Daulet Chunkunov, a Kazakh trade representative, said the oil-rich nation currently buys the bulk of its processed beef from Europe and Australia but is prepared to spend billions building up its own cattle industry, which could take decades. The Kazakh government paid for the cattlemen's trip to North Dakota.
"We have oil money, a strong domestic market, support of the government and a labor force," Chunkunov said.
Cattle ranching also appeals to many young people in Kazakhstan, Chunkunov said. Several Kazakh cattlemen in their 20s were among those touring North Dakota ranches, getting tips on everything from bovine nutrition and branding to vaccinations and bull castrations.
"I like being a cowboy," said Viktor Kapinus, a tall, wiry 21-year-old who recently started working at a ranch well outside of his hometown of Astana in central Kazakhstan.
Kapinus, already comfortable around cows, fearlessly approached and petted a more than 2,000-pound Hereford bull grazing on hay, while his less-bold sidekicks snapped pictures.
Fred Helbling, who owns the ranch with his brothers, Wayne and Jim, said the Kazakhs may not dress like typical North Dakota cowboys but many are master horsemen who have taken quickly to cows.
"You can't judge a book by its cover," said Fred Helbling, whose great-grandfather emigrated from Russia and homesteaded the sprawling ranch almost a century ago.
Jim Helbling added, "They do have a lot of passion."
Dauletgali Zhaitapov, 24, said his family owns hundreds of horses but only recently expanded into cows, many of which have come from North Dakota. Zhaitapov said he recently participated in a big cattle drive in his country, something he'd only seen before in "John Wayne movies."
"I was like the Marlboro man," he said.
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