Wagyu around the World - USA

History of Wagyu exports from Japan

The Wagyu population outside Japan is derived from fewer than 200 exports to USA that arrived between 1993 and 1997 after the first arrivals in 1976.

Four bulls were sent from Japan by Morris Whitney in 1976. Colorado University took semen collections then they were bought by Wagyu Breeders Inc. There were no Wagyu females in America so the original two Wagyu Black (Mazda from Tottori and Mt Fuji from Hyogo) and two Wagyu Red bulls (Rueshaw and Judo from Kumamoto) were joined to Angus, Holstein, Hereford and Brangus cows in Texas. By 1991 the highest percentage Wagyu bull in the USA was 63/64 and it was estimated that there were less than 300 Photo of Michifuku foundation bullWagyu crossbred females of breeding age that were 3/4 Wagyu or higher. In about 1991 the narrow genetic base was widened when semen from the fifth bull Itotani was brought to Canada by Lakeside Industries at Brooks. In the fourth generation, the American Purebred (15/16) is obtained and contains 93.75% Waggyu genetics.

The Mannett Group (later to become World Ks) imported four Black Wagyu females (Suzutani and Rikitani - both Tajima - and Okutani - 75% Tajima and 25% Shimane) and two bulls (Michifuku and Haruki) were flown in July 1993. The first Fullbloods to be born outside Japan were the second generation embryos sired by Haruki II. Rikihari in Canada was the first on 19th June 1994 from Rikitani, then Genjiro from Okutani on 23rd June, with Okuharu following on the next day. The first Fullblood calf to be born in USA was Fujiko with her brother Beijirou from Okutani, also on 24th June 1994. Later in the year the first live exports were transported from USA to Wally Rae in Australia.

The Mannett Group imported four black females (Okahana, Nakayuki, Kanetani and Nakagishi 5) and two black males (Kenhanafuji and Takazakura) in August 1994. Calves born after arrival were Tanitsuru, Nakazakura, Kitaguni Jr and Reiko.

In this consignment were Red Wagyu imported by Dr Al and Marie Wood from selections made by Mr Yikio Kurosawatsu and Dr King in Kumamoto Prefecture. Nine red females (Namiko, Ume, Namoi, Akiko, Haruko, Fuyuko, Dai 3 Namiaki, Dai 9 Koubai 73 and Dai 8 Marunami) and three red bulls (Shigemaru, Tamamaru and Hikari) are regiostered in the AWA but reports state that only seven heifers were imported of which three were pregnant on arrival in USA. Calves born to AI (from Japanese sires Namimaru and Dai 10 Mitsumaru) were Big Al, Kaedemaru, Momigimaru, Ringo, 504 and 505. After the 180 days incubation that was required for quarantine, Namoi, Dai 3 Namiaki, Kaedemaru and Momigimaru went to Ontario in Canada. The remainder of the Red Wagyu/Akaushi herd in USA was sold to Englewood Farm in Texas. Subsequently most were transferred to Heart Brand.

Japanese Venture Partners imported three black bulls (Kikuyasu, Fukutsuru, Yasutanisakura), ten black females (Chisahime 662, Chiyofuku 992, Fukutomi 990, Kikuhana 298, Shigehime 208, Tokuhime 486, Yasufuji 1/4, Yoshifuku 2 and Yuriko 1), and two red heifers (Kunisakae and 27 Homare). The red heifers were in calf and subsequently sold to Bruce Hemmingsen in Texas.

Mr Shogo Takeda exported 35 black females, many in calf, and five black bulls (Itomichi 1/2, Kikuhana, Itohana 2, Kinto and Terutani) in 1994. There are numerous females that have been registered with births during this period.

Mannett imported 7 black females (Taguchi 9, Nakahana 5, Mitsutaka, Okuito 9, Hanateru 9, Rabito and Hisako) with one black bull (Yasufuku Jr) in October 1998. Calves were Taguchifuku, Kotomichan and Kousyun.

