Wagyu Breed Of Cattle – Biography Points

Wagyu beef

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Wagyu Breed Of Cattle

In the world of cooking, where people always aim for the best, there’s a special kind of cow that’s highly regarded – the Wagyu breed. Coming from Japan, Wagyu isn’t just regular beef; it’s a mix of tradition, careful breeding, and amazing taste. Let’s explore where Wagyu comes from, what makes it special, and why it’s loved worldwide.

Wagyu is a famous type of cow from Japan known for its very tender, tasty, and marbled meat. Its family history goes back thousands of years, changing over time through breeding with cows from England, Europe, and Korea. Wagyu is the breed responsible for Kobe beef, which is considered the most expensive beef globally. Kobe beef comes from Japan’s Hyōgo prefecture and is famous for its quality and rarity. To maintain Wagyu’s high standards, Japan, the United States, and Australia carefully regulate the industry. If it’s labeled as Japanese Wagyu or Kobe beef, it has to be from Japan.

Wagyu beef is highly prized worldwide because of its rich marbling, which makes it very tender and flavorful. Different regions in Japan have their own names for Wagyu beef, like Matsusaka beef, Kobe beef from Tajima cattle, Yonezawa beef, and Ōmi beef, showing its diverse origins. Recently, Wagyu beef has become fattier due to changes in how cows are raised, with less time spent grazing and more reliance on feed, leading to larger and fattier cows.

Scientific Classification

Phylum Chordata
Kingdom  Animalia
Class Mammalia
Order Artiodactyla
Breed Wagyu
Subspecies Bos taurus taurus
Genus Bos
Species Bos taurus

Types and Definations

In Japan, there are four recognized types of Wagyu: Kuroge (Black, from Miyazaki prefecture), Nihon Tankaku (Shorthorn, from Hokkaido, Iwate, Akita, and Aomori prefectures), Mukaku (Polled, from Yamaguchi prefecture), and Akage (Brown [or Red], from Kumamoto and Kōchi prefectures). Due to their geographical and regional isolation, these four types developed somewhat independently. Japanese Black is the most common, accounting for roughly 90 percent of Japanese Wagyu strains. The term Wagyu is more commonly used in North America and Australia, where the Wagyu industry relies mainly on crosses between Wagyu and Angus cattle.

Wagyu cattle, regardless of their type, are generally calm and docile, naturally horned, and either black or red. Bulls tend to be larger than cows, with males commonly reaching 940 kg (about 2,000 pounds). Cows stand roughly 1.2 meters (4 feet) tall, while bulls are about 15 cm (6 inches) taller.

The high price of Wagyu beef is attributed in part to the animals’ long, natural, slow growth and the high level of care they receive. They are fed two to three times a day, with meals consisting of various combinations of grain, hay, and wheat—ingredients that are high in energy and cost, often imported. In Japan, Wagyu cattle are typically raised on small farms and receive personalized attention to ensure a stress-free environment. Some farmers even massage their animals to promote relaxation, though its impact on meat quality is debatable. There are stories of farmers feeding beer to their cattle to stimulate appetite and increase marbling, but these are likely based on rare practices or misunderstandings. Genetic conditions and mutations make Wagyu susceptible to certain diseases, including bovine spongiform encephalopathy (mad cow disease).

The term “Wagyu” means “Japanese cattle” and doesn’t refer to a specific breed. Japanese native cattle were nearly extinct after the Meiji Restoration (1868) due to crossbreeding with European breeds, except for exceptions like the Mishima cattle. Today, Wagyu refers to four breeds called improved Wagyu (改良和牛, kairyō wagyū) established through crossbreeding with European breeds.

The rich marbling, a characteristic of Wagyu, is primarily associated with the Japanese Black breed, which accounts for 97% of all Wagyu raised in Japan. Since the outbreak of bovine spongiform encephalopathy in 2001, Japan has tightened the testing and registration of cattle. Only four breeds of kairyō washu and their crossbreds, as well as cattle born, raised, and duly registered in Japan, are allowed to be labeled as Wagyu for meat since 2007.

