"Honestly, it’s probably the strongest opportunity I’ve seen in the 20 years I’ve been managing this organization,” says Michael Phillips, president and CEO U.S. Livestock Genetics Export, Inc. (USLGE), a not-for-profit national trade association that includes a number of livestock and breed organizations.

Phillips is speaking of the surging interest in U.S. beef and dairy breeding cattle in recent years, especially from Russia and other Eastern European countries.

“We’ve seen an increase in live cattle exports assembled and quarantined in Kansas for export to Russia,” says Kimberly Kirkham, DVM, Kansas Area Veterinarian in Charge for USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) Veterinary Services. “These exports have joined the ranks of and currently exceed those to Canada and Mexico."

The value of the dollar in recent years has provided added incentive.

Keep in mind, the total number of beef breeding females exported each of the last several years, represents only a relative handful of the nation’s herd. But, increased interest is nothing short of staggering (Tables 1-3).

Mark Spare of Ashland, KS, saw firsthand how one Russian company is helping build that nation’s beef cattle herd. Spare contracted his management service to Miratorg last year. The company is owned by two brothers who, along with shareholders, already had success in building operations within Russia’s poultry and pork sectors. These days, they’re building large ranches—3,000 cows per ranch—in the Brjansk (pronounced Bree-ansk) region of southwestern Russia.

When Spare arrived there last May, Miratorg had already imported 51,000 beef cows and heifers from the U.S. and Australia. Except for about 200 head of Red Angus, these are all registered black Angus.

That’s what started the buzz about five years ago, thousands of Angus cattle assembled and quarantined in Nebraska and shipped to Russia.

US breeding beef exports

US cattle breeding bull exports

other U.S. cattle exports

Darrel DeGrofft, DVM, co-owner of Colorado Genetics, has been at three of the original Russian ranches several times.

“They want to increase cattle numbers, and also the quality of their beef,” Dr. DeGrofft says. He explains domestic beef production in what was the Soviet Union had become comprised mostly of the leavings from its dairy industry. Though Eastern European countries import beef, recent interest in breeding cattle from countries like Russia represent the first post-Soviet attempt at developing a domestic beef industry.

Phillips adds that interest in Hereford is on the rise in other Eastern European countries.

“Some ranches have only American cattle, some have only Australian cattle and some are a mix,” Spare says. Though yet to be achieved, he explains Miratorg’s goal is to have at last one American manager and one American cowboy on each ranch.

Spare and a fellow American were charged with preparing the heifers from eight ranches for breeding. “It was primarily a 14-day Controlled Internal Drug Release (CIDR) program,” he explains. The Russian company brought over American AI technicians to do the breeding.

Spare was appointed a ranch manager in August. He chose not to renew his contract when it expired this winter.

Though there is no direct comparison, Spare says the geography in that part of Russia reminded him of parts of South Dakota, along with stirrup-high grass in the summer and the dense woods of the East Coast.

“The terrain made it a challenge every day to be on a horse, to move cattle and to communicate with the Russians,” Spare says. Besides the language and cultural barriers, he explains the Russian interpreters weren’t mobile; communication with the crews had to wait until interpreters were available.

Spare says Miratorg plans to import another 50,000 beef breeding females each year until they stock 50 ranches at 3,000 cows each.

As with the dairy industry previously, Dr. DeGrofft says, “The Russian government has put a lot of money into building that country’s beef herd, bringing in feedlots and packing plants.”

Dr. DeGrofft and fellow Colorado Genetics owner, Deb Rest, spent a month in Russia last summer breeding 700 cows and working on an embryo transfer project on two different ranches. Well, it was supposed to be 700 head, but 100 were bred. That speaks to the lack of training and basic management which still lacks in some countries interested in developing a beef industry (more later).