The foundation for Uruguay's livestock-based economy
well before the nation achieved independence. In 1603
colonists released cattle and horses on the empty plains
is now Uruguay, then known as the Banda Oriental (eastern
or bank, of the Río Uruguay). The livestock thrived in
temperate climate, grazing on the natural pastures that
cover most of the countryside. By the early 1700s, there
millions of cattle in the area. During the "leather age,"
lasted for the next century and a half, Uruguay's abundant
livestock attracted traders and settlers from the nearby
Argentine provinces. Hides became the area's chief export.
raising, which seems to have begun almost by chance,
hold of Uruguay's rural economy.
The success of simple livestock-ranching techniques in
Uruguay during the colonial period was to have long-term
consequences. Uruguay's temperate climate, natural
abundant land (because of its small population during the
colonial period) combined to favor extensive methods of
cattle. For ranchers, these methods held two economic
Both investment and labor costs were kept to a minimum
cattle ranged free, subsisted on natural grass cover, and
required little care. Well after independence in 1828,
Uruguay had become an important exporter of livestock
these advantages continued to exert a great deal of
the rural sector. Despite the limitations of extensive
raising, including low production levels per hectare and
growth of stock, few ranchers ever became convinced that
intensive production techniques were worth the cost. As a
the fundamental method of livestock production in Uruguay
very little in over two centuries.
Data as of December 1990