Western breeds like Holstein and Jersey are also raised in Japan for dairy purposes. However, when meat from these cattle is sold in Japan, it must be labeled as “domestic beef” (国産牛) rather than “Wagyu.”

Show In Table

Type Characteristics Names
Kuroge (Black) – Calm and docile
– Naturally horned
– Black in color
Miyazaki prefecture
Nihon Tankaku – Calm and docile
– Naturally horned
– Black or red in color
Hokkaido, Iwate, Akita, Aomori prefectures
Mukaku (Polled) – Calm and docile
– Naturally horned
– Black or red in color
Yamaguchi prefecture
Akage (Brown/Red) – Calm and docile
– Naturally horned
– Brown or red in color
Kumamoto and Kōchi prefectures

Origins of Cattle in Japan

In 1927, researchers stumbled upon ancient wild cattle fossils, known as Hanaizumi Moriushi, at the Hanaizumi Site in Ichinoseki City, Iwate Prefecture. These fossils, dating back about 20,000 years to the Paleolithic period, resembled bison and were believed to share lineage with the steppe bison. Additionally, Aurochs fossils were discovered in the same area. Due to the land connection between Hokkaido, Honshu, and Eurasia during the Ice Age, these animals likely migrated from the continent through Hokkaido.

Moreover, at the Ohama Site in Goto City, Nagasaki Prefecture, excavators found cattle teeth dating to the middle Yayoi period, along with processed cattle molars, challenging earlier beliefs. Despite controversy, radiocarbon dating placed these molars around 40 AD, contradicting previous records claiming the absence of cattle in Japan.

However, skepticism persists within the Japanese archaeological community regarding cattle presence during the Yayoi period. Some argue they were introduced from the Korean peninsula during the Kofun period. Evidence from sites like Nango-Ōhigashi and Funamiya Kofun Tumulus suggests cow presence in Japan as early as the 5th century. Recent genetic studies distinguish Wagyu and Korean cattle, indicating differing genetic lineages.

While both Wagyu and Korean cattle belong to the northern lineage, they exhibit distinct mitochondrial DNA sequences. Haplogroup T4 predominates in Wagyu, whereas T3 is prevalent in Korean cattle. This genetic difference suggests that Wagyu’s main ancestor is not Korean cattle.

Additionally, haplogroup P, detected in Japanese Shorthorn, suggests diverse genetic origins. This haplogroup, rare compared to T4, is linked to Nanbu cattle from northeastern Japan, indicating multiple ancestors for Wagyu. Despite finding Hanaizumi Moriushi and Aurochs fossils in Iwate Prefecture, their connection to Nanbu cattle remains uncertain. Thus, the ancestry of Wagyu appears multifaceted, with no singular origin.

History

Before the Meiji Restoration in Japan in 1868, cattle were primarily used as working animals due to their strong muscles, endurance, and power. Consumption of beef, along with meat from other four-legged animals, was rare and often prohibited. However, after 1872, when the emperor began to eat beef, it became more accepted, and people started to include it, along with other Western foods, in their diets. This shift led to an influx of imported cattle for crossbreeding, such as the Devon, Holstein, and Angus breeds. By 1910, the quality of meat had decreased, prompting Japan to halt the import and export of cattle to focus on improving local breeds through selection and intra-breeding.

Wagyu
Wagyu

In 1944, Japan introduced three registered improved strains of Wagyu cattle, with a fourth added in 1957. The first four Japanese Wagyu bulls were brought to the United States in the mid-1970s. When Japan relaxed beef import regulations in 1991, there were approximately 60 Wagyu-Angus crosses in the U.S. During this time, Wagyu embryos and genetic material were also exported from the U.S. to Australia, sparking the Wagyu industry there.

However, it wasn’t until 1993 that the next shipment of Wagyu cattle arrived in the U.S., and in 1997, the first live animals reached Australia from Japan. By this time, Japan had ceased to allow Wagyu exports. Around 180 cattle had been exported to the U.S. by then. In the early 21st century, there are about 40,000 American Wagyu cattle, while Australia boasts the largest population outside Japan, with roughly 300,000 animals. In both countries, cattle must be a certain percentage Wagyu (usually around 50 percent) to be labeled as such. A purebred Wagyu must be 15/16 Wagyu, and a 100 percent Wagyu animal is considered full-blooded. Shorthorn or Polled Wagyu cattle are not bred outside Japan.

