Kazakhstan Cowboys – Part 4

Host: Dr Campbell Costello

This is part 4 in a 5 part series written about Dr. Campbell Costello’s time managing and developing a cattle station in Kazakhstan. 

We rescued the Land Cruiser a second time only five minutes later (my boss whilst having fun again reversed too quickly back into the gully and got jacked up) and manoeuvred the truck, trailer, and panels into position. The portable panels were setup into a corral, the trailers were put in position next to a stream, and I was back in a Soviet van to meet the mob and to guide them to their resting place. I mounted my horse and we pushed the mob hard to camp and had about forty minutes of sunlight left.

It was raining, near freezing, and the altitude was making me exhausted quicker than usual. The trailer accommodation was full of saddles, wet tack, bags and Kazakh cowboys eating horsemeat, eggs, and drinking the traditional Kazakh delicacy “Komuz” – fermented, alcoholic horse milk. There was no room for me to collapse and sleep in the trailer. The crew had constructed a UNICEF refugee tent for me to sleep in and to store extra saddles and equipment. It was a large tent but because the Kazakhs had constructed it in true Kazakh style, it was half done and leaky. I feel asleep to the sound of heavy rain and hail pelting the roof and walls, on a wet bed, and passed out with a temperature. I had a cough and a fever for the next forty-eight hours.

Some cowboys and I next to our mountain camp.

Cowboys and I drinking fermented horse milk.

The neighbour rides over to say hello, bringing alcoholic horse milk with him.

A meat seller in Almaty.

We would shift the cattle four to five times in as many months down the valley. As the pasture got short, we would shift them again to a lower location so that extracting them was easier when winter and the snow came. The herd health’s program was still in full swing and unfortunately we did not have a permanent crush or stockyards, I had to think outside the box yet again. I got our army truck to load an old cattle crush from the base ranch, some steel posts and plenty of rope. We changed the shape of the coral into a tear shaped pen, with a forty-foot race spearing downhill at the apex of the tear shape. So several of my Kazakh cowboys would literally round the mob up on horses and send it for the race, we would stack them in the race before the cattle knew they were in it, and vaccinate and drench away.

It was a wild and unconventional (my horseback cowboys absolutely loved sending the cattle full pelt at the race) but it got the job done VERY SLOWLY. It was hard work and the altitude made it extra draining. We finished all the drenching and vaccinating in mid-July, which allowed me to slip away to Mongolia for a fortnight in August to renew my passport, help out at the annual “Mongol Derby” horse race across Mongolia, and have some rest from the cattle station. I had had two weekends off in three and a half months and little to no interaction with westerners or English conversation. I renewed my passport, had some much needed socializing with old friends, ate Burger King, and rallied my strength to see out the last three months of my contract, which finished in October 2016.

Wearing my Mongolian Wolf Coat up in the mountains.

Dr Campbell Costello BVSc.

Instagram: @dr_cozy