Chris Walker of Westholme imported 25 black females and three black males - Hirashigetayasu "001" (Kedaka), Itomoritaka TF Itohana 1/2 Wagyu foundation bull"002" (Fujiyoshi) and Kitateruyasu Doi "003" (Tajima) to USA from ET Japan Company in Hokkaidoo in 1997. The following year another 59 females arrived together with semen from three black bulls (Shigefuku, Dai 6 Seizan and Kitatsurukiku Doi). 63 of the heifers in the two consignments were pregnant when they left Japan. The bulls had semen drawn and were slaughtered after the outbreak of BSE in Japan but the females were exported to Australia. This consignment was diverse with 44 Shimane and 28 Kedaka with 12 Tajima so injected milk and size with marbling. Dams which bred in Australia include: Hatsuko, Itoreiko, Kazuaki, Kitahikari 97/1, Kitakazu, Kitaokumi, Kitasakaedoi, Kitasekitori, Kitatizuru 2, Kunikiku 96, Masako, Masatoshi 2, Sakaehikari, Sekinakada 22, Sekiyuhou, Takakuni, Takashigedoi, Yamafuji, Yamaketakafuji 3 and Yuriyuhoi.

Takeda imported 6 black bulls (Kikutsuru Doi, Itoshigefuji, Itoshigenami, Mitsuhikokura, Kikuterushige, Itozuru Doi).

A Mishima bull (Kamui) - a native cattle breed from Mishima Island - was in this consignment. The indigenous cattle population on Mishima Island had been eliminated by Rinderpest disease in 1672. A few Japanese Black were transported over from mainland Japan to re-establish the herd, which has been in-bred for more than 25 generations. This genetic pool represents the traditional draught cattle of the 1700s so is distinct from Japanese Wagyu breeds of today. Mishima has high marbling but is smaller than Wagyu. Accordingly, "Kamui" (whose semen was imported by Takeda) was registered as a "base" animal (B115 with date of birth 28th August, 1991). Kamui progeny out of registered Fullblood dams are registered as Wagyu percentage (50% Wagyu) by the American Wagyu Association.

The Takeda herd in USA was subsequently sold to Mr Gary Yamamoto in Canada.

Mannett/World K's exported sixteen Wagyu bulls and three Wagyu heifers from USA to their Australian operation in October 2002.

In summary, the names of bulls, heifers, semen and calves that were imported or born from Japanese parents are tabled:

Table of Black Wagyu foundation bulls, heifers, and semen that were exported as registered Japanese Black from Japan or were born shortly after arrival in USA from artifical insemination

The Wagyu herd in USA.

There are 40,000 Wagyu (including crosses) on feed presently in USA. Another 150,000 head are marketed from South America so they all are absorbed into the market. The Wagyu industry is enjoying strong growth of 20% presently in USA. The upgraded Purebred Wagyu constitutes the bulk of the herd whilst the numbers of 100% fullblood Wagyu are also increasing.

The proportion of grades within each year's registrations shows trends over time. The predominance of the crossbred (yellow) progeny as the basis for the American purebreds (red) during the breeding up of Wagyu in USA is illustrated. Purebred Wagyu do not require DNA parent verification since 2000. The calf crop of 1998 was the first year in which fullblood (blue) registrations exceeded purebreds, then it slipped to 30% in 2005 but has been climbing again since then. Purebreds have generally accounted for one quarter of all registrations throughout (from American Wagyu Association website):

Chart of registrations in USA of Wagyu by grade Fullblood, Purebred and crosses from 1990 to 2010 by year of birth

Black Wagyu registrations ranged from 94 to 96% of full registrations by the American Wagyu Association annually over the past ten years and they are descendants of Japanese Black.

Chart of number of regsitered Wagyu progeny from Foundation sires in USA until August 2020

Several Mishima descendants from crossing with Wagyu are registered in the Recorded and Percentage sections of the herdbook.

