are made to ensure fair treatment of the workforce.
• Effluent treatment – there has to be an approved method of treating the effluents that is in lines with best possible practises.

When it comes to organic farming “it is crucial not to stand in the way of the normal function of the animal”,
says Argentinian agricultural engineer Armando Saenz.

When it comes to organic farming “it is crucial not to stand in the way of the normal function of the animal”, says Argentinian agricultural engineer Armando Saenz.

Devold Argentinian organic wool comes from farms providing honest and responsible wool from mulesing-free sheep in the purest nature surroundings possible. “We want to preserve the environment and we don’t contaminate anything at all. Instead we look after it”, says gaucho Gerardo Uribe at Santa Margarita. “It is important that the team leaders on farms understand the way sheep think/act, this way they will do their work even better”, says Armando Saenz. Gaucho Bernando Melli has understood the task. That is why he tries not to move the sheep too much, even though relocating them is a big part of keeping the soil healthy. “We don’t want them to get lost, and this way we also make sure they feel relaxed and comfortable so they don’t escape”, Melli explains.

The health of the Merino will be revealed deep inside the whiteness and softness of its wool.

The health of the Merino will be revealed deep inside the whiteness and softness of its wool.

“Organic wool comes from optimal care”, says Diego Maza, a wool quality checker in Patagonia. “When the care-taking is optimal, the wool becomes the best”. One can actually witness the welfare of the animals in the fibers they grow. If the boucle, which is a part of the raw sheared wool, is the same thickness from top to bottom it means it is healthy and good, and that the sheep it came from “was happy and had a good time during the whole year”, according to Maza. This way the sheep will produce wool with “good height, no damages and no weakness”, features which are proven in the final product.

Agricultural engineer Armando Saenz says an important aspect of making organic wool in Argentina is to avoid degradation of the land and to not damage any plants, trees or soils. “It is crucial”, he says, “not to stand in the way for the normal function of the animal”. Consequently to make sure the shearing process, and the following days, are as calm and stress free as possible, the merinos on Devolds partnering farms in Argentina are given a “mini holiday” after their wool has been taken off their body. “We give them 30 days to recover from the stress of shearing” Saenz says.

Wool quality checker in Patagonia, Diego Maza, demonstrate to Devold CEO Cathrine Stange how supreme
wool will not break easily.

Wool quality checker in Patagonia, Diego Maza, demonstrate to Devold CEO Cathrine Stange how supreme wool will not break easily.

The farmers at Santa Margarita and Las Violetas also use an especially high shearing comb that leave about one centimeter of wool on the sheep. This is so they don’t freeze during the rainy and windy days of spring. When the lambs are born just weeks later neither the mother nor the lamb will see another human being for 90 days, “so that they can live peacefully in their natural habitat”, Saenz says. When the lambs no longer need their mothers milk the ewes are given a recovery period of two months so their hormonal process is normalized in a natural way. Armando also makes sure that the amount of medicine his workers give their animals is very limited. “All of these practices will help the sheep live better, and therefore produce wool of better quality”.

Farming organic wool

With wool quality checker in Patagonia, Diego Maza

The handsomely tanned face of wool quality checker Diego Maza is proof of the strong rays of sun which is now trying to reach trough the cracks of the wooden shearing shed walls where he is about to explain his work. But the weather in the south of Argentina can be extremely cold and windy. “Patagonian sheep live in a perfect habitat because it is ideally cold here, and that is why the wool grows long to protect her”, Diego says while his worker hands carefully hoovers over a pile of freshly sheared merino wool. “The sheep here are practically a wild sheep”, he says while explaining how his passion consists of looking after and obtaining organic wool. That means someone has taken care of the sheep in its natural habitat where the farmers make sure the seeds will grow in peace because “an organic condition demands well-treated grass”, as Diego explains. Some of the farmers have learned their lesson. Diego says that previously “7000 sheep could be kept instead of 5000, and the damages could be seen on the ground”. Now, he says, he never again wants to see any soil become a desert.

