He’s a Cowboy on the Steppes
The title is for all you Jimmy Buffet fans.
Once again, for some reason, the program to bring US and Canadian beef cattle, as well as expertise, to Kazakhstan is hitting the press. The Moscow Times via Reuters has a nice article up about Michael Slattery, a cowboy from Nebraska, currently working at a cattle farm north of Astana.
Two things caught my eye. One, the director of the farm where Slattery is stations, said that “Kazakhstan already supplies all of the meat required for its own domestic consumption…’Now we are starting work on exports to cover the needs of our neighbors,’ he said. ‘And who is our neighbor? Russia. This giant bear is always hungry.’
I’ve heard several times from several sources (none of whom will go on record) that in fact Kazakhstan has been importing meat for years. The expansion efforts now are designed to try to cover domestic consumption. Why this is such a big secret, I don’t know, except that Kazakhs are crazy about meat so perhaps it would be a blow to national pride if they knew they were eating US beef. In any case, this program to import cattle and Western expertise is a good one and I hope it works out well. Maybe I’ll be able to afford meat soon if the prices drop.
The other point of interest here is the difference between human resources management, I suppose you might call it:
“I prefer dealing with young people,” Bisekenov[director of the Mamai farm] said. “A Soviet-trained tractor driver often doesn’t want to understand that, apart from bringing hay to the cattle, he should also feed the cows. Here we try to mould a new, responsible personality.”
Slattery agrees. He has just injected vaccines into scores of furiously resisting calves. “The mind-sets are a lot different. People are kind of one-track minded here,” he said. “They only want to drive a tractor. They don’t want to multi-task, I guess. In the United States, we have to do every job.”
While the Mamai ranch has two veterinarians, he said a typical U.S. ranch might have only one for an entire county. “The cowboys are usually all doctors in themselves,” he said.
Who knows what it will do to unemployment, but certainly productivity and efficiency will go up if people are trained to do more than one job. If you’ve ever gone to a supermarket deli counter in Kazakhstan, you’ll know the frustration of watching the cheese-selling lady, the sausage-selling lady, the salad-selling lady, as well as the cheese packing lady, and the salad-packing lady, sit idle and stare at you blankly as you wait ten minutes for the meat-selling lady. That’s a trivial example, but one wonders how much money could be saved at businesses if they were able to hire fewer employees, not to mention how many fewer hours people could work. And how much more mobile the workforce would be if they had more skills.