The Wagyu is a Japanese cattle breed that were developed from what were originally draught cattle. The original animals were introduced to Japan between 500BC and 300AD, as domesticated cattle from North-East Asia. Buddhist leaders prohibited eating meat from four legged animals; and it was only from around 1867 that cattle began to be used for meat production in Japan. There has been a great deal of cattle breeding since then, resulting in modern Wagyu cattle becoming by far the dominant breed in Japan. The term “Wagyu” literally means “Japanese Cattle”. There are different types of Wagyu cattle, typically with a parentage that includes the original Japanese cattle (introduced from North-East Asia), together with breeds from mostly Europe and England.
Used both for meat production and in breeding programs. Wagyu is prized for the quality of meat with a high level of marbling and tenderness. These qualities have been constantly improved through breeding programs, particularly in the latter part of the 20th century. Wagyu is farmed on a significant scale in Japan, Australia and the USA. The quality of meat is however not only a result of breeding, but also how the cattle are treated. The best quality Wagyu beef in Japan will command a very high market price; but those cattle are given extreme care. They are fed high fibre food such as hay, wheat, bran, corn and soybean and priority is given to maintaining a stress free environment. As a result, marbling of meat is optimised.
In Japan, the value of beef is judged according to marbling, quality of fat, firmness, texture; colour, lustre and brightness of meat. For a breed to be officially “certified” as a type of Wagyu, it will usually need to produce meat that meets designated standards with respect to these criteria. Kobe beef for instance must achieve a quality score of 4 or better on a scale of 1 to 5 where 5 is the highest quality. A range of other such criteria must also be met for it to be designated Kobe beef.
They a very fertile and give birth easily partially because of lower birth weights (usually 30 to 40kg). Females can become fertile at one year old. Coat colour can be black or red. Horns are lighter in colour at the base becoming darker toward the tips, and will curve forward slightly. They are renowned for their gentle, docile temperament.
They have an exceptionally good conversion of feed to meat, and will commonly improve meat quality and other characteristics when crossed with other breeds.
Varieties of Wagyu that are most prized for beef production are Japanese Black Wagyu (Kryoshi) and Japanese Red Wagyu (Akaushi). Other highly prized Wagyu types include Kobe, Matsusaka and Yonezama. In America, Wagyu are often cross bred with Angus or Hereford cattle, to make them suitable for farming in larger herds, with less attention. The quality of beef produced retains many of the Wagyu qualities (but not all), the advantage is that a lot more can be produced at a lower cost.
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