Veterinarian returns to Montana roots after working in Russia
November 4, 2016
In 2014, Dr. Bob Sager, DVM, DVBVP, PhD,embarked on a memorable, two-year journey that carried him to the southern Russia oblast (state) of Bryansk, not far from the Ukraine border. He had been hired by the gigantic Miratorg (which means "World Market" in Russian) Corporation, the largest vertically integrated beef cattle operation in the world.
Miratorg had been formed when five Russian billionaires, with the approval and direction of President Vladmir Putin, banded together in an effort to reduce the country's dependence on foreign beef imports. Indeed, 42% of the country's beef imports had originated in Brazil. Incidentally, primarily because of political considerations, the US owned just 6% of that market.
"Putin's ambitious long-range plan is to drastically cut the country's $3 billion annual import bill for beef. He even aspires to return Russia's beef industry to its pre-revolutionary stature," reports Sager, who recently returned to the US at the conclusion of his employment contract.
The massive Miratorg operation encompasses hard to- comprehend numbers. For instance, the latest figures in a still-growing inventory lists cattle numbers at 437,000 head, 700 quarter horses, pastured on 57 separate ranches totaling 945,000 acres over an area the size of Maryland. In addition, there is a state-of-the- art processing plant capable of handling 200,000 head per year. And that's not all – there are 7,359 herd bulls, 37,000 replacement heifers along with two 50,000-head feedlots, 758 four-wheel drive tractors, more than 10,000 pieces of farm equipment and 16,000 employees.
Other proteins are also high on Miratorg's production list. The corporation maintains the largest pork production system in Russia along with the second largest poultry operation.
Sager, who had practiced veterinary medicine in Montana for 37 years, then returned to Montana State University in 2009 to obtain a second PhD in micromineral nutrition affecting the immune system of beef cattle. After a face-to-face interview in early 2014, he was hired to supervise 68 Russian veterinarians and to oversee health and biosecurity for the rapidly growing Miratorg beef operation.
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"Seldom have I seen determination and investment in the future of beef production as I witnessed during my time in Russia. No country in the world has made such an investment in beef production that is even close to that of Miratorg," Sager said.
"With skilled operators and specialists in critical positions and the Miratorg/Bryansk Meat Company improving on employee retention, Russian beef productions has a fantastic future," he concluded. "Their cost of production is approximately 40 percent of US production costs per pound of beef."
An Eager Learner
Sager, an energetic 68-year-old whose mind seems always to be in perpetual motion, has spent much of his life within a 50-mile radius of Bozeman, home of the American Simmental Association. Exceptions would include his two-year stint in Russia and that period of time in the early 1970s when he obtained his DVM degree from Colorado State University in 1974.
He was born and raised on a Hereford ranch near Manhattan, 20 miles to the west; then went to high school at Bozeman High School, before enrolling at Montana State University (MSU) where he earned a B.S. in Animal Science.
His veterinary practice spanned 36 years, primarily at Wilsall, a small town located in the picturesque, historic Shields Valley 40 miles northeast of Bozeman. During that time, he mentored more than 300 veterinary students, many of whom still practice in Montana and Wyoming.
"After almost three-and-a-half decades of dealing with calving problems, a number of injuries sustained while treating injured and sick horses and cattle, and a near-fatal vehicle accident, my joints told me that it was time to try something new," he explained. "At 62, I became eligible for Social Security, and used those checks to re-enroll at MSU to pick up my second Ph.D. I also taught beef production classes during that time."
Onward and Upward
At a time when most men his age are seriously contemplating retirement, Sager is enthusiastically embracing his role as a veterinary nutritionist, a program he founded prior to his epic side trip to Russia. Now that he has terminated his relationship with Miratorg, he's reestablishing his relationships with area cattlemen.
Presently his Medicine Creek Bovine Health Solutions and Consulting Company works with ranchers who have needs for custom mineral programs and nutritional problems related to performance or health issues. "My client service focus is on improving calf health, consulting on micro-mineral problems with mineral analysis and recommendations for improved reproduction and health and working toward increasing beef cattle performance, resulting in increased profits," he summarized.
The father of seven children, he also has nine grandchildren and maintains a wide variety of interests. His ranch is near the headwaters of the famed Shields River, one of Montana's blue ribbon trout streams, so it follows that he is an avid fly fisherman.
In addition to ranching and working the soil, he's a dedicated Master's hammer thrower, having competed in 30 US National Championships and 15 World Master's Championships on five continents, accumulating dozens of gold, silver and bronze medals along the way. He even hosted a national throwing competition at his remote ranch, financing the construction of necessary rings and venue out of his own pocket. The event drew almost 100 competitors from all over the US. A certified throwing official, he continues to work at various track and field meets.
Sager had been instrumental in the American Simmental Association's carcass merit and calving ease programs, helping to procure necessary drugs used for artificial insemination. He had a number of well-known Simmental breeders as clients, including former Trustees Jess Kilgore and Steve McDonnell.
"Most of the heifers that Miratorg imported were Angus from Australia, with a few shipments from the US," he said. "I attempted to convince my bosses at Miratorg that they should introduce Simmental genetics, but they did not show a lot of interest. Ironically, the most populous beef breed in the old Soviet Union bloc are Simmental/Fleckvieh."