From city life to ranching in Brazil

Tiara Sauaia, rancher, Maranhão (Brazil)

Tiara Sauaia might originally be from Kansas, she wasn’t born into farming. In fact, she never thought the rural life would be for her, growing up in the suburbs. Her heart decided otherwise: Tiara fell in love with a rancher and, after six years of working, travelling and living in cities, the couple moved back tot he family ranch in Brazil. Here’s her story.

She didn’t exactly choose the farm life, but today, Tiara Sauaia lives on a 10.000 hectares ranch in Maranhão, Brazil, where she and her husband raise water buffalo and breed mules, Arabian horses, lambs, Doberman Pinschers and Australian cattle dogs.

Ranching in Brazil

“Our ranch is located in the northeast of Brazil”, Tiara explains. “We are in a tropical climate which is the reason we raise water buffalo, as this type of animal can handle these climatological conditions best”, she adds, explaining there’s only two seasons where she lives: rainy and dry.

“During the rainy season, we have flooding throughout the ranch in the lower land. The water buffalo use this to wallow in, and will graze off the higher land. During the dry season, our ‘summer’, it gets very dry and so there is a very high risk of wildfires. We get about six months of each season.”

The ranch Is situated in flatlands with some hills and ends on a river, which is used during the dry season. The nearest bigger city is about 100 miles (+/- 160 km, red.) away. Maranhão is 4 degrees south of the equator line, meaning it is hot all year long. These conditions are the reason why Tiara and her husband raise water buffalo, who flourish in that kind of climate. To cope with the dry season, the ranch collects the rain water during the rainy season in wells to provide fresh drinking water for the cattle and uses the river water to irrigate the lower lands.

“Our main focus as ranchers is the welfare of our animals, and that starts with having the right animals for the conditions of the environment you are in. Most of the surrounding ranches here raise Nellore cattle, which don’t thrive in these conditions. The cattle suffer and become skinny, and as a result, those ranches are not able to produce like us. So at the end of the dry season, we are one of the main producing ranches in our area.”

“It’s an interesting sidenote, but the collected rain water actually saves many wild animals in the heat and dryness of summer as they have found our fresh water wells, too!”

From moving between cities to putting down roots at the ranch

Tiara’s husband, Ciro, is a fourth generation rancher from Brazil. Tiara on the other hand grew up in the rural suburbs:  “there was a horse ranch next door and when I was a little girl, I absolutely loved when the horses would come up to our fence line. That farm life was never going to be for me though. When I was little, I begged my parents to move to a house that had sidewalks!”

“My husband and I met a first time in our teenage years in college. We each grew up and started our lives, and ended up crossing paths years later. Differently from what you may think, that wasn’t the start of my agricultural career! He worked in the corporate world at the time, while I worked with children in my hometown in Kansas. I did quit my job to be with him, but we travelled from city to city all through South and Latin America, living out of suitcases and calling hotels home for the first few years.”

Throughout six years of living in the city and working city jobs, the couple moved to Miami. The possibility of one day going back to the family ranch was always there, though, and Tiara and Ciro found themselves always trying to be closer to animals and find nature.

“So we finally made the decision to move back to my husband’s hometown and begin our new journey taking on the family ranch, even though it was not an easy decision to abruptly stop the life we were living and change direction. But what grows in comfort zones? Nothing”, she comments, adding that the knowledge and experience from their work in other fields and countries actually added value and different perspectives to their new jobs: “we went for this big change, and we are just at the beginning of this new journey, learning and growing from this experience every day.”

The ranch life

There is no such thing as a typical day in the ranch, that much is clear as Tiara explains her day-to-day life since she moved to Brazil. “I came from a very routine way of work, where one day didn’t differ much from another one. Ranching has taught me the adaptability in each day bringing something completely different.”

“Some days are spent vaccinating cattle, changing them to different pastures, building fences or repairing the watering holes for the cattle. Other days are spent in the office on the computer tracking all the production and employees, receiving and making payments, keeping the operations under control and on track.”

With dry season comes the spectre of fires around the ranch, and the possibility that all operations have to be abruptly stopped and everyone gathered to fight them at any moment: “the day to day operation of a ranch isn’t for the weak or faint of heart. It takes grit, sacrifice, passion and a lot of sweat, sometimes even blood. As each day passes you realize how much ranching teaches you, not about animals, pastures, machines, or anything else directly related to the operation of ranch work but about life. We face life and death every day and that teaches a person so much and humbles them.”

“There is one constant on the ranch”, Tiara says, “it never matters how tired, sore, or frustrated you meet the end of the day: you have either learned something, had something happen that brought a smile to your face, or you have created something that you are proud of. So even if there’s no such thing as a ‘typical’ day on the job, there is that constant that comes with it: you’re always learning.”



Actions, not words

In Tiara’s opinion, there is definitely a difference of perception towards women compared to men. She also thinks this barrier exists in all industries, even though she feels it is very prominent in agriculture since our sector is associated with hard labour, and that is often still not considered to be work for women. She does have a nuance to add, however: “Although I am a woman and see myself capable of working in all areas of our ranch, I don’t think it is right to diminish the masculinity of men.”

“I don’t need to prove myself to be stronger or capable of a “man’s” work, but I do believe that we can work equally and assist each other where we have our strengths. Between my husband and I, we each bring something different to the table: I bring the feminine touch and he the masculine. I think this is important to have a balance to work together and have a successful operation of the ranch.”

Of course, she says, gender equality is important. She and her husband just do it differently from the generation before them: “the way my in-laws have achieved this equality, for instance, is by my mother in law running the operations from the office and my father in law running the operations from the field. It has worked for them as they have found their strengths and passions as individuals, leaving out gender. My mother in law doesn’t want to be out in the field, she doesn’t share the same passion as her husband to work with the animals or machines. My father in law is happiest creating infrastructure on the land and managing the animals’ welfare.”

“my husband and I are making a transformation in this generation to break this barrier of gender related roles, but not intentionally. It just so happens that we both share the same passion of working in the field with the animals and we are both capable of working in the office, so it really just depends on what is needed in that moment to make the ranch move forward”, she says, adding that they are hiring women to be cowgirls on the ranch: something that was not done before their generation. “We are finding the addition of cowgirls to make the perfect mix of feminine and masculine perspectives in order to come to a successful operation in the day to day.”

Something that can be done to get more equality, in her opinion, is for women to just do the work and persevere: “we don’t need to make a cause or a big deal out of it, we just need to work alongside the men and break the barriers in our actions, not in our words.”

About Tiara

Tiara Sauaia (29) is originally from Kansas and moved to rural Brazil after six years of working and living in the city in pursuit of her dream. At the 10.000 hectares ranch she and her husband took over from his family, she raises water buffalo’s and breeds mules, horses and dogs in the challenging equatorial to tropical climate.

You can follow Tiara’s stories, giving insight on the funny or trivial moments of ranch life in Brazil via her personal Instagram account or showing the operations on a more serious note on the ranch’s Instagram.


This article appeared in Women in Ag Magazine 2021-03. Click here to read the full article. 




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