U.S. Cattle Helping Build Kazakh Beef Industry

The future of Kazakhstan’s beef industry is flying in from the United States on a Boeing 747.

As Kazakhstan tries to improve its agriculture, officials are working with cattlemen in the U.S. state of North Dakota to upgrade Kazakhstan’s beef breeding stock. Under an agreement between a U.S. company and the Kazakh government, the first shipments of pregnant heifers have begun making the trip from Fargo, North Dakota, to Astana, Kazakhstan. Nearly 170 heifers are shipped per plane, with a dozen flights scheduled to deliver 2,000 animals by early December.

“They don’t have many good-quality cattle over there,” said Dan Price, director of global operations for Global Beef Consultants in Bismarck, North Dakota. In Kazakhstan, a once-strong cattle industry that sent much of its beef to Russia went into decline after the fall of the Soviet Union.

Price, who founded Global Beef Consultants with his brother and fellow rancher Bill Price, said the partnership started after they joined a trade mission to Kazakhstan from the North Dakota state trade office. Kazakh officials met them and later made the long trip to North Dakota for an agricultural equipment and animal trade show.

“The government officials came along and asked if we would be interested in doing kind of a partnership with them, and then they came back again in January when the weather was really, really cold,” Dan Price said. “They wanted to see if our weather was similar to their weather.”

Price said he appreciated the Kazakhs’ determination to make sure that North Dakota was cold enough to supply cattle that could survive winters in Kazakhstan. North Dakota gets few visitors in January, when the average daily high temperature in Fargo is about minus 9 Celsius and the average low is minus 18 Celsius. The Kazakhs, Price said, were “real nervous” about the climate because their winters are even colder.

“We told them that these cattle can handle the extreme cold weather,” he said. “If they’re fed the correct nutrition in their diet, they can create that body heat and keep themselves warm, but if they don’t have the nutrition, no animal will survive. It’s been a struggle to get the right kind of nutrition” for cattle in Kazakhstan.

The Prices and Kazakhstan’s main meat producer, KazMeat, set up a partnership called KazBeef. The North Dakotans built two reproductive centers in Kazakhstan to handle 2,500 cows each; still to come are a feedlot and a packing plant. The Prices found suppliers for registered Black Angus and Hereford cattle and will track the genetics of each head of cattle to prevent inbreeding.

“Hereford is known to be able to handle really cold weather. They have a little bit thicker hide than Black Angus,” Price said. “But [the Kazakhs] are just looking at getting really good quality cattle over there, like Angus, which will produce good beef for eating.”

Each of the 2,000 heifers making the trip to Kazakhstan this fall is due to calve in the spring. “Then we’ll take the offspring to sell them to their local people … and then they’ll breed them and take them, and we’ll just keep reproducing out of those 2,000 head,” Price said. The operation will import some American bulls and bull semen to Kazakhstan to keep up the genetic diversity, and the Kazakhs expect to fly in more planes packed with bred cattle. “They talked over the next 10-year period they would like to import about 70,000 head,” Price said.

The first two flights from Fargo to Astana have gone smoothly: “No miscarriages; the cattle look good,” Price said. “They get a little stressed out … and they were shrunk up a little when they come off. They just needed water and some feed, and they looked good.”

Two North Dakotans, one of them a veterinarian, have moved to Kazakhstan to manage the operation. Both were eager to experience a different culture and “an opportunity that a lot of people don’t have in their life,” Price said. “They’re really excited. They’re really enjoying themselves over there.”

The future of Kazakhstan’s beef industry should be strong, Price said: The country has ample high-quality grass for grazing once the long winter ends. “They’ve got so much potential there to increase their productivity. … They’re coming over here and buying our genetics, so they’re starting at basically the top to begin with,” Price said.

And a strong market for good beef is at Kazakhstan’s doorstep, he said: “China’s growing so rapidly, and Russia, and they don’t have tariffs in between those two countries, so they can export pretty easily.”

Price also praised the Kazakh workers who are joining the beef operation. “They’re wonderful people, very intelligent people. They’re eager to learn and got great opportunities, and the younger generation sees that,” he said. “It’s just amazing.”

(This is a product of the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State.)

Remote Publishing: Jeff Baron Staff Writer

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