WHEN you meet Miguel Ángel Milián, you get the clear feeling you have come upon a priest of the land. He was born in Yayabo, is in his 40s, and for two decades now has lived for cattle ranching. He is a strong man, but calm, and everyday, believe it or not, devotes at least 10 minutes to petting his animals and conversing with them.
Although he spends more time now sharing his knowledge than working directly with cattle, this campesino promotes agricultural progress, and the quality of life of the more than 50 men he leads on his ranch, saying, “What cannot be missing here is dedication.”
The owner of El Cacique, covering 34 caballerías (approximately 460 hectares) of land, and 760 animals, works with the state farm El Ruano’s breeding program and the Ramón Ponciano food enterprise in Fomento, a prestigious entity in charge of distributing meat contracted by the state throughout the entire country.
As much as he enjoys raising cattle, the Sancti Spiritus guajiro, is very competitive and loves to dress like a rodeo hero. For over 15 years, he has won every prize there is to be had in fairs around the island, saying, “I look for animals when they are still small, and bring them to my own back yard where I have stalls ready to teach them and develop them.”
PRESERVING CUBAN BREEDS
While Camagüey is considered Cuba’s most important cattle ranching province, Sancti Spíritus is among the best. According to Milián, “Success lies in work over a lifetime, maintained as a tradition. There is a workforce here that knows what it is doing. We are men who have never given up.”
Bursting with pride, he tells Granma International about the recent approval of his participation in the country’s artificial insemination and genetic programs, a clear recognition of the quality of his cattle.
He reports that he cares for a total of more than 1,500 heads of cattle (including his own stock and that of the enterprise) and 14 pastures for different colored breeds: white zebu, the auburn, and the Cuban black spotted, which he is just beginning to raise, adding, “The main goal is to increase the livestock, especially the heifers.”
Milián explains that cattle is bred to either be used for meat or to reproduce, in accordance with the nation’s needs, noting that the Cuban black spotted breed “is very much in demand, because it’s strong and hefty. We sell breeders all the way from Pinar del Río to the East, because they need a bull or heifers.”
With almost the same care reserved for human newborns, beginning at four months of age, Milian’s calves are instructed continually. The rancher explains, “When they are small, we keep them nursing with their mothers. At eight months, we separate them since, by then, the mother can reproduce again.”
It is clear that his cows are able to understand instructions from human beings. They are taught to carry a rope without difficulty, follow a person, and stand correctly. That is to say, they learn to obey human commands.
Milián reports that what is evaluated in competitions is the animals’ docility; how rapidly commands are obeyed; if they stop and change hooves when told. He always uses a handler’s prod, without being violent he corrects the cow’s moves.
The attention paid to the cattle’s good physical appearance is especially noteworthy. In Milián’s words, “We bathe them daily, and keep them very clean. They spend the day under a roof. They don’t get any sun, because it lightens the color of their skin. Shade is fundamental to them, to maintain or improve their color. In the late afternoon, we take them out to the fields, and there, on the grass, they sleep.”
In the expert’s opinion, contrary to what many may think, cassava is essential to a cow’s diet, and his stock eats 10 pounds of feed and five of cassava every day.
“I am especially fond of a cow named Nobleza, who was born on my ranch. My youngest son Mario Ángel and I live for this one. What I love the most is teaching. So everyday I spend some time with my animals. Even if I have other responsibilities, and the workers take care of what I did before, I don’t lose touch,” he concludes with pride.