Kazakhstan Prizes Its Cowboys, but Few Want to Saddle Up for Harsh Life



Her husband then found a job with a new private ranching company, which often delays salary payments and insists that its supplies of cattle fodder be used to feed only its own animals and not those owned by Mr. Kozhakov. He recently had to sell 200 of his sheep because he could not afford to feed them.

“These new people count every penny,” his wife complained, waxing nostalgic for Soviet days when, she said, nobody on the state farm paid much attention to who was doing what with whose money.

Alidin, the 9-year-old son of another cowboy, Nurzhan Mazhit, in a pastureland about 100 miles away, said he had no intention of following in his father’s footsteps and instead wanted to become like the wealthy rancher who visits the family periodically in an expensive car to check on his cows.

Mr. Mazhit’s wife, Rangul, said her five children, who live in a town near Almaty so they can go to school, cried whenever they came back to the steppe to visit their parents because life is so hard and they don’t like animals. None of them want to be a cowboy like their father.

“My sons see the owner of the cows drive up in his fancy Jeep, and they want to be him not their father,” Ms. Mazhit said. One wants to be a doctor, another a police officer.

Mr. Mazhit, who gets paid no salary and herds the owner’s cattle in return for being allowed to feed his own livestock for free, said he was glad his children’s horizons reach beyond life on the steppe. All the same, he hopes his own profession can live on.

“Cowboys won’t disappear,” he said, “because they are the identity of Kazakhstan.”

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