Stevenson Ranch, Holden Herefords ship herd to Russia

Stevenson Angus Ranch and Holden Herefords have announced  that they have successfully exported an entire herd of cattle to Russia on Dec. 15.

The last of a shipment of 1,434 animals - including cows, bulls, plus five Quarter Horses - were shipped to the Stevenson Sputnik Ranch in Russia.

Darrell Stevenson of Hobson and Jack Holden of Valier, contracted the cattle sale earlier this year. To fill the large order, Stevenson selected the Angus genetics from his family’s herds of Stevenson Angus Ranch, Stevenson’s Diamond Dot Ranch and R&S Angus Ranch all from Hobson.

Also included in the sale is a herd of registered Hereford cattle, supplied by Holden Herefords in Valier.

Exporting livestock internationally is common Stevenson says. “Thousands of cattle, horses, sheep, hogs and exotic animals move from country-to-country every day. But this shipment stands apart, as it is one of the largest exportations of registered cattle in history.”

“These cattle are fully pedigreed and the Russian buyers intend to manage them as such,” Stevenson says.

“Our Montana cattle will be the foundation of Russia’s future beef industry.”

Governor Brian Schweitzer said the large purchase reflects the worldwide reputation of Montana’s livestock breeders. “Montana has some of the best cattle genetics in the world,” Schweitzer said. “This is a great example of the demand for the kind of high quality genetics produced here in Montana.”

Today, the Russian Federation suffers from a beef crisis. Current estimates put the national beef cowherd at 600,000 animals. Per capita, that’s one cow for every 237 people. The United States, by comparison, has 90 million beef cows, or one cow for every 3.5 people.

Because Russia has so few cows on the land, there are enormous tracts sitting fallow. Stevenson, who has traveled extensively in Russia for three years, describes the countryside as “wide open.”

“You can drive thousands of miles and never see a cow or a fence,” Stevenson says. “There are literally millions of acres of vacant grasslands waving in the wind.”

Stevenson also observed that 90 percent of the beef available in Russian supermarkets is ground canner beef produced by the dairy industry. Rarely has he seen whole cuts of meat for sale. When he orders steak from the menu at a Moscow restaurant, the plate costs upwards of $75.

And yet, the Russian appetite for beef is strong.

Replenishing their national beef herd is a top priority of the Russian Federation. In 2008, they sent the first of several delegations of agricultural experts, investors and politicians to Montana. They toured several of the state’s top beef cow operations, including Stevenson Angus Ranch and Holden Hereford Ranch, where they identified the cattle they believed could be transplanted in Russia. Stevenson’s shipment of 1,434 cattle brings this dream to fruition.

“There is a window of opportunity right now, when land is available, the Russian government is offering agricultural subsidies and the price of beef is extraordinary,” Stevenson says. “Russians pay double and triple the value of what we pay for beef in the United States. Combine that with cheaper resources and lower input, and it opens up some possibilities.”

The new home for these Montana cattle is Stevenson Sputnik Ranch, a 14,500-acre property in the Voronezh Region of southwestern Russia. According to Stevenson, the land is as good for growing cattle as his family’s ranch in Montana - maybe even better. Voronezh is well suited for agriculture, with a 180-day growing season (essentially 60 days longer than Montana), 24 inches of annual rainfall and 12 percent organic soil matter. Geographically, the ranch is located at the same latitude as southern Alberta, Canada and it sits at an elevation of 1,000 feet above sea level.

Stevenson also notes that there isn’t a rock within sight of the property; a luxury any Montana rancher would appreciate.

The shipment took place over six weeks, beginning on November 20, when 545 cattle and five horses were loaded on a boat in Wilmington, Del.

They arrived at the port of Novorossiysk, Russia, on Dec. 16. The remaining 889 head were flown on six chartered 747 airplanes, departing from Chicago O’Hare International Airport to Moscow, Russia.

The shipments were timed to arrive so the bred heifers and cows have a chance to acclimate to their surroundings before calving season. The first Russian-born calf is due January 1, 2011.

En route, the cattle were a welcome sight to the freight and cargo industries at the ports, quarantine farms and airports. The arrival of planes flown by the Russia-based company Air Bridge Cargo (ABC) was a momentous event. ABC is a world leader in cargo distribution, but they hadn’t serviced the United States previous to the Stevenson cattle shipment.

“We’ve been trying to get ABC to fly here for years,” according to one floor manager for United Cargo of Chicago O’Hare. “Thanks to you and these silly cows, this airport and this city now have a tremendous opportunity for expanded shipping routes, thus positively influencing employment and commerce.”

Stevenson hired a crew of Montana cowboys to assist with the cattle work in Russia.

Veterinarian Craig Moore of Choteau accompanied the cattle and horses on the boat.

Already in Russia is Ryan Bell of Ennis, soon to follow is Kraig Sweeney of Lewistown, who along with Stevenson are the first cowboys on the ground at Stevenson Sputnik Ranch. Additional cowboys including Danny Conn of Hall, Tim Skinner of Hall, Matt Graveley of Avon,  Jake Stevenson of Hobson, Wayner Walter of Hobson and Bodie Winters of Joliet, will arrive mid-winter and spring to relieve them at intervals over the coming year.

Stevenson notes that Montana state officials have been instrumental throughout the export process.  Director Ron de Yong and Marketing Officer Marty Earnheart of the Montana Department of Agriculture were actively involved with initial trade missions and follow up visitations.

With the cattle and horses now in place at Stevenson Sputnik Ranch, the new Russian cattle herd already ranks as one of the largest registered cattle herds in the world. It’s a promising start for Russia’s future beef cow industry.

Editor’s note: About Stevenson Angus Ranch and Holden Herefords — Stevenson Angus Ranch is a leading producer of registered Angus cattle, located in Hobson.

The fourth-generation Montana ranch is home to America’s longest-running annual bull sale, and celebrated their 50th annual production sale this year.

Their spring bull sale is scheduled for March 10, 2011 in Hobson. To learn more about Stevenson Angus Ranch visit stevensonangus.com .

Holden Herefords, an industry leader for Line One cattle, will host their upcoming 45th annual sale scheduled for March 14, 2011. 

They can be visited at holdenherefords.com .