A meaty question from the president that impresses a Nebraska cowboy24 august 2011, 14:49
The president was coming, and my American cowboy buddy Mike Slattery wanted to make a good impression.
Mike, who is managing 1,300 cattle on a showcase ranch near the village of Mamai, 3 ½ hours’ north of Astana, laid out his best outfit – including his spiffiest cowboy hat -- for President Nursultan Nazarbayev. And he polished his boots for the president as well.
The preparation for the president’s visit covered a lot more than sprucing up clothes, hats and boots, however.
The government operation that oversees the high-profile ranch had asked Mike and his Kazakh cowboy crew to move all 1,300 head of cattle from the grass they were happily munching to seven dirt-floor holding pens.
The big bosses apparently wanted the president to see all the cattle at once so he’d have an immediate appreciation for the scope of the operation.
The ranch is high-profile because it’s at the vanguard of a government effort to kick-start Kazakhstan’s beef industry so it becomes one of the biggest in the world. It will be producing 1,200 calves a year, many of which will be used to enlarge herds at other ranches.
Mike had argued against moving and bunching up the ranch’s entire 1,300 cattle in a confined area. He thought about 300 would be enough for the president to see.
One reason he opposed a fullscale transfer was that it takes a huge effort to move cattle, especially out of wide-open spaces where there’s plenty to eat. If you were a cow, would you want to leave that paradise?
In addition, when cattle are in pens, they have to be fed something. So the ranch crew would need to give them food that Mike had wanted saved for the winter, when the grass was long dead.
It took Mike and his crew two hard days to move the cattle, a chore he mentioned to two other Americans who also are in Kazakhstan to help the country build up its herd.
“Wouldn’t it be funny,” one of the Americans asked the other, “if President Nazarbayev asked why the cattle were moved in off the grass.”
The president, after all, grew up in a shepherd family. He was likely to wonder why, when you have animals in good pasture, you take them somewhere else.
On the day of the president’s visit, Mike, his Kazakh ranch crew and a lot of government officials were waiting around the holding pens when three helicopters appeared on the horizon.
They swooped down, and the president and his entourage got out.
Mike was impressed with the president’s friendliness.
“He shook my hand at least three times while he was there,” Mike said.
Kazakhstan has so much beef-industry potential that even Americans have become involved in the development effort, the president told the crowd enthusiastically.
Mike was pleased that President Nazarbayev asked him questions about the operation that indicated the head of state respected his expertise.
Mike is only 23, and the president is one of the world’s most seasoned leaders. So the respect that President Nazarbayev accorded Mike left a lasting impression on the young man from Indianola, Nebraska.
Kazakhstan journalists who were covering the event also accorded him the respect of an expert. They asked, for example, for his view of the future of Kazakhstan’s beef industry.
“I told them it has a great future,” he said. “I said there was lots of land that was not being used, and that the land was capable of growing a lot of cattle.”
Mike was clearly having a good day.
And the icing on the cake was something that President Nazarbayev asked one of the government officials in the crowd that had been waiting for the helicopters to arrive.
“Why did you bring all the cattle in off the grass?” the head of state wanted to know.
When the translator told Mike what the president had asked, the American cowboy broke into a grin as wide as the steppeland around Mamai.