Tuesday, June 1, 2010

What I did on my summer vacation

A "friend" made a snide remark about my exciting life.  Well!! Like I have nothing to do!!!  I wrote this report for an NGO to which I belong and though I have blogged about bits and pieces, when you add them all up it does look like I was actually busy these past five months. So there.

January – went  to Kazakhstan to “advise” a 150,000 ha farm on developing a beef cattle enterprise.  Their government is investing and the farm is wired in solid enough to get BIG dollars.  They had 1200 cows mostly in milk under typical FSU mis-management and wanted to hit 30,000 cows and 25,000 fed animals within 4 or 5 years, using sexed embryo transfer and getting 100% conception and 100% heifers .  They had 50,000 ha of grazing land 60 km from HQ where they intended to drylot the cows year round (including stabling them in winter) as the grass was “too far away”.  

Owner of the big farm company was a Kazakh who felt he was God and the world should revolve around him.  I don’t revolve well.  His 2IC was a Ukrainian named Victor with whom I could have worked and for whom I felt very badly that he was stuck with such a boss. I convinced them they should maybe go to Canada and see how beef cattle were raised.  They did spend five days and got a good education but it was apparently not what they wanted to here as they have since cut off all correspondence with the company  that contracted me.  

February and March –prepared PowerPoint Presentations for a three day beef school.  Scrapped most of my old presentations and started fresh, including new material from internet.  Slides were sent for translating and then fancied up and pictures added

March – visited  a large corporate farm in northern Ukraine which had been purchasing any and all purebred beef cattle they could find.  Want to be a pure breeder of Charolais, Simmental, Limousin and Angus and will consign the “composite” breeds (designed by Ukrainian researchers who seem to think they are useful) to his zoo-park.  His cattle were located on three sites.  About half the Simmentals were in dreadful condition, the other half not bad, some should have been put down.  Vitamin A deficiency and TM deficiency but mostly feed deficiency as they had not planned for so many cattle and were running out of feed. He had just put lick tubs of minerals out for the cattle so that was positive. 60 km away they had two more farms with lots of feed and could have been hauling all winter when the roads were good.  I have no idea what their livestock specialists and veterinarians learn in school or actually do on the job.  I’d have fired them both at the SM farm.

I gave him a raft of ideas (in English and he said he could find a translator).  He buys dairy semen from the company of our friend Volodya so I hope I get more involved with the guy. He is quick to learn but is getting consulting advice from a senior beef cattle research scientist from near Kyiv who doesn’t know a damn thing about raising beef cattle in my opinion.  Cattle in barns at night, calves in same pens as cows wintered.  Outside pens too small for calving cows. Lots of scours etc etc. But the farm is just starting and anxious to make changes and do it right and two of the farms were pretty good.  I can work with them.

March – presented a three day ‘beef school’ at Agro-Soyuz. They provided facilities and translated all my ‘000 of slides and provided an interpreter.  The head of the AS consulting arm is new and did a terrible job of advertising for the school.  He learned he needs to do more things himself such as follow up.  Five of the participants from Chita in eastern Siberia (where the Decembrists were exiled in 1825 for history buffs among you), east of Lake Baikal  They were awesome students.  Asked the right questions and tough ones to boot.
Their Economist (what we would call an accountant) was also very well read up on nutrition.  Shock.  That impressed me as much as anything.  Their vet wouldn’t know Copper from Calcium.  Four of them want to go to Canada and that is currently in the works.  

They raise beef cattle outside in weather that makes Sask seem like banana belt.  Seven months of winter and monthly mean temps from Nov-March are 10 degrees colder than Saskatoon with strong winds.  Summers about the same as Sask and rain mostly in June, July, August.  Like Mongolia.  Tanya and I are both hoping we get the nod to go there and work with them for a while but that will be up to AS.

April – made a presentation about how Canadian research supports the Canadian beef industry at a conference organized by the Institute of Animal Science at Kharkiv. My presentation was well received and I now have an in with the Ukrainian Academy of Agrarian Sciences.  The vice director took me on a tour of their labs and I was pleased not only to see a feed test lab that can do ADF, NDF, ADIN but also people who know what they mean.  They have done a pile of feed analysis across Ukraine and have compiled a book of nutritional values ON A DRY MATTER BASIS.  There is hope for the world.

The vice director also confirmed that Cobalt and Iodine are both dreadfully lacking in Ukrainian feedstuffs.  Which explains my observation of Cobalt deficiencies in cattle in many instances and my understanding that Iodine is in short supply in food and feed except near oceans.  (Confirmed o by a WHO report that says 70% of Ukrainians are low in iodine.  We are now finding iodized salt on store shelves but most people prefer good old rock salt because they have not the extra 20 cents).  

The Vice Director gave me a publication of their research centre in Russian and English which I read and I just shake my head at their research.  Much of it appears to be unconnected to anything living or dead. I plan on writing the director a long paper outlining my concerns and getting it professionally translated so they have no excuse to ignore it. If they ignore me I will copy it to the head of UAAS and the Minister of Agrarian Policy, like I did with a letter to the National Agricultural University in Kyiv in 2006.

April – article published in Animal Industry Today (How Canadian Beef Producers Lower Production Costs).  I got feedback from a Sumy farmer’s wife who thought they could adapt some of my ideas with their 18 cow herd. Made my day.  The paper I wrote for the Kharkiv conference will likely appear in the June or July issue. I plan on keeping one a month if I can find time to write and if they will still publish me.

May – went to a dairy seminar at Agro-Soyuz, sponsored by our friend Volodya and his American genetics company. The American company don’t have much doing in beef but I assured them that I could do dairy nutrition between 2,500 kg and 6,000 kg milk and stuff like quality feed production etc. They may have some work for me in future.  Also met Volodya’s counterpart from Belarus who said they were sure interested in beef cattle up there so I am going to chase that too.

Future – MAY have work in Kazakhstan, Ukraine, Belarus and Russia.  WILL have another beef school at Agro-Soyuz, dates unconfirmed.  

Just as an aside, Volodya called the president of the Ukrainian Beef Producer’s Association (he has been president for at least two decades, I met him 10 years ago) to tell him about the beef school.  He was furious that AS dared to hold a beef school when it should be HIS organization and no he wouldn’t tell anyone because he was “organizing a beef seminar for the same week”.

Next beef schools, Tanya will present with me. That makes me very happy.


  1. Sounds like you may need Tanya as a body guard.
    Still no work here even after taking a bunch of classes and four more certifications. Soon I'll be a very over educated street peasant. :-(

  2. She would be a good body guard. I hope you find something. I'd have thought cleaning up dangerous messes would be recession proof. Guess not.

  3. Dad, how did you not call this "How I Spent My Summer Vacation", it's one of my 20 favourite books.

  4. Son, that is what I meant to call it but my brain stopped working at that precise moment so I had to fake it.


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