The basic of organic farming means a naturally nutritious farmland where no pesticides have been used, it means living with nature, not of it. It means working with the ecological cycles of the outdoors and help sustain them. And of course; it means satisfied sheep. “Bother them as little as possible”, Diego says. He wants sheep to jump for joy. And for that to happen they need to feel completely free. Diego wants them to always be close to fresh water, and have the healthy grasslands nearby. The organic wool Diego is looking for comes from herds that have been wandering in fresh mountain air throughout almost the entire year. But, he says, the most important thing is for humans “to treat all the animals correct”. During the shearing Diego has been assured that the animals are never in danger, nor hurt in any way. He also needs the farmers to leave one centimeter of wool on their bodies, as to protect the unborn lamb inside the ewes. “We leave her a kind of sweater”, he says. Within two weeks after the shearing, the female sheep will deliver their lambs back in the nature where “they live peacefully together, sheltered, calm and happy”.

The SENASA protocol for primary production is fully recognised by the EU as equivalent to its Organic standards since 1994.
  • Transition period - two to three years are required from the moment a farm starts applying the protocol until it is allowed to sell their produce with Organic label to ensure all traces of non-organic material are naturally eliminated.
  • Sustainable land management - a periodical study of the grasslands needs to be carried out to ensure that the farms are not being overgrazed. It is from this study that the optimal and sustainable animal number is established and needs to be respected by the farm in subsequent years.
  • Breeding - the suggested breeding method is mounting, although artificial insemination is allowed with limitations and requires notifying the auditor. Other breeding methods are not allowed. Hormonal treatments aren’t allowed either.
  • Supplementary feeding – if supplementary feeding is needed, it will be monitored and needs to be in compliance with a list of allowed feeds.
  • Registering – everything needs to be properly documented so that all the information about the farm management is available on site at any time in case of an unannounced audit takes place.
  • Animal management – general guidelines of animal welfare based on the five freedoms are made although this aspect is not audited.
  • Animal health – animal management needs to be done in a way that it prevents illness by ensuring general animal welfare. All allowed veterinarian products are clearly listed.
  • Transportation – general criteria for transporting livestock is given.

Life as a Gaucho

Cristian Rivera
On top of his horse Pinchòn, with a Zorro-like poncho, the gaucho Cristian Rivera feels like the luckiest man
in the world.

On top of his horse Pinchòn, with a Zorro-like poncho, the gaucho Cristian Rivera feels like the luckiest man in the world.

A gaucho is an Argentinian cowboy, a noble vagabond who provides milk to lost lambs and can ride alone through storms for weeks at a time.

A gaucho is first and foremost a brave man. He works in solitude, in harsh climate, always planted on top of a muscular horse - for hours, days and even weeks. The soil in Patagonia and the Argentinian Pampas is not, and never will be, made for motorbikes or four-wheelers. The gaucho is a skilled horseman, almost like Zorro, who definitely have stolen some fashion tips from the flamboyant gaucho costume. A gaucho will make his own rains and bridles, he is an Argentinian cowboy who wakes up at 05:00 AM. He is a noble vagabond, a leader of animals and a national symbol. From the very beginning these guardians were taking care of cattle, and since the 19th century this legendary figure has been a proud keeper of traditions and even celebrated by poets. The Patagonian gaucho is a man who gives milk and provides immediate body heat to motherless and lost lambs, at the same time he hurdles thousands of sheep in lightning speed during rainy winter storms.

Gaucho Gerardo Uribe from Estancia Santa Margarita has shared the local drink “mate”, a hot caffeine-rich infusion, with old and new friends on the fields since he was 16 years old. He sums up the work of a gaucho perfectly: “We are riding our horses in the nature from dawn, looking after our sheep, seeing our dogs grow up and teaching them to work alongside us”. He admits that in the comfort of the high mountains one forget about everything and “have no problems in the world”.

Being a gaucho means being a free man

Cristian Rivera

The gaucho culture could be seen as quite macho, but these men are not competitive. “There is no rivalry among the gaucho colleagues”, Gerardo says. Everybody helps each other. Compañero Bernando Melli can sign on to that. ”It is a very beautiful way of living. Here there is no evil. People I work with are good folks, we have a lot of fun and time flies with these boys”, he says. For Bernando however, the dog is the most important buddy. “The horse gets you in and out, sure, but the main helper is the dog. He is the most loyal friend”, Bernando says wearing that recognizable oversized wool cap reminding of the Basque beret. Warm clothes are crucial in these extreme weather conditions. But, as Bernando says, “the wind is a part of us”. Being a gaucho is being a part of nature, a part of Patagonia. “We were born with the wind”, Bernando says before he ads, “and we will die with the wind”.

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