All a practitioner should know about the Wagyu cattle

Wagyu