District cattle find homes in Kazakhstan

Peggy Revell

Rainy River cattle have landed in Kazakhstan.
Ten Herefords originally from Cornell Farms in La Vallee were among the 400 cattle in a first shipment to the former Soviet republic at the end of December as Eastern European countries look to regenerate herds depleted since the fall of communism.
And for Canadian cattle farmers, this international development means a market for cattle that hasn’t been there in the last seven years due to BSE (mad cow disease), explained Kristi Guilford of Xports International, which oversaw the shipment.
The company, based out of Clearwater, Mn., has been working to fill a number of international contracts to export live Canadian cattle to Russia and Kazakhstan.
“Rather than taking them to the auction mart and getting $1,000 or $1,100 for breeds, they’re getting $1,400, $1,500 for bred heifers,” noted Guilford, referring to the prices Canadian cattle farmers are getting as exports to these countries increase.
“I certainly got more money than you would get in a breeding stock market here, so I mean that was the good thing,” Kim Cornell of Cornell Farms said about the new market that has opened up for Canadian cattle.
“It’s a little bit higher than a lot of these cattle would trade for in the breeding stock marketplace,” he remarked.
But while there’s opportunity and higher prices, Cornell is cautious about putting too much weight into it being a solution for cattle farmers.
“There’s been a lot of cattle exported over the years, but it’s one of these things that are on again, off again in your career,” he warned.
“It might be good for a year or two or three, and then something happens, whether it’s a health issue or an exchange issue.
“There’s so many external forces,” he stressed.
As well, demand for cattle can shift around the globe, added Cornell, noting that 20 years ago there was a “big push” to take cattle to South America.
“There’s so many external factors that I don’t think you’d want to count on it happening every year for the rest of your life,” he said.
Still, the chance to sell cattle at a bit of a higher price is nice, he conceded.
“Things have been difficult since 2003, so we need a few bonuses,” he remarked.
With 400 head already shipped to Kazakhstan, Guilford said they are looking to send a second shipment in the coming months of Black and Red Angus—and hopefully more from there.
“There’s so much potential right now,” she enthused. “It’s really a first in Kazakhstan, the business is really in its infancy right now.
“The market is certainly growing, and there seems to be lots of potential and the governments have been quite aggressive in making this happen in their country,” she added.
Since the fall of communism, there had been very little development in the agricultural industry in former Soviet states such as Kazakhstan and Russia, Guilford explained.
“And now the government is now providing incentives for anyone who is willing to invest in agriculture,” she explained.
Her company’s clients are not specifically “cattle people.” But with the subsidies that are available, they see the industry as a “pretty viable business” and want to invest.
“Right now, in Russia anyway, 70 percent of the beef that’s consumed is imported,” Guilford noted.
“For a country the size of those countries, there’s no reason why they shouldn’t be self-sustaining. And so what they’re trying to do is they’re trying to expand their markets, their agriculture markets, so they can feed their population.”
So far, the Cornells are the only ones in Rainy River District who have gone this route to sell cattle, with Cornell noting cattle must be certified purebred to be exported.
“Through the difficulties, particularly in the last few years, people just stopped registering their cattle because they were trying to cut their costs,” he explained.
“Twenty years ago, there were quite a few of us who registered Herefords, but now there’s only one or two or three of us [in the district].”
And shipping cattle to the former U.S.S.R. is no easy feat.
First, all the needed permits need to be in place, said Guilford, and testing has to be done for each animal for it to be “export ready.”
“Each animal has to go through a minimum 30-day quarantine period before they can leave the country,” she explained, noting this also includes being inspected and having blood tests done by Canadian Food Inspection Agency veterinarians.
Once the animals leave quarantine, they are trucked to the airport in Winnipeg.
Animals then were flown out on 747s—two planeloads of 200 animals each, with animals crated based on weight and where they are loaded on the plane.
The cattle are flown to the city of Almaty in Kazakhstan, where they once again go through another 30-day quarantine period and the same testing.
Cattle normally are shipped by boat to international destinations like Europe, Guilford noted. But while planes are costlier, they’re more beneficial to the animals.
“[The cattle] got a 16-hour plane ride rather than a 20-some hour truck ride out to the port, and then another three- to four-week boat ride to where they’re going, and then another how-many-hour long truck ride to wherever the farms are,” she said.
As well, where the animals are headed for in Kazakhstan often is quite remote from the ports, so shipping via boat “didn’t make much sense,” she reasoned.
“Most of the places that they’re going to are large-scale farms,” Guilford said.
Those importing the cattle have money to spend, she added, with plans to have thousands of head of cattle over the next couple of years.
Especially in Kazakhstan, the government’s mandate and support for importing the cattle comes, in part, as a way to increase employment.
“Depending on what time of year it is, we’ve got around 1,000 head of cattle kicking around [our ranch] and it takes one or two guys to do chores for three hours in the morning and that’s it,” Guilford explained.
“Whereas over there, they’ll have 400-500 people that are there to feed their 2,000 head of cattle.”
Importing Canadian cattle also comes with a benefit: the climates are similar and cattle can adapt more quickly.
“There’s certain areas which have imported cattle from Texas previously and those cattle just didn’t perform as well there—they’re just not as accustomed to the climate,” Guilford said.
“You take cattle that are used to warm weather conditions and you throw them in minus-30, they don’t respond too well.”