The Plowman

Living a simple life of hard labor, our neighbor reminds me of the Plowman in the Canterbury Tales. He weaves his way through the fields, calling to his oxen, “Chele, Ya! Chele.” ( Chele is a nickname for white skin. “White, Go! White.”) The plowman was the most recognized symbol of the poor in the medieval world and was associated with great virtue. Nicaragua has many plowmen of great virtue. Lacking high-tech farm equipment such as tractors, these hard-working men travel from field to field with their oxen teams helping their friends and neighbors prepare for the planting season.

Ploughing family farms promptly at the beginning of the rainy season is critical to ensuring household food security and farm livelihoods.
IMG_2876Once the field is furrowed, a worker places sugar cane reeds in the furrows.
IMG_2878They haul the cane on their backs.
IMG_2869Then, sharp machetes chop the cane into small pieces and it is covered with dirt.
IMG_2868The plowman takes excellent care of his oxen. One tractor costs as much as 30 pairs of oxen that can do the work of three tractors. Animal traction is less expensive, more environment friendly, and more flexible than tractors.
IMG_2885The oxen take a rest. On average, a bovine needs 20-30 pounds of forage a day. These oxen are strong and healthy.
IMG_2874Dry season feeding is survival management for the cattle. It is estimated that cattle lose 50% of the weight gained during the rainy season.  Our neighbor understands the importance of growing cane for the dry season. The cane tops are cut and stored once they are mature and used to feed the cattle during the long, six months of the dry season.
IMG_2872It’s a busy morning in the field. The dogs roll and run through the field. The sharp machetes slice through the cane, and the virtuous plowman furrows the fertile earth for a blessed harvest during the dry season.


Princessa and the Twins

Rudy's twins

The Spanish brought the first cattle to Nicaragua in the 16th century. Since then, Nicaragua has successfully been raising beef for export and local consumption. Although the country is suitable for raising cattle with its rolling hills covered with grass, very little attention is given to improving the breed.

Few farmers make hay when the sun shines. During the dry season from January through April, the cattle are left to fend for themselves. In an exceptionally dry season, the Pará and Guinea grasses wither and die, and the cattle starve. Their bones are found scattered throughout the fields and along the dusty roads.

I know I’m a suburban kinda gal, but I can’t stand to see any animal suffer. I never saw a skinny pig before we moved to Nicaragua. It breaks my heart to see some of the pitiful creatures walking the roads. Sometimes I just want to open our fence gate and let them all in to graze on our gringo grass. Instead, I take grass cuttings and dump them over our fence posts. There are usually two or three regular horses and cows that know where to wait for me. Que lastima!

Fences in Nicaragua are made to keep livestock out. When we had to repair our fences after an unusually wet season last year, we wondered why we needed to pay for the fence posts because we did not have any livestock.  Cattle surround us on all sides of our property. Apparently, it is common knowledge that property owners build fences to keep the livestock out of their property.

I used to be afraid of large, muscular creatures, but after my love affair with Bullwinkle and almost killing him with my wheelbarrow full of mangoes, I have developed a soft spot for big, fat cows and bulls. Now, I’m like a mother hen protecting them and tethering them to our trees during the dry season so they will have some tasty gringo grass to eat.


Julio has a new cow. I was going to name her Natasha, but Julio calls her Princessa. She is Bullwinkle’s sister, so I know that she has the same, sweet disposition as Bullwinkle. Today, I called her to the fence, “Venga Princessa, venga.” She waddled over to me and nuzzled my camera. She likes to be scratched behind her ears, just like her brother. Her smooth, chocolaty brown fur glistened in the sun. She certainly is a beauty.

I’m going to be extra protective of Princessa. Julio is breeding her and they hope to get milk to make cheese. I’ve never milked a cow in my life, or made cheese. Julio promised to let me milk her, and I promised not to feed Princessa any mangoes. I kind of feel like I’ve been thrown into Green Acres, the Latino version. This suburban gal has a lot to learn about country living.