Red Wagyu / Akaushi

The red coloured Wagyu are called Japanese Brown or Akaushi in Japan. Japanese Brown is the name used by the Japanese in scientific literature. The two Japanese Brown bulls that were imported to USA in 1976, two heifers brought in by Japanese Venture Partners, and the batch of 10 males and females that arrived in 1994 are the sum total of Japanese Brown live exports that left Japan. The American Wagyu Association called the Japanese Brown breed Red Wagyu in their herdbook. Some reds went to Canada after a quarantine period.

The first Red Wagyu were registered under the name Englewood in USA. After breeding up from the original two bulls in 1976, the first purebreds were registered with the 1992 calf crop. From the 1995 crop the Red Wagyu purebreds were registered under the Heart Brand name. In 1994 the twelve live Japanese Brown imports arrived from Japan and they formed the base of the fullbloods. It is claimed that another two females were exported from Japan but they were not part of the JVP or Englewood consignments. Shipping documents have been offered but they have not been sighted yet.

When the American Akaushi Association was subsequently formed, their animals were called Akaushi. Same animals, different names.

This table shows the foundation Red Wagyu/Akaushi that were imported from Japan, or calves that were born from artificial insemination:

Table of Black Wagyu foundation bulls, heifers, and semen that were exported as registered Japanese Brown also called Akaushi from Japan or were born shortly after arrival in USA from artifical insemination

 

Grading of beef in USA

90% of Wagyu slaughtered in USA is classed Prime, which is the highest and marbling is described as 'Slightly abundant to Abundant' and has a minimum intramuscular fat content of 8 - 11%. Choice has 'Small to Moderate' marbling while Select has 'Slight' marbling. USA Marbling chips 1988 are displayed.

USA marbling chips 1988

In Australia, the highest marble score from AUS-MEAT is 9 and this is awarded for a minimum intramuscular fat content of 21% but a sample that were digital imaged gave an average of 39% with the highest just below 50% that were graded AUS-MEAT marble score 9, or MSA marble score 1190. 30% of Wagyu Fullblood grade 9 so many of them are likely to exceed it. Superior marbling is graded 9+ even though there is no standard for it, but it is awarded to those that are considered to be superior to those that grade 9.

Both USA and Australia Wagyu producers have the same constraint that their grading system does not cater for the entire Wagyu population at slaughter.

In Japan, the lowest BMS marble score that is mesasured is 3. Anything lighter is 2, and an abscence is graded 1. BMS 3 requiresa minimum intramuscular fat % of 21%. The highest score of 12 requires a minimum intramuscualr fat content of 57% but some attain 68% from digital imaging.

The chart below shows the minimum intramuscualr fat percentage content in these markets for each marbling grade.

Chart of Marbling (IMF) % by BMS in Japan, by Marble Score in AUS-MEAT in Australia and in Prime, Choice and Select from USDA in USA on Wagyu International

According to a March 2020 post from HeartBrand Beef, only 4% of U.S. cattle meet Prime grading (so have a minimum of 8-11% intramuscluar fat - this is equivalent to AUS-MEAT 5 which is the average for Wagyu F1 production in Australia but isn't on the Japan BMS score). The majority grade at USDA Choice 55% (AUS-MEAT 2 to 3) and 41% grade USDA Select or No Roll (AUS-MEAT 1 to 2). This gap in the market is an ideal opportunity for the American Wagyu industry and also for exports from the Australian Wagyu and Beef Industry.

Nutrition

The Wagyu breeds of cattle have unique qualities that are attributed to origins from the Fourth Eurochs and they were isolated for almost the first two thousand years after arriving in Japan. This has enabled Wagyu to have retained key differences from other breeds while they are classified to be on the extreme within the Bos taurus pool.

