Wagyu is an anglicization of the Japanese word sounds “Wa” and “Gyu” which is, literally, “Japanese Beef [cattle]”. In Japan, there are four indigenous breeds of these cattle, whose origins are Chinese cattle brought in the 1600s for draft and fertilizer purposes (neither milk nor meat being consumed in China at that time). In the 1800s some Bos Taurus (European type) cattle were imported and crossed with the native Japanese stock to produce four breed types in Japan; now two of these breeds have had semen (and embryos) exported to western countries:
Black (Kuroge Washu) multiplying in the USA—solid black in color
More than 90% of Wagyus raised and fattened in Japan are from this breed.
Braunveih and Devon cattle were used to improve meat characteristics by the 1900s.
Brown (Akaushi or Red Wagyu) more recently entered the USA
Wagyus of this variety are approaching 10% of all cattle fattened in Japan.
A result of crossing Simmental with Korean Red (Hanwoo) cattle.
Shorthorn (Nihon Tankaku Washu) only exist in Japan
Raised mainly in the Tohoku region, a result of crossing Shorthorns with native Nambu cattle.
Polled (Mukaku Washu) also only exist in Japan
Result from crossing Japanese Black with Aberdeen Angus imported from Scotland.
What is the North American attraction for Black Wagyu cattle?
Fine strips of fat are found marbled in its lean meat. The fat flavor is exquisite (almost “buttery”) and the muscle is “cut with a fork” tender. The target age of slaughter is 28 to 30 months of age (fine-boned cattle with a gradual growth rate) at which time the marbling is optimized.
What is the North American attraction for Brown/Red Wagyu cattle?
Characterized by a lower fat content (around 12% or less) and as a “lean” meat it has a firm texture and a unique flavor. The veins of marbling are finer, just there to give it flavor during broiling or grilling, and the muscle is very fine textured; this conforms to current “health food” concepts for beef. Target age of slaughter is 25 months, again to optimize the level of marbling at desired market weight.
Do these cattle fit the existing commercial auction buyer?
No. Commercial auctions sell on pounds and grade (commodity beef).
Wagyu are specialty cattle—a premium option for the direct sale market.
If you are developing freezer beef sales, the moderate carcass size, a higher ratio of edible tissue vs total weight, the unique flavor and texture, all scream “sell me to a restaurant or to upscale freezer beef customers”.
There are feedlots developing the restaurant and specialty label markets who are contracting with producers for Wagyu feeder cattle, paying a desirable premium. The Wagyu characteristics do show up in a first cross, even from Holstein cows.
So what is “Kobe Beef” ??
“Kobe Beef” is Wagyu beef, from the Tajima strain of Japanese Black cattle, only raised in the Hyogo Prefecture under rules of their local “Kobe Beef Marketing” Association. The “Kobe” designation (like a patent or trademark) is based upon a regimen of feeding [rice beer, brewers grain] and massaging the cattle during the finishing period. This enhances its flavor and texture beyond the qualities of the basic Wagyu cattle genetic character.
This is a labor-intensive process and so authentic “Kobe” might cost $100/ pound equivalency in a Japanese steakhouse, if found here it was imported from Japan.
Wagyu semen available currently from Mich Livestock Service, Inc
151KB 1612 Brown Wagyu Lord of the Rings (List $24) Our Current price $20
through ST Genetics, comes in modern 1/4cc straws
Is also available in male sexed at a List price of $60.
54 KB 0029 Black Wagyu 24 Wagyu (List $20) Our Current price $18
Sourced through Cattle Visions, comes in standard 1/2cc straws
Having seen several Wagyu sires in semen collection centers, generally owned by breeders and on-site for custom collection for their own use, I would predict you will get an animal in size/scale similar to English heritage breeds and with visual muscling and condition similar to meatier Texas Longhorns. The calving ratings using these bulls on our range of dairy and beef cattle are generally “easy”.