The Exquisite World of Wagyu Beef

Wagyu cattle in Japan are usually processed around 30 months old, weighing about 910 kg (around 2,000 pounds). Among the various strains, Japanese Black is the largest at that age, while Mukaku is the smallest. In Australia and the U.S., these cattle might be processed sooner, but typically, it’s still at least twice the usual time spent in a feedlot for other beef breeds.

The exceptional marbling of Kobe beef, imported from Japanese Wagyu cattle, is noteworthy. Through selective breeding, Wagyu animals have been developed with high intramuscular fat stores, often exceeding 30 percent in Japanese Black Wagyu. This marbling, characterized by white streaks of fat within the meat, defines Wagyu beef. Moreover, Wagyu beef contains significantly more monounsaturated fat, up to 300 percent compared to other breeds, giving it a melt-in-your-mouth texture. It’s also rich in conjugated linoleic acid, similar to levels found in salmon or avocados. Generally, Wagyu meat consistently receives high scores on grading charts, though standards differ between countries.

Wagyu beef varies widely in price depending on the cut, ranging from $15 per pound for ground beef to $300 per pound for prime rib in the U.S. Similar pricing exists in Australia and Japan, with top-grade (A5) Wagyu fetching over 4,000 yen ($28) per ounce in Japan. Kobe beef, of the highest grade, may even cost twice as much, emphasizing its status as a luxury gourmet item. However, with its expansion to over 30 countries, concerns have arisen regarding the accurate labeling, distribution, and potential misrepresentation of Wagyu beef in restaurants and markets.

The Marbling Marvel

The pièce de résistance of Wagyu beef lies in its mesmerizing marbling – an intricate network of intramuscular fat that renders the meat unparalleled in both flavor and texture. This marbling, reminiscent of delicate snowflakes weaving through ruby-red flesh, imbues Wagyu beef with its signature buttery texture and melt-in-your-mouth succulence. The result is an indulgent gastronomic experience that transcends the ordinary, leaving a lasting impression on even the most discerning of palates.

Beef Grades

Yield Grade Meat Quality Grade
5 4 3 2 1
A A5 A4 A3 A2 A1
B B5 B4 B3 B2 B1
C C5 C4 C3 C2 C1

Number of stud bulls owned in Hyōgo Prefecture

The number of stud bulls owned in Hyōgo Prefecture by breed is detailed in a historical survey. Here are some of the key statistics from 1914, highlighting the variety of breeds and the distribution between publicly and privately owned bulls:

  • Ayrshire Breed: 52 total (30 publicly owned, 22 privately owned)
  • Brown Swiss Breed: 5 publicly owned
  • Holstein Breed: 18 total (all publicly owned)
  • Improved Japanese Breed: 73 total (13 publicly owned, 57 privately owned, 3 others)
  • Japanese Breed: 87 total (71 publicly owned, 16 privately owned)
  • Crossbreeds: Various numbers, with notable counts in Ayrshire and Holstein crossbreeds

Summary

Wagyu cattle, originating from Japan, are renowned for their exceptional marbling, tenderness, and rich flavor. The breed’s name, Wagyu, translates to “Japanese cow,” reflecting its deep connection to Japanese heritage and tradition. The meticulous breeding practices, often tracing lineage back generations, ensure the preservation of these desirable traits. Wagyu beef is particularly famous for its high marbling, which results in a buttery texture and succulent taste, making it a prized delicacy worldwide.

The breed is responsible for producing the coveted Kobe beef, which hails from Hyōgo Prefecture and is considered one of the most expensive and high-quality meats globally. Strict regulations govern the Wagyu industry to maintain its prestigious status, ensuring that only beef originating from Japan can be labeled as authentic Wagyu or Kobe beef.

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