CORVALLIS - Two animal scientists from the Oregon State University Extension Service recently returned from a trip to the former Soviet Republic of Uzbekistan where they went to help Uzbekistan livestock ranchers increase production. Scarcity of resources and lack of technology has pervaded Uzbekistan cattle production, according to Ron Hathaway, staff chair for the Klamath County office of the OSU Extension Service and his colleague Jay Carr, staff chair in the Baker County Extension office.
Balancing feed with numbers of cattle is a key, the OSU scientists say.
Through the help of interpreters, Hathaway and Carr suggested to Uzbekistan farmers that if they had half as many cows that were better fed, they'd be generally in better condition, healthier and more productive. But, the scientists noted, it was difficult for the Uzbekistani ranchers to conceptualize feeding their cows more, since most are paying between 38 percent and 48 percent interest on funds borrowed to run their farms.
"They haven't had enough experience with the economics of plenty," Hathaway said.
The Uzbeks approach to raising cattle appears to be based on the concept that there's safety in numbers.
"They are afraid that their cattle will get a disease, or something will happen to them," explained Hathaway. "Because they want to keep more numbers but have a set feed resource, they're way overstocked - at least twice. If they've got 15 head and lose half of them, they still have seven or eight."
Hathaway and Carr said that many of the Uzbekistan cattle were in "less than desirable condition" by U.S. standards. "On a one-through-nine condition score - with one being emaciated and nine being obese-plus - most of the cattle we saw were twos and threes," said Hathaway.
Uzbekistan has been slow to adopt the free enterprise system ever since the disintegration of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s, said Carr.
"After 80 years of Communism they have lost any entrepreneurial thoughts," Carr said. "They still have state farms that are not exactly like the collective farms but they're similar. People can buy property and own it, but then every farm is required to plant 65 percent of its acreage to either cotton or wheat, and the only buyer is the government."
The government then sells those commodities on world markets, they said.
Both OSU Extension animal scientists noted additional major differences in ranching in Uzbekistan, compared to the United States. Uzbekistan ranchers did not castrate their bull calves, and yet they had no selective breeding program.
"Every bull calf grows up as a potential breeder, which can lead to inferior traits being passed on and a mongrelization of their herd," said Carr.
Technological knowledge is still present at the universities Carr and Hathaway visited, but they noted the lack of a communication system like the Extension Service to transfer or extend knowledge to farmers.
"It's fallen by the wayside because there's no one there to maintain the infrastructure," Carr said. "That is the big missing link, something we just take for granted in this country."
The Uzbeks were very inquisitive about the cattle industry in the United States.
"A couple of places we visited we spent more time answering questions about the U.S. than we spent asking them about their cattle," said Hathaway.
The OSU scientists likened much of Uzbekistan to America prior to World War II, when most people, whether they lived in town or in the country, had sheep or cattle.
Mostly Muslim, Uzbekistan is a largely agrarian country, roughly the area of California. With a population of 25 million, it is the second largest cotton-exporting country in the world, Hathaway said.
The U.S. Agency funded the trip for International Development.