The Colombian cattle industry expanded in the late 1980s from producing meat and dairy products to supporting a growing leather business. There were more than 150,000 cattle ranches, two-thirds of which were under 250 hectares in size. They were located in the Caribbean coast departments of Bolívar, Córdoba, Magdalena, and Atlántico, as well as in the eastern plains departments of Boyacá and Meta and the intendancy of Arauca.
In the 1980s, Colombia ranked fourth among Latin American countries in cattle raising, with an average annual herd size of 20 to 24 million cattle. This placed Colombia behind Brazil, Argentina, and Mexico, which had herds of 95 million, 54 million, and 33 million, respectively. Herd size had been relatively stable since 1970.
Fifteen percent of the cattle were raised for dairy purposes and the remainder for meat. Beef production stagnated and then declined slightly through the 1980s. Total beef output fell from 627,000 tons in 1983 to 620,000 tons in 1985 because of declining prices and lower profit margins. Milk output reached nearly 3 million liters in 1985.
In contrast to beef production, the leather industry grew rapidly in the late 1980s. Leather output rose by 26 percent in 1986; more than 300 enterprises, each employing at least ten workers, consumed nearly 1,400 tons of cattle hides valued at US$9.2 million. In 1986 the total value of finished goods--luggage, footwear, and other accessories--reached US$87.2 million.
Poultry and sheep constituted the largest share of Colombia's livestock business. Poultry was the fastest growing nonbeef sector. The total number of chickens grew from 68 million in 1980 to 85 million in 1985, largely because of modernization completed in the late 1970s. From 1976 until 1985, sheep herds grew from approximately 2 million to 2.7 million; the wool produced was considered of inferior quality, however, and generally was not used in the textile industry, except for local consumption.
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