NPR logo

Russian Company Rustles Up Cowboys To Help Beef Up Demand For Steaks

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/503954990/503954991" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Russian Company Rustles Up Cowboys To Help Beef Up Demand For Steaks

Russian Company Rustles Up Cowboys To Help Beef Up Demand For Steaks

Russian Company Rustles Up Cowboys To Help Beef Up Demand For Steaks

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/503954990/503954991" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

The firm Miratorg is building an American-style beef steak industry from scratch. To make it work, it has to import everything from the cows, to the feed — right down to importing American cowboys.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

And now we have a story from Russia of a massive effort to import something that's very, very American. Russia has lots of open land, which is good for grazing cattle, but steak remains something of a foreign idea. So one company is trying to single-handedly build a steak industry from scratch in Russia - importing American cows, importing American grass, even importing American cowboys. Here's Irina Zhorov with our Planet Money podcast.

IRINA ZHOROV, BYLINE: Sean Weeks (ph) is a fourth-generation American cowboy. He has spent decades running ranches across the American West. And then a couple of years ago, he got a job offer. Double his regular salary, job stability and travel.

SEAN WEEKS: The only thing I really knew about Russia is just from what little bits of information that I've heard growing up.

ZHOROV: Everything was brand new - fencing, corrals, stables. And then there was the size.

WEEKS: It's huge. I've never seen anything grow this fast - ever.

ZHOROV: His new ranch had 5,000 head of Black Angus cattle. That's a hundred times larger than the average American operation. And there are about 60 of these giant new farms.

WEEKS: Like, whoa, let's slow this train down a little bit.

ZHOROV: The company Weeks works for is called Miratorg. It already produces pork and poultry and has received generous backing by Russian President Putin's government. For their beef operations, Miratorg has spent almost six years importing everything they need to instantly set up a beef industry - cows, bull semen, vaccines, corn and grass seed, horses - mostly from the U.S. to make this just like an American cattle operation, except with Russian workers. But that wasn't working out so well.

VALERY SAMOYLOV: Yes, yes, you're right. It's a challenge.

ZHOROV: Valery Samoylov (ph) ran Miratorg's beef operation. And he says they kept hiring Russian cowboys and firing them.

SAMOYLOV: Not everyone can work with the cattle. Cattle operations, it's very special knowledge, special skills.

ZHOROV: Which is why he hired Sean Weeks to turn local villagers into Russian Cowboys, like last summer when Weeks went to a pasture where the Cowboys were having trouble moving a herd.

WEEKS: And I got them all put together. And was - me and two other guys were moving them across the pasture. And things were going really well.

ZHOROV: Then the cows started panicking.

WEEKS: All of a sudden I hear this cha-ching (ph), cha-ching. And I - what in the world? And I turn around trying to find the sound. Here comes two guys riding over the hill behind us on bicycles with the little handlebar bells on them. They thought they were going to help us move these steers with these bicycles.

ZHOROV: That's not how you do things in and Week's world. And what he and Miratorg realized was to build enough real Russian cowboys, they were going to have to build a cowboy culture, too. And so Miratorg imported one more thing - the rodeo.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

ZHOROV: And here's what a Russian rodeo looks like. On yet another brand-new farm, there's a typical arena. But the teams all wear traditional Russian floral kerchiefs, songs about how America should return Alaska to Russia...

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

UNIDENTIFIED SINGER: (Singing in foreign language).

ZHOROV: ...And Russian cowboy pride.

SERGEI SHILAN: (Foreign language spoken).

ZHOROV: Sergei Shilan is a cowboy on one of the ranches nearby.

SHILAN: (Foreign language spoken).

ZHOROV: He says, it's becoming a lifestyle for him, that he cherishes the work. Shilan is wearing western boots, a hat, button-up shirt. Each piece is a gifted merit badge from his American teachers for good work.

SHILAN: (Foreign language spoken).

ZHOROV: When his son grows up, he says, he wants him to be a Russian cowboy, too. He's 4 months old now. One experience still separates him from the American cowboys. Shilan has never eaten a steak. That still costs more than a day's wage here.

For NPR News, I'm Irina Zhorov.

Copyright © 2016 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.