IMAGINE a feedlot in a foreign country with a 100,000 head capacity, 240,000 hectares of farming country and a processing plant killing about 2500 head a week but nobody knows a single thing about cattle or how to run it.
This was the reality for Brad and Hayley Robinson who accepted jobs as feedlot manager and supply chain development and planning coordinator with one of Europe’s biggest protein producers based in Russia.
The pair, who returned to Australia 12 months ago, spent two years trying to increase compliance, collaboration and knowledge across the vertically integrated beef company.
The business began back in the mid 90s and was focused on pork and poultry production but in 2011 the Russian government encouraged the expansion of local beef. Over the next three years the business imported about 120,000 Angus heifers from Australia and the US.
They now have about 500,000 head with 200,000 of them Angus breeders.
As Hayley explained, their system allowed her to receive grading data including marbling, yield grade, fat and meat colour without leaving home but the staff had no idea how to use it.
She said all decisions came from head office staff whom believed that every animal, no matter their entry weight, would spend the same amount of time one feed and have the same daily weight gain.
“During the Soviet times they literally ate themselves out of beef so there was no beef left...so when we went over there for the first time in 2014 we would walk into supermarkets and what they had was big chunks of beef,” she said.
“It was just beef, it had a picture of a cow on it and it was a certain price per kilo. You could buy your topside for the same price as your tenderloins because they just didn’t know, not only about the beef consumption but there is no one that knows anything about cattle.”
Not only was language barriers a challenge but so too was the climate and between the snow months of September to April they used up to 400,000 tonne of woodchip to keep the cattle warm during the conditions.
While their herd was building they imported about 120,000 steers from Australia for processing which were shipped in batches of 17,000 head.
“Those cattle used to leave Victoria at about 30C to 35C and hit Russia at about -20C,” Brad said.
Within six months under the couple’s management the business received more than 90 per cent compliance and had established a rating system to analyse performance of farms and genotypes.
They even broke in led cattle and organised a mock show attracting 2000 people.
“I guess this is one of our most proudest things that people actually became engaged,” Hayley said.