What is WAGYU

What is WAGYU?

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.

WAGYU Breed History in SA

588 Fullblood Wagyu calves born in 2017 were registered in South Africa. This is an increase of 51% over the previous year’s calf crop during phenomenal growth in the Wagyu breed.

Brian Angus introduced the Wagyu breed to South Africa in 1999. Embryos from Takeda Farms in USA using TF Terutani and TF Itohana 2 were implanted by Woodview Wagyu at Arlington, Free State, in local surrogate cows to produce the foundation for the pure herd. Subsequently Brian imported embryos from Australia and bought donors there for flushing in Australia and exported from them. Many other breeders have entered the market so that now, only 18% of the registrations of Fullblood calves born in South Africa were from Woodview and another six breeders registered more than 20 calves each. The second highest number of registrations is from Ebuhlanti Wagyu Breeders. A chart below shows the registration numbers for the nine herds that registered 67% of last year’s calves.

Record prices were paid for Wagyu in 2018 in Australia and South Africa by South African buyers. Lake Wagyu from Australia has been breeding in South Africa and their genetics (including Chokyori 1713) will be available from the Platinum RSA Wagyu auction at Castle de Wildt, Limpopo on 15th February 2019.

Johan van Zyl of Willow Creek Wagyu has a passion for breeding superior cattle as he was involved in the breeding of Stud Bonsmara cattle for many years and decided to focus efforts to help establish the Wagyu Breed in the South Africa. Willow Creek Wagyu runs a Purebred and Fullblood breeding programme near Heilbron in the Freestate  using Simmental cows to carry imported Fullblood embryos and a Fullbood Bull  on Angus and F1 Crossbred Wagyu X Angus females to produce superior genetics and quality Wagyu meat.

Wagyu cross steaks on the menu in the Pool Room Restaurant on Oak Valley Estate at Elgin in the Western Cape have attracted diners from Cape Town. The estate was founded in 1898 by Sir Antonie Viljoen who had graduated in medicine at Edinburgh University. He was interned during the Boer War having signed up as a doctor with the Boer Army. Subsequently he was knighted for his reconciliation between the Boers and the English in South Africa after the war. A visionary, he introduced deciduous fruit orchards to the Elgin Valley. This led to the establishment of vineyards. 4,000 oak trees cover 30 hectares of the farm as his will stipulates that they may not be cut down. Pork produced on the property is enhanced by the feeding of acorns which improve texture and impart rich flavour.

Simmental cattle are reared on 800 hectares of open pasture. Wagyu embryos were imported from Australia in 2007 by Anthony Rawbone-Viljoen. They were implanted into Simmental cows to generate the Oak View Wagyu fullblood herd. Pure Wagyu will be available from 2016 but Wagyu cross beef is already on the menu. Wagyu have imparted a richer and deeper flavour to the Simmental beef.

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 TajimaFujiyoshi (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. For more information on the genetic diversity of the breed; click here

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.