Cows fly to Kazakhstan, Libya next
By Tom Collins
WOODSTOCK A Western Ontario beef and dairy farmer who has sent thousands of cattle to Kazakhstan says the process has changed his life.
John Ysselstein of Friesvale Farms International near Woodstock has been exporting cattle for 30 years, and for the last three, to Kazakhstan. The central-Asian country wanted to build up their breeding herd and decided to import 25,000 cattle over four years.
“If theres a demand, you go over there and set up shop in one of their (farm) shows, and say this is what I can sell you,” says Ysselstein, who runs the farm with his wife, Helen. “Thats how you build up your contacts. They want something and I have something to sell, so you get together and say well, heres the situation and thats how we got started.”
In 2012, Ysselstein first sent 2,000 beef cattle to Kazakhstan, and in 2013, sent 1,500 Holsteins and 1,500 Black Angus heifers. In 2014, he sent 1,400 Holstein heifers, including three planeloads in December.
The Kazakhstan ministry of agriculture has a leasing company that manages the transactions for buyers and sellers. A Kazakhstan farmer has to apply for financing from that company if he wants to buy cattle, but he has certain guidelines he must follow, such as regulations on buildings and having the ability to quarantine the livestock after their arrival. There are plenty of incentives for a Kazakhstan farmer to import cattle, including the loans being interest-free for a couple of years and low repayment plans.
In essence, the leasing company buys the livestock from Ysselstein and then sells it to the farmers there.
Its a long process to get the animals overseas. A cattle selector and a veterinarian come to Ysselsteins farm and choose the cattle to be shipped to Kazakhstan. Those cattle are quarantined on the Woodstock farm for 30 days before the 15-hour flight. When they go to the airport, the cattle are loaded in crates specifically built for livestock. The Boeing 747 can carry 100,000 kilograms of actual livestock weight, which means the jumbo jet can hold about 340 750-pound beef heifers. When the cattle arrive in Kazakhstan they are put in quarantine for another 30 days.
Ysselstein, who has 500 head of beef and milks about 200 Holsteins, is responsible for the logistics for the plane rental, the fuel and trucking once the animals reach Kazakhstan.
“Its a large investment and I have to follow it all the way through,” says Ysselstein, who says he is one of only three exporters in the world shipping cattle to Kazakhstan. “Its a very risky market. For (the Kazakhstan farmers), its all new. Theyre used to the domestic breeds. Very primitive. Its a huge undertaking on their part. The money they receive from the ministry is also for them to build new barns, facilities, milking parlours, so they are set up fairly well. Its an adjustment as far as feeding and nutrition.”
Most of the shipped cattle come from his own farm. If he needs more animals, he buys them from his sources across the country to meet the demand.
Ysselstein goes to Kazakhstan several times a year to educate farmers there on how to raise beef and dairy cows. He was planning to ship to Russia this year Ysselstein sent 2,200 head of Holstein heifers to Russia in 2008, the first farmer in Canada to do so after the borders opened after BSE but the fall of the ruble has put that on hold for now. He received a call from Libya earlier this month for 1,000 head and hopes to fill that order too.
“Were getting quite well-known for our shipments and how we handle it from end-to-end,” he says. “What Ive experienced there and what Ive seen there, its changed my way of thinking, my life. I go there, and I see conditions and then I come home, have card parties, and people talk about losing at the golf game. I shake my head and say to myself what are you guys even thinking?”
Kazakhstan isnt stereotypically poor. The poorest building in the capital city of Astana is as fancy as any building in Toronto and theres potential for big opportunities for development, says Ysselstein. The problems are with the money managers.
“Say, corn is really expensive,” he explains, “and they say oh, we can sell corn and make good money just on the cash market. Theyll sell it and have nothing to feed the cows. Its the money people that make the decisions and it makes it hard for the farm manager to work with that.
“They have a lot of money. Theres potential for a big opportunity. They just have to learn proper feed for their animals and everything else.”