Argentina - Life on the Farm (It's Kind of Laid Back)

Submitted by Danny Catt on Sun, 2007/04/08 - 9:30am.

Argentina Sunset - On the Pampa, CordobaArgentina Sunset - On the Pampa, Cordoba

I have spent very little time on farms in my life. When I traveled in the South Pacific many moons ago I spent a few days on a dairy farm (in Australia) where I even attempted to milk a cow (it is a lot harder than it looks!!). In Argentina I had a chance to spend a few days on a family farm in the province of Cordoba… so I took advantage of the opportunity.

After disembarking the Professor Multanovskiy in Ushuaia, Argentina I hopped a flight to Buenos Aires and then an overnight bus to the community of Rio Cuarto. I was met by a dear friend whom I had met many moons ago when I was a graduate student at SFU. We had kept in touch over the years and I had warned her that at some point I would make it to Argentina for a visit… and here I was!

Their farm has been in the family for generations. Years ago they raised beef cattle (one of Argentina’s largest exports) but in recent years they have been growing crops including maize (corn) and soybeans.

Riding through the Fields of Soybeans & Maize, Cordoba, Argentina

Riding through the Fields of Soybeans & Maize, Cordoba, Argentina

As I learned quickly, farming is a lot of incredibly hard work and along with the long hours there is the stress that goes with it. Farming is risky business – you just never know what Mother Nature is going to have in store for you – will you get drought? Will you get flooded out with too much rain? Will a pest insect, virus or disease cause havoc with the crop? In the case of my friend’s farm the corn crop was significantly damaged this year by a disease – Mal de Rio Cuarto. Mal de Rio Cuarto is the most important disease of maize in Argentina with the value of yield losses reaching more than 120 million USD (country wide).

Corn infected with the Mal de Rio Cuarto disease

Corn infected with the Mal de Rio Cuarto disease

The Mal de Rio Cuarto attacks the corn at a very early stage of development and results in very poor development and crop yield. It was a valuable learning experience to see the crops and spend time in the farmed landscape.

Always Smiling Farm Dog

Always Smiling Farm Dog

I also had the chance to see a variety of birds of prey on the farm (raptors) from caracaras to hawks to falcons (including the American Kestrel, the smallest falcon found in North America) as well as two species of owl that we also have in British Columbia: the Barn Owl and the Burrowing Owl.

I was kept awake for part of the first night by the Barn Owl who had taken up residence in the chimney of the building I was staying in. I did not realize that the Barn Owl has one of the widest distributions of any bird in the world. The distribution in Canada is limited to south-west BC and southern Ontario but on a global scale they can be found in North, Central and South America, Australia, Asia and Europe! Wow! To see the global distribution of the Barn Owl check out the following website:

Burrowing Owl, Cordoba, Argentina

Burrowing Owl, Cordoba, Argentina

The Burrowing Owl is also a species with an impressive distribution. It extends from British Columbia (and Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba), down into the US, Central America and all the way down to Patagonia in Chile & Argentina. In British Columbia we are at the very northern range of the Burrowing Owl and it is considered a species at risk in the province. Burrowing Owl habitat is being lost in the province due to agriculture and urban development. There are ongoing efforts, by groups like the Burrowing Owl Conservation Society of BC, to stabilize the population and re-introduce it into areas of its historical range. The BCIT Fish, Wildlife and Recreation Program, has also been involved in this project for the past number of years.

It was great to see so many Burrowing Owls in Argentina as it is a fairly rare sighting to see them in BC.

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Submitted by Joey from COAST (not verified) on Thu, 2007/04/12 - 4:34pm.

Dear Mr. Catt:

My name is Joey and I wanted to tell you about our experience with owls lately. You saw a very cool Burrowing owl on a farm and we just had Ted from O.W.L. bring a Great Horned Owl named Chance to our class. We also went to the Stein Valley with hopes of seeing or hearing a Spotted Owl, but we didn't have any luck. Maybe we were too loud and enthusiastic to see much wildlife! We were amazed to learn that owls have such incredible hearing and now we have learned from you, that the Burrowing owl lives in many different regions. Does a Burrowing owl really "burrow" into a hole as the name implies? Wouldn't it be eaten by its predators if it were to burrow on the ground? What are its predators in Argentina? The farmers in BC have learned that OWLS are critical to the survival of their crops, as in eating the rodents. Do farmers in Argentina think the same way?

Your thoughts are very much appreciated. I really like the photos you have taken.

Your friend up north,


Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 2007/04/14 - 9:50am.

Burrowing owls in Argentina live in burrows in the ground made by other animals suchas a type of little armadillos called mulitas and vizcachas, both  do a lot of damage to crops so farmers are always chasing them , so burrowing owls use their caves as their nests. One predator of Burrowing owls I know is the skunk who eats their eggs or baby owls. Danny will know more about predators.-

As a farmer, Joey I can tell you we love burrowing owls , because they eat rodents and because is a symbol in the Argentine Pampa´s. many songs of our argentine folk music describe burrowing owls as part of our livings in the farm.-

An argentine farmer :)

Submitted by Danny Catt on Tue, 2007/04/17 - 3:10pm.

Hello to Joey and to our Argentine Farmer Friend!

Joey, I am so pleased that you took the time to say hello on the blog and send me a question or two... and I have to thank you, Argentine Farmer for answering Joey's questions.

I must admit I was a bit surprised to see so many Burrowing Owls in Argentina... I knew they had a wide distribution but I was amazed at how many I was able to see in my brief time on the Pampa of Argentina.

It sounds like things are going well in the COAST program so far this term! Sounds fantastic :) If you have any other questions... please feel free to pass them along.


Danny :)

PS. You are correct in thinking that there may be predators on the ground that may enter the Burrowing Owl's "nest burrow" and attempt to prey on the adult owl or young owls. I remember reading a scientific paper many years ago that reviewed the sounds that Burrowing Owl's make while in their burrows. In the regions of their range where there are Rattlesnakes the sound that owls make is very similar to the rattle of a Rattlesnake. It was thought that this sound developed in Burrowing Owls as an anti-predator mechanism. Interesting idea :)

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 2007/04/17 - 4:52pm.

In Argentina the adults owls attack the snakes to defend their baby owls,

argentine farmer:)

Submitted by Danny Catt on Tue, 2007/04/17 - 6:25pm.

Gracias for taking the time to add more info to the blog! :)

Cheers, Danny