In 2006, the Russian government introduced various agricultural supports, through the National Priority Project (NPP), to drive the industry and attempt to become self-sufficient in food production.

One of the measures in the NPP involved subsidising loans for agricultural businesses.

The Linnikov brothers – the duo behind the Miratorg meat company and currently Russia’s biggest farmers – had already had success in the pig and poultry sectors and saw an opportunity in beef.

At the time, beef was a cheap meat.

Expensive steak cuts were not popular and almost unheard of in the countryside, where beef was typically enjoyed in broths or stew-like dishes. Much of the beef came from cull dairy cows and was therefore seen as an inferior quality meat.

Russia’s beef cow herd was tiny, and in fact remains relatively small at 540,000 – Ireland has around 1m suckler cows. There was no tagging or traceability; carcases came in all shapes and sizes and there was no grading system in place.

Cue Miratorg.

Unimaginable scale

Its vision was ranch-style full integration – ie complete control of beef production from birth to beef – on a big scale. The concept is worth considering for a second.

Fully integrated production with pigs or poultry is very realistic given the short production system and the fact that animals can be kept largely under a single roof with a small requirement for land.

Miratorg’s vision was to produce its beef calves US-style on ranches and feedlots, slaughtering them in the company’s own processing plants and selling its own branded beef.

A massive amount of land would be required. Today, most of Miratorg’s beef operations are centred around Bryansk, which is 550km southwest of Moscow. The climate here is similar to America’s big grain states such as Nebraska and South Dakota. Good agricultural land in Russia is plentiful and cheap – there are simply not enough farmers to farm it all. Indeed, there are significant pockets of abandoned farmland all over the country. An acre of productive grazing or cropping land costs approximately €160 in this region.

Miratorg set about buying up farm land and, today, has 65 beef cow ranches totalling 1.3m acres.

Given its availability and its financial clout, land was never going to be a problem for Miratorg. Its biggest issue was animals. It needed big numbers of quality, consistent stock, which Russia did not have.

This spring, 4,200 cows calved down and calf yield was 4,050 – 0.96 calves per cow

Given that climates were similar, it looked to the US and Australia breeding cattle, choosing Angus across the board.

Initially, 110,000 heifers were imported.

I visited the Valuetz ranch near Bryansk, which had taken in 4,000 purebred Angus heifers from Australia in the winter of 2011.

“In the first year we had losses,” ranch manager Victor Buyvolov told me. “You can imagine, the stress of the journey was compounded by the fact that cattle were travelling from a hot Australian summer into the depths of an icy Russian winter,” he adds, as we drive through one of Valuetz’s 70ha summer pasture fields.

The Valuetz herd has gone from strength to strength since.

This spring, 4,200 cows calved down and calf yield was 4,050 – 0.96 calves per cow. Cattle on Valuetz graze from April or May until early October, when they come back to 13ha wintering pens at the yard. Here, they receive hay and mineral supplement.

On the 6,200ha Valuetz ranch there are 17 cowboys, nine machinery hands, two vets and nine guards – protecting the farm from animal and equipment theft, as well as would-be hunters who might use Miratorg’s animals for target practice.

As well as a lack of cattle in Russia, there was a lack of people.

Importing cowboys

Miratorg was forced to import hundreds of cowboys and their families from the US to establish their ranches and teach the locals how to work and handle the cattle.

“There was limited expertise and enthusiasm to work with cattle here initially. Many of the locals cannot stand hard work, or the need to stay sober,” Victor said.

Miratorg imported over 100,000 purebred Angus heifers from USA and Australia to establish its herd.

In all, 30,000 people work for Miratorg today.

On the ground, the American cowboys the company brought in are slowly but surely training up 1,000 native Russians to look after the cattle. The project has been titled the ‘‘Miratorg Meat Academy’’.

Here, locals learn skills such as roping and treating cattle, as well as how to move large groups calmly and quietly.

Enormous feedlots

We get a glimpse of one of the meat academy training arenas at our next stop, a 40,000-head capacity feedlot near Bryansk. This is one of two Miratorg feedlots, the other being a 100,000 capacity operation 1,000km away in Oryol.

