The word Wagyu refers to all Japanese beef cattle (’Wa’ means Japanese and ‘gyu’ means cattle). This is the breed that produces Kobe beef, named for the city where the cattle first bred 170 years ago. Wagyu were derived from native Asian cattle which were crossed with British and other European breeds.
Native Japanese cattle have been bred for over a thousand years. Initially, cattle in Japan were bred for two purposes, to feed the military, and for use as draft animals. Different strains of animals developed in the different, relatively geographically isolated prefectures of Japan, each with special characteristics. These characteristics today have resulted in a unique animal and translate into distinct commercial advantage in the beef industry.
British and European genetics were introduced to Japan during a short period of British occupation in the late nineteenth century resulting in increased animal size. No further crossbreeding has since taken place for almost 100 years resulting in selection of animals for specific traits determined by the geographic region. Extensive line breeding has been used to achieve these traits.
The most significant characteristic that has developed over this time is the Wagyu’s ability to distribute fat (Oleic Acid) uniformly throughout the muscle (Marbling). Oleic Acid provides the animal with sustained energy release for the draft work for which it was bred. By good fortune, the same oleic acid tastes superior to the fats (cholesterol, palmetic acid) found in British European and Asian breeds.
Wagyu is a horned breed and can be either black or red. Black animals are perceived to have the best quality carcass. Calves are vigorous and average 35 pounds when born. Wagyu are renowned for their marbling, calving ease, early puberty and good fertility, docile temperament, and are hardy and adaptive to different environments.
Wagyu cattle have superior beef conversion and the ability to marble on both grain and pasture feeding. When crossed with other breeds Wagyu increases marbling, improves the quality grade and adds more consistency to carcass quality.
Wagyu cattle have low birth weights for easy calving and high growth rates for maximum returns. They mature at moderate size whereas often, large cattle are late maturing and produce poorly with respect to frame to muscle ratio.
Wagyu cattle are very fertile and most females cycle before twelve months of age. Bulls can reliably service 50% more females than most other breeds.Lower Cholesterol
Wagyu carcases have a much lower ratio of saturated to unsaturated fatty acids. The predominant fats in Wagyu beef are oleic and linoleic acids which are unsaturated facts. There is thus less cholesterol and palmetic acid which are the predominant high cholesterol fats found in British and European cattle meat.
Wagyu cattle are unusually healthy cattle and readily adapt to a wide range of climatic conditions.
Lower birth weights allow greatest calving ease. 30-40 kg are a representative range of weights for Wagyu calves.
Wagyu cattle are able to marble without developing excessive amounts of surface subcutaneous fat which stays with the meat from cooking to plate. Wagyu cross beef with moderate marbling (marble score 3) has a fat content of 8%. As the meat is cooked the fat content melts, resulting in a final product with around 6% fat content. Any product with a fat content of less than 10% will be endorsed by the Australian Heart Foundation.
Wagyu are amongst the most gentle of breeds. They are curious and friendly.