Most Wagyu producers that introduced Wagyu cattle onto their cattle properties around the world had prior experience with beef production. Outside Japan, nutrition recommendations for Wagyu generally follow common practices that are applied within each country and there is a strong bias towards the principles that have evolved for the dairy industry. Most of the advances that have been made with genetics in Japan - such as the single step genomic predicted breeding values - have been adopted by progressive bodies outside Japan (such as Australian Breedplan). However, the philosophy that applies to fattening Wagyu in Japan has been more elusive to understand.

Establishment of Wagyu International principles for Wagyu nutrition

Initially research data over 20 years from Japan was analysed and some preliminary principles were adopted by Wagyu International. Subsequently the translation of the Japanese Beef Feed Standard 2008 provided additional information. Net Energy was incorporated into the tables that I generated from the Japanese requirements for Wagyu breeds.

The Japanese cattle industry requires a large component of feed that is imported and ongoing increases in production costs for beef have increased subsidies by prefecture for fattening (牛マルキン). In March 2015 the policy of Modernizing Dairy and Beef Cattle Production was announced by the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries. Changes are necessary to strengthen competitiveness of beef cattle production by shortening the fattening period. LIAJ estimated that shortening the fattening period by each 1 month will reduce expenses by about 5%. I read in one survey that the average age of processing in 2015 had decreased to 28.5 months. However, it has been acknowledged that shortening the fattening period will have an impact on carcass weight and meat quality.

Historically there are abundant data from calves in Japan when they are sold to the fattening industry between 8 and 10 months of age depending on strain/prefecture.  The use of digital imaging enabled additional carcass traits to be measured. Although there are differences of sex and strain of Black Wagyu, the weight for age at the calf markets is a useful indication of upbringing. The traits related to yield tend to increase when there is a higher weight for age. The average is 1.0 kg per day of age or approximately 0.9kg/days ADG from Hokkaido (Osawa et al. 2008). Individuals who exceeded this had invariably been overfed and meat quality was disadvantaged.

In order to minimise the impact on quality by the mandate to reduce age as implemented in 2015, research on feeding has been carried out extensively throughout Japan. The numerous results have been reviewed by Wagyu International. To illustrate the effect of ADG and the time to reach the same end-point,  different growth rates are charted through to reach processing weight by predicted marbling (IMF%):

Chart showing marbling IMF% versus ADG and age of processing Wagyu

An increase in growth rate towards the left of the chart reaches slaughter weight at a younger age but this reduces IMF% concurrently towards the left in the different coloured lines. The darker shaded lines have lower IMF% and the lighter lines have higher marbling.

The white line shows the conventional 2008 feed standard applied to Australian conditions. Of course, marbling to this extent is not rewarded by the prevailing price grid outside Japan except for isolated niche markets. Shifting to the left reduces cost but the economics in every enterprise will dictate which coloured line will bring in the highest return.

Fundamental principles of Wagyu International's "pre-2015 Japanese feeding model"

The primary energy sources for beef cattle are starch and cellulose. They are fermented by microorganisms in Pathways during carbohydrate fermentation in the rumenthe rumen to produce volatile fatty acids and gases. The major VFAs produced are acetate, propionate, and butyrate and the type of diet, microbial species present in the rumen, and ruminal pH are the major factors that influence the percentage of each VFA produced.

The loss of energy in heat and methane during the conversion of starch and cellulose to VFA makes the process of fermentation inefficient. When acetate is produced in the rumen there is a loss of one carbon as CO2which can be used to form methane. Butyrate is produced when two acetate molecules are combined so even though butyrate does not produce CO2 which can be converted into methane directly, the CO2 is produced when the acetate molecules were formed. Propionate is the only VFA that does not release an extra carbon that can be used for generation of methane. Because of these differences in carbon, the energy values for the VFA are approximately 109% for propionate, 78% for butyrate, and 62% for acetate. Therefore, increasing propionate within the rumen will decrease methane production and increase animal performance for beef production.

