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The special qualities and characteristics of Wagyu Cattle 和牛

Posted by Bradon and Rachael Wiens on

Wagyu cattle originate from Japan. In fact, the name Wagyu simply means Japanese beef. Now you may be thinking how can you have Wagyu in Kansas? Our operation actually has registered Black Wagyu cattle that can be traced back to Japan. The genetics of this breed of cattle are actually quite special.

How is Wagyu different than U.S. Beef?

The beef that most of us eat today in the U.S. comes mostly from European descent. Since its beginning in the U.S., it has evolved through selective breeding into a much different animal than what first stepped off the ships onto our shores many years ago. It is now a much better animal to supply beef to a growing population. It is hardier, and much more efficient at producing beef by growing quicker with less input cost. These are very good advancements both for the animal and for the people it feeds. Wagyu, on the other hand, has been selectively bred for different traits. In the mid 1900’s, Japanese breeders began selective breeding to increase marbling and tenderness. Where the U.S. had efficiency in mind, the Japanese cared more about the eating experience. Cattle in the U.S. can reach slaughter around 16 months, Wagyu reach slaughter 30 months or longer.  Because they live longer they eat more feed which is one reason Wagyu brings a higher price.

This marbling, or intramuscular fat, is what gives Wagyu its melt in your mouth texture and rich buttery taste. And it’s not just any fat, this is a soft fat with a lower melting point than other breeds, due in part to the mono-unsaturated to saturated fat ratio being higher in Wagyu, to go along with higher levels of omega 3 and 6. Which, yes, means that it is probably healthier fat than the regular saturated kind.

How does it get so marbled and tender?

Wagyu is known for its melt in your mouth texture and amazing flavor. While the genetics of this breed are very important, how this animal is raised and fed is just as important. At Wiens Wagyu we focus on the Nature (genetic makeup) and nurture (lifestyle) of our animals.

Nature

There is a very big diversity in Wagyu cattle when it comes to genetics. There are basically two types of Wagyu in the U.S., Red Wagyu (Akaushi) and Black Wagyu. The Akaushi were strongly influenced by Simmental and South Devon breeds and closely resemble modern American beef cattle. Black Wagyu are smaller and have less outside influence. Black Wagyu is typically higher marbling and this is where “Kobe” beef comes from. We follow the master breeder, Shogo Takeda, who began breeding Black Wagyu over 50 years ago and has developed a rotational breeding program based on the genetic makeup of bulls. In short he rotates a bull with good growth and maternal traits followed by a bull with good carcass traits.  We have selected our genetics so our customers can experience Wagyu like it would be in Japan.

Nurture 

You can have the best genetics that Wagyu has to offer, but if that animal is not cared for and fed right the end product will not be good. We work closely with Dr. Horner, a Wagyu nutritionist, who knows this breed very well and knows how they need cared for to produce world class beef. He formulates specific rations for every stage of our cattles life and instructs us how to care for them.

 

He believes these are the five critical components essential to giving Wagyu calves the chance to express their potential.

 

Colostrum

  • Rich in nutrients and antibodies, immune protection  

  • Must be ingested by calf first 12-24 hours  

  • Calf is inoculated with E. coli and other pathogens with onset of nursing  

  • Consider supplements for calves from first-calf heifers, which have lower-quality colostrum.  

  • Proper nutrition of the dam is critical including energy and protein, minerals (including potassium, selenium and zinc) and vitamins A and E  

  • Consider vaccinating dams with E. coli vaccine pre-calving  

  • Monitor colostrum quality with tools like a Colostrometer or Brix refractometer.

 

Calories  

  • Emphasize milk yield of dam through genetics and nutrition; cheapest source of nutrients  

  • High quality creep or starter feed as soon as possible to stimulate rumen development; do not use low-quality creep feed  

  • Creep feed is most critical in pasture systems with poor milking dams

  • Try to wean by 3-4 months and no later than 5 months  

  • Both creep feeding and early weaning = higher quality, heavier marbled carcasses  

  • Feed consumption is best criterion for weaning; probiotics help.  

  • Offer fresh, clean drinking water to calves  

  • Consider adding electrolytes to water in extreme conditions

 

Cleanliness

  • Clean, comfortable, dry conditions,  

  • Avoid calving in wet, muddy, or dirty areas  

  • Poor conditions at calving = sickness and death loss  

  • Proper sanitation of equipment, housing, hands, etc. Anything that touches the calf’s mouth.  

  • Fresh feed and water

 

Comfort

  • Shelter from extreme weather  

  • Pest control  

  • Accessible feed and water  

  • Most Japanese care for calves as family members  

  • Calves should always be restrained with minimal stress (chemical or mechanical)  

  • Employees should be trained on safe, low stress handling and provided the time and resources needed  

  • Stress impacts feed efficiency, growth, reproduction and carcass quality more than any other single factor

 

Consistency  

  • Probably the most challenging of the 5 C’s  

  • Consistency of newborn protocols and daily management is of utmost importance  

  • Observe and feed at the same time everyday  

  • Managed by same person every day  

  • Japanese operations are highly uniform and consistent

 

To read this full article about the 5Cs by Wes Ishmael titled "Gentle Pays" click here:  Full Article

Visit our Website at WiensWagyu.com

 


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