History of the Wagyu breed
WAGYU - a Japanese beef cattle breed – derive from native Asian cattle. 'WAGYU' refers to all Japanese beef cattle, where 'Wa' means Japanese and 'gyu' means cow.
Wagyu were originally draft animals used in agriculture, and were selected for their physical endurance. This selection favored animals with more intra-muscular fat cells – ‘marbling’ – which provided a readily available energy source. Wagyu is a horned breed and the cattle are either black or red in color.The black coloured Wagyu are the most abundant worldwide.
WAGYU Breed History in Japan
There is some evidence of genetic separation into the Wagyu genetic strain as much as 35000 years ago. Modern Wagyu cattle are the result of crossing of the native cattle in Japan with imported breeds. Crossing began in 1868 after the Meiji restoration in that year. The government wanted to introduce Western food habits and culture. Brown Swiss, Devon, Shorthorn, Simmental, Ayrshire, and Korean cattle were imported during this period. The infusions of these British, European and Asian breeds were closed to outside genetic infusions in 1910.
The variation of conformation within the Wagyu breed is greater than the variation across British and European breeds. The three major black strains - Tajiri or Tajima, Fujiyoshi (Shimane) and Kedaka (Tottori) evolved due to regional geographic isolation in Japan. These breeding differences have produced a Japanese national herd that comprises 90% black cattle with the remainder being of the red strains Kochi and Kumamoto.
In Japan there are four breeds that are considered Wagyu and those are the Japanese Black (the predominant Wagyu exported to the U.S), Japanese Brown (In the U.S. referred to as Red Wagyu), Japanese Polled and Japanese Shorthorn. There are no Japanese Polled or Shorthorns being bred outside Japan. Wagyu strains were isolated according to prefecture (state) and breeds imported for crossing were not the same in each prefecture.
The production of Wagyu beef in Japan is highly regulated and progeny testing is mandatory. Only the very best proven genetics are kept for breeding. Realizing the value of their unique product, the Japanese Government banned the export of Wagyu and declared them a national living treasure.Zenwa is the Gov't held entity in Japan that oversees the WAGYU registry for Japanese Black, Brown, Polled and Shorthorn.
Major WAGYU bloodlines
There are three major black bloodlines:
Tajiri or Tajima — originating from the Hyogo prefecture, these black cattle were originally used to pull carts and ploughs so the developed larger forequarters and lighter hindquarters. They are generally smaller framed with slower growth rates, but produce excellent meat quality with large eye muscle and superior marbling. They are thought to be ideal for the production of F1 cattle for slaughter.
The Tajima bloodlines are generally regarded as producing the best quality meat in all of Japan.
Fujiyoshi or Shimane — from the Okayama prefecture are medium framed cattle with average growth rates and good meat quality.
Tottori or Kedaka — from the Tottori prefecture were originally pack animals in the grain industry, so they are larger animals with straight, strong back lines and generally good growth rates. However, their meat quality is variable. Best strain for milking ability. A combination of all 3 lines are often used for Fullblood meat production.
The red lines (Akaushi), Kochi and Kumamoto, have been strongly influenced by Korean and European breeds, particularly Simmental.
Fullblood , Purebred and Crossbred animals
Crossbred Wagyu - the result of crossbreeding a Fullblood Wagyu with the Dam of another breed or a Crossbred F1 / F2 Wagyu Dam
Purebred wagyu – the result of crossbreeding a Fullblood Wagyu with a Crossbred Wagyu F3 Dam
Fullblood Wagyu – the offspring of a Wagyu Fullblood sire and Wagyu Fullblood dam whose forbears originate from Japan and whose pedigree shows no evidence of crossbreeding at all
WAGYU Breed History in USA and Australia
Two black and two red bulls were exported from Japan to the United States in 1975 . In 1989 the Japanese began to reduce their tariffs on imported beef and that encouraged U.S. producers to produce a high quality product for Japan. In the 1990’s there were several importations of quality Wagyu. Most were black, but a few were Red Wagyu. These cattle have the greatest influence on the U.S. herd and those in many other countries.
1996 saw Westholme Wagyu in conjunction with ET Japan Company Ltd. export three Black Fullblood Wagyu bulls, semen from three other Black Fullblood Wagyu sires, and 84 pregnant Black Fullblood Wagyu females from Japan to the USA. Over the next few years thousands of embryos were produced at Iowa and Texas facilities and shipped to Australia for implantation at the Westholme farm at Tarana NSW while the three sires similarly produced thousands of semen straws at the Hawkeye facility in Iowa.
Australia received its first Wagyu genetics, a Wagyu female, in 1990. Frozen semen and embryos have been available since 1991 and there have been further imports of live Purebreds.
The most significant importation of live cattle took place in 1997 when the first live Fullbloods came into Australia.
In 1999 Westholme flew approximately 40 females to Australia. Some of these were from the original Japan born and registered females and some were Fullblood calves born in the USA to many of the imported 84 females. Nine bulls were also shipped to Australia.
In 2005/06 all the Wagyu females and sires in Canada and USA belonging to Westholme were slaughtered and sold as meat. No females or embryos from the Westolme herd were sold into the USA for breeding purposes. Only semen and embryos remained and these were ultimately shipped to Australia, with some semen being sold into the US market. Hence Australia has a range of unique Wagyu Fullblood genetics found nowhere else outside Japan.
The introduction of Wagyu cattle to Australia has been a costly, long-term project as there has been no protocol with Japan for direct imports. Initially, the Australian herd was greatly influenced by a shipment of five Fullblood animals exported from Japan to the United States of America (USA) in 1993. These included the two bulls; Michifuku and Haruki II, and the three cows; Suzutani, Rikitani and Okutani.
These cattle were followed by three further shipments of live cattle. In 1995, there was a major shipment from the famed Takeda farm stud of Mr Shogo Takeda. The Takeda shipment comprised 37 cows and five bulls. Four of those bulls qualified for semen shipment to Australia.
Wagyu Breed History in South Africa
The Wagyu Breed was introduced into South Africa late in the 1990’s through embryos and AI of imported semen from the USA , since then a lot of embryos and semen was also imported from Australia - Currently there are a dedicated group of Breeders working hard to promote the Breed in the RSA using the best genetics from around the world.