The Wagyu breed thrives on roughage and Japan was traditionally supplied at an age that exceeded 30 months. The balance of forages and grain that provided optimum performance and beef quality culminated in propionic acid fermentation during finishing. On the other hand, the dairy industry relies on butterfat production and this is favoured by acetic acid fermentation.

Ogata et al., 2019 monitored VFA composition in Black Wagyu in Japan that had been raised on a long term high-grain diet. From the data, Wagyu International prepared this chart to illustrate the extent to which the Wagyu breed adapts to the propionic acid type of fermentation:

Chart with volatile fatty acid content from Wagyu in Japan at different stages of fattening presented by Wagyu International

The acetate:propionate ratio during the growth/Early fattening stage is 3. The proportion of propionate increases during the next two stages and the ratio moves towards 2. The losses during fermentation over the peak fattening period from the release of methane is reduced so this makes it the most efficient use of resources.
The pH levels in the Early and Middle stages in this trial were similar to those that were reported during a feeding trial with Holstein dairy steers in Japan. Ogata suggested that a lowering of pH and total volatile fatty acid production occurred during the ‘Late’ fattening stage with Black Wagyu. However, the ruminal bacterial community adapted by preserving their diversity or altering their richness, composition and function. The author observed “the cattle showed no clinical sign of abnormal body condition, such as high body temperature, acute feed intake, dehydration, and diarrhoea, throughout the study period, and the body weight ... showed a gradual but significant increase across the three fattening stages. Dietary intake amounts were highest during the Middle stage and lowest during the Late stage as an adaptation to long-term high-grain diet feeding or response to significantly lowered ruminal pH during the latter fattening stage. However, growth performance during the Late stage was not impaired, and changes in the 24-h mean ruminal pH were not consistent with dietary intake or rates of DM and TDN (energy).”
This is the first study that demonstrated the relationship between the long-term high-grain diet feeding with bacterial diversity and richness, and suggests that long-term high-grain diet consumption results in the preservation of bacterial diversity to protect against an imbalance of the entire rumen bacterial community in Japanese Black Wagyu cattle.

In the same year, Ogata and co-workers published a paper after the proportion of concentrates had been increased above conventional fattening of Wagyu in the Middle and Late stages. The acetate: propionate ratio of the VFA decreased from 2.37 in the Late stage with conventional feeding to 1.47 with additional concentrate but these effects were not statistically significant. There were contrasting results with the pH levels but those differences were not significant. Clinical symptoms such as anorexia, fever, and diarrhoea were not observed in any periods of both groups. The authors concluded that the rumen of the Japanese Black beef cattle adapted to long-term feeding of a high-concentrate diet.

Steve Bennett points out he does not advocate feeding Black Wagyu to the extremes tested above but he has shared these results to show the adaptation that has been demonstrated by Black Wagyu to these conditions. Research data from fattening trials in Japan have been reviewed by Wagyu International from the last ten years. Other treatment effects were being evaluated but the association between NDF and IMF% across various treatments is illustrated:

Trends in association between NDF and IMF% in Japanese Black from averages from independent treatments

A negative trend between NDF and IMF% is indicated and is quite flat here but the association was stronger for  polynomial regression (R2 = 0.4336 for the Middle fattening stage, not shown). However Wagyu International cautions that this response was obtained while the principles of conventional Japanese fattening were applied so caution is required if excess fat or energy and energy is provided commercially.  Optimum results are only achieved from a balanced approach commencing from conception. Accordingly Wagyu International recommendations for backgrounding through to finishing have been balanced through each stage within maximum and minimum growth rates, protein, energy, NDF, ADF and starch whilst satisfying the major micro-nutrient requirements. The standards that apply are referred to as its “pre-2015 Japanese standard”.

As always, the economics and end points are different in every enterprise so must be considered.

 

References

American Akaushi Association
American Wagyu Association
Canadian Wagyu Association
Darley Stud website
Lone Mountain Ranch website
Texas Wagyu Association
U.S. Meat Export Federation
Wagyu Sekai