CPoW board adds international cowboy to Board
From Medical Lake to Russia, Jim Wentland is a cattleman of many experiences
Earlier this year, the CPoW Board of Directors elected Jim Wentland to fill the Director District 4 position formerly held by Scott Nielsen . Wentland, who also serves as the President of the Spokane County Cattlemen, is a long-time cattleman currently living in the Medical Lake area. He is also an international cowboy, doing a stint in Russia in 2011 to help a private company develop their beef herd.
Wentland heard of the opportunity in Russia in one of the popular cattle industry newspapers, the Western Ag Reporter. Wentland was given a 90 day visa to work for AgroSystems near the town of Kaluga, Russia located two hours south of Moscow. A private firm was working to develop the beef cattle industry in the country, but Wentland said there were some significant challenges.
“Basically, the country had never had a beef herd, all they had was confinement dairy herds and no facilities for handing or working beef cattle,” he said.
Cattle management practices were also reminiscent of the former Soviet system, with an emphasis on job specialization and management systems that were not geared to be adaptive.
“They were vaccinating the dairy herd every week, which we were able to get them to back off to every three weeks. They also didn’t understand that cowboys need to be able to do a bunch of things, from build fence to doctor sick animals,” Wentland related. “But when I explained that, they insisted only a veterinarian could take care of the sick animals.”
Starting from an all-dairy herd, Wentland and the beef team attempted to change up the herd genetics by Artificially Inseminating 700 of the largely Semmital/Charlois herd with Angus Semmital and Brown Swiss genetics.
However, getting the herd genetics to take on more beef characteristics was only part of the challenge.
Ranch infrastructure like corrals, loading alleys and squeeze chutes all had to be added. Fencing and basic tasks like keeping water tanks unfrozen in the winter also posed new challenges.
“They didn’t have any tools to build fence and one day I went out and they were tightening barbed wire by stretching it back with a tractor and then hammering in two nails and bending them over to keep it in place. I looked at that and said, ‘You guys are going to kill someone’.”
Wentland mentioned to management that there were better tools available for the job, like fence stretchers, for easy purchase in the US. When his visa was extended for another seven months after a trip home, he brought back essentials like fence stretchers, work gloves and hammers that were unavailable for purchase in Russia.
But getting the ranch up to speed on tools and materials was only the beginning.
Educating Russian consumers about beef was a task the burgeoning industry would have to tackle if demand would increase for the product.
“Most people were used to just cutting a hunk off the cow when it died, putting it in a pot and boiling the crud out of it,” Wentland said. “When I went to the butcher and asked for a steak, they looked at me like I was nuts.”
Despite the difficulties, Wentland said he really enjoyed his time in Russia and was happy to have the opportunity.
“Not a lot of people pick up and go work in Russia when they are 65,” he quipped.”They paid excellent wages, it was a great experience and one of the best things I learned over there was patience.”
Wentland said the goal of the investor who owned the ranch was to increase his beef herd size from 2,300 to 3,500 by 2015. Wentland said he isn’t sure if the ranch is near making their goal.
“The investor who owned the ranch was really book smart, but sometimes you need to get a little manure on your boots,” he said.
Now that he is back in US, Wentland said he plans to continue his work with CPoW, Spokane County Cattlemen and his volunteer efforts as a 33-year 4-H leader.
“I would like to give a special thanks to Carl Grub for helping me stay interested in he cattle industry,” he said.