Dr. D. Phillip Sponenberg, professor in the Department of Biomedical Sciences & Pathobiology at VA-MD Vet Med, traveled to Paraguay and Argentina to identify breed types, develop breed conservation guidelines, and provide training and resources for local textile producers to increase economic opportunity.
Sponenberg spent a week in Paraguay to help Roberto Martínez, of the Facultad de Agronomía de la Universidad de Asunción, with various livestock breed conservation projects. These include cattle projects with the Pampa Chaqueño breed, which has four breeders with approximately 5,000 cattle, as well as with the Criollo Pilcomayo breed, which is limited to one breeder with approximately 500 cattle. The visit involved field trips to evaluate cattle for breed type and to discuss strategies for moving forward with effective conservation programs. Sponenberg also consulted on sheep and goat breed projects during his visit.
Sponenberg also gave two presentations at the Universidad National de Asunción, the main university in Paraguay. The presentations included topics on cattle color genetics, coat color genetics in horses, and conservation of colonial spanish horses and other rare breeds in the United States.
Plans were made to hold a week-long course in May involving practical issues in rare breed conservation as well as coat color genetics, a topic popular with many breeders in the area. One highly valued color in cattle is "pitití" which is a Guaraní word for "speckled."
The trip continued on to San Carlos de Bariloche, Argentina, where Sponenberg gave a seminar on sustainable livestock conservation in the United States to the local office of the Instituto Nacional de Tecnología Agropecuaria (INTA). The group was especially interested in approaches, experiences, and philosophies from outside their own country.
Over several years, Sponenberg has worked with a local breed conservation group, especially on their goat conservation project. In the past, he provided the design for cashmere combs for effective harvesting of cashmere from the local Criollo Neuquino goats. During this visit, he was able to make recommendations for projects with Linca sheep, which are critically rare and similar to our Navajo-Churro sheep, as well as with Araucana chickens, which are actually pre-Columbian from early Polynesian contacts. Due to this origin, the birds are a high conservation priority.
Sponenberg traveled with a group of INTA researchers to the "Mercado de la Estepa," an artisan market where a cooperative of 300 people are able to sell hides, leather items, wood items, and woven or knit textiles. This retail model helps the rural poor to augment their incomes, and has become increasingly important in tourist regions such as Bariloche. The woven ponchos are especially exquisite, and the best wool for these comes from the now-rare Linca sheep. Producers bring fleeces to annual trade fairs, and the Linca fleeces of various colors always bring the top prices because this wool is sought by handspinners and weavers for traditional textiles.
Sponenberg brought and donated a special gift to the local spinners- a double-drive spinning wheel, which is different than the single-drive, bobbin-lead wheels currently used in this region. The advantages of the double-drive wheel include speed and control, and the ability to spin a wider variety of yarns than is possible with single-drive wheels. The local spinners, all Mapuche, were enthralled with the gift, and will take turns spinning very fine wool and cashmere yarns from the local sheep and goat resources. This wheel design will help with spinning efficiency and will enable the development of a more luxury product. Sponenberg also brought several books of lace patterns for scarf and shawl design for use with the local cashmere. The goal of the project is to enhance incomes of producers, spinners, weavers, and the whole chain from primary to end product.
The trip concluded with a visit to Chos Malal to observe and assist with the Chivito Neuquino (goat from Neuquén) project. This project has been essential in providing increased economic opportunity to local disadvantaged communities who live where the road ends in Argentina. Sponenberg assisted with combing cashmere in order to demonstrate the advantage of combing over shearing techniques. Several days were spent with producers and one day was spent at a local extension office where women are taught spinning and weaving over a three-year course. Sponenberg demonstrated spinning fine yarns on the local double-drive wheels and discussed the best uses for the cashmere fiber provided by INTA to develop new products with income potential.