BISMARCK, N.D. — On Oct. 12, dozens of cattle bred to withstand North Dakota's harsh winters took off on a jumbo jet to Kazakhstan to help rebuild the former Soviet republic's beef industry, according to The Associated Press.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, most of Kazakhstan's cattle were sold or slaughtered and its herd has been reduced from about 35 million in the early 1990s to about 2 million today, said David Yerubayev, chairman of the government-supported KazBeef Ltd. Now an oil-rich nation, Kazakhstan is spending billions of dollars to rebuild its agriculture industry, including its beef production, Yerubayev said.

A $50 million deal between Bismarck-based Global Beef Consultants LLC and the Kazakh government calls for 2,040 Angus and Hereford cattle to be shipped on 12 flights to central Asia by Dec. 15, Global Beef chairman Mike Seifert said.

Approximately 170 pregnant cows and heifers weighing more than 80 tons were loaded in metal crates at the Fargo airport Oct. 12 and shipped by air freighter to Astana, the capital of Kazakhstan. A veterinarian and two North Dakota cowboys accompanied the cattle on the 22-hour flight operated by UPS Inc. It marked the first time UPS had flown a herd of bovines in the belly of one of its Boeing 747 freighters, UPS officials said. The beef cattle were flown because it was quicker and less stressful for them and because Kazakhstan is landlocked.

Animals being flown from North Dakota will go to two 2,500-animal breeding facilities and a feedlot, Yerubayev said. Eventually, the country, the ninth-largest in the world, could buy as many as 50,000 cows from North Dakota, he said.

North Dakota cows typically have thicker coats and more marbling and fatty tissue "because of the environment in which they're raised," Agriculture Commissioner said Doug Goehring. Cattle for the Kazakhstan project would come from ranches throughout central and western North Dakota, said Bill Price, president of Global Beef Consultants.