For the final half hour of our approach to the feedlot, both sides of the road had been lined with corn fields stretching right back to the horizon. Feedlot diets are heavily corn-based and there are 500,000 acres of the crop in Bryansk alone on Miratorg’s books. That’s almost the equivalent of Co Meath.

There are 150 outdoor dirt pens on the feedlot.

Though temperatures are similar to the US where feedlot layouts are similar, there is slightly more precipitation (22in to 24in annually). This means that manure is scraped from pens once per month as opposed to every three to four months in parts of the US.

Two feed trucks work full-time and the level of technical efficiency and attention to detail is such that if one pen is fed more than three minutes later than timetabled, the manager is notified.


Cattle arrive at the feedlot at around 350kg and are brought to slaughter weights of around 660kg, without the use of any hormones or growth promoters. All necessary veterinary procedures for the feeder cattle are carried prior to transit on the home ranch – the beauty of integration.

We stand high up on a viewing platform near the boundary of the giant Bryansk feedlot, looking out over a pen of 200 Angus steers.

Four years’ time, four times more cattle

The language barrier here is a huge obstacle, and though our guide is translating for me on the day, one of the feedlot workers taps me on my shoulder and points into the distance. There is a huge factory around 2km away – Miratorg’s flagship beef abbatoir.

“Green Mile…,” the worker utters with a smirk, gesturing towards the strip of land between the feedlot and the processing plant. He is, of course, referencing the 1999 film on the stories of prison guards and inmates on death row.

The processing plant is our next stop and as with most of Miratorg’s beef business, the numbers behind it are eye-watering. The 40,000m2 plant is currently processing almost 2,500 cattle weekly. It has a chill capacity for 4,000 sides and 1,000 quarters.

All beef is butchered on site and branded with Miratorg’s own packaging.

World domination

We get the full tour and as we walk through the huge facility I ask our guide Alex why the factory had so much open, unused space unnecessarily adding to construction and chilling costs.

He puts up his hand, his fingers outstretched.

“Four years’ time, four times more cattle…”

Miratorg is looking toward the bigger picture. Russia’s plan was to become self-sufficient in food production by 2020 and since Miratorg’s first product landed on Russian shelves in 2014, the rapid growth in sales means that the target should be met.

There is still a significant amount of beef being imported into Russia, from Brazil in particular. This is to fill gaps in supply caused by seasonality and Russian tastes – the country is a huge offal consumer. Such trends are likely to continue after Russia declares itself self-sufficient. But Miratorg has its eye on exports.

By 2021, the plan is to have the facility running at full capacity, slaughtering and processing 500,000 animals per year and employing 1,200 people. With 200,000 beef cows currently on its books, Miratorg plans to be running 500,000 by then. Where will all of this extra beef go? It’s a scary thought for a country like ours with much higher production costs.

Worker at Miratorg's Bryansk plant, which has capacity to process 500,000 carcasses annually.

While we can use the hormone and growth promoter argument to compete with most North American markets, that strategy won’t play versus Russia. International relations and politics will likely be Miratorg’s main obstacles initially, but these won’t last forever.

Steak consumption in Russia is mainly concentrated in cities, and Miratorg needs more outlets for these high-value cuts.

In Ireland we have the opposite problem, with the lower value part of the carcase proving to be more difficult to shift.

Miratorg is only cutting its teeth as an exporter, but is currently developing international markets in the United Arab Emirates and Japan, including a deal with a well-known airline.

One of the most impressive aspects of the Miratorg beef operation is how it has safeguarded its product to compete internationally in a country where quality standards are almost non-existent. Miratorg’s cattle are tagged at birth and full traceability exists from farm to fork.

Full veterinary records are kept and, most impressively, carcases are graded by the Certified Angus Beef Company via an internet link to their headquarters in Ohio, US.

The USDA standard of grading is used, which takes into account both yield and meat eating quality. Compare this to more typical domestic processors in Russia, where cattle are bought live for slaughter (currently €1.84/kg) with no traceability.

Carcase grading in Miratorg's beef plant is monitored via an internet link to Certified Angus Beef in Ohio, USA.

My guide, Miratorg PRO Dmitry, tells me that Miratorg cattle actually grade better than their American counterparts.

“Integration means that 30% of our animals grade ‘prime’ here, versus 7% in the US.”

The student becomes the teacher.

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