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Where's the beef? Kazakhs love Irish cattle

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Hungarian driver Feri watches the cattle load.

Hungarian driver Feri watches the cattle load.

Hungarian driver Feri watches the cattle load.

IT'S a long way from Roscommon to Kazakhstan.

But that's where 300 head of cattle are travelling over the next 12 days.

Yesterday the pedigree Hereford and Angus cattle were loaded on to lorries to begin their 6,500km trip to a farmer in Kazakhstan in the former Soviet Union.

Their seller, Hubert Maxwell (73), from Ballinagare in Roscommon, was on crutches yesterday as he oversaw their departure.

But a recent hip operation did not deter him from keeping a close eye on proceedings as 13 drivers from Hungary, Germany and Russia helped load up the animals for the first stage of the trip.

"It does cause a bit of a stir in the village," laughed Mr Maxwell who sent his first shipment to Kazakhstan in August last year. He believes there is huge potential in this export business.

When the Soviet Union dissolved in 1991, and Kazakhstan became independent, the economy floundered. Food supplies dwindled and the cattle population fell from 38 million in 1994 to just two million.

Mr Maxwell and his two sons Michael and Shane and grandson Derek source cattle from all over the country, buying directly from the breeders. Long before they started exporting to Kazakhstan, they sold cattle to Egypt and Libya until foot-and-mouth disease stalled exports in 1996.

As Department of Agriculture officials mingled with non-English speaking drivers outside the two-storey farmhouse yesterday, Mr Maxwell explained that under the regulations the cattle must be taken off the trucks every 24 hours to be fed and watered and rested.

"We put a lot of hay on the trucks and they get water at will," he explained. "They have plenty of room to stand up or lie down as they wish."

His wife Ronny seemed to be running a hotel as well yesterday as she and family members provided a dinner (roast beef, of course) for drivers and other visitors before the grand exodus at around 2.30pm yesterday.

"They were supposed to leave from Rosslare last Tuesday night but the storms meant there was no shipping that night," said Mr Maxwell.

"The drivers have been in Ballinagare since. We looked after them and they slept on the lorries. That is their life."

Ballinagare has been a bit of a melting pot lately because the Maxwells hosted a group from Kazakhstan two weeks ago who came to see what was available in Ireland.

"We took them around the country and they were very impressed," said Mr Maxwell.

"They import cattle from all over Europe and we also have competition from Canada but I think there is a lot of potential for growth here."

The Maxwells sent five shipments to Kazakhstan last year.

"We did not lose one animal and we got a special recommendation from the government there. That meant a lot to me as I like things to be done properly," said Mr Maxwell.

The family won't be having a break after the excitement of yesterday.

"We have another load of cattle coming in here tomorrow," explained Mr Maxwell. "We have to quarantine them until they go -- the next shipment will leave in the middle of June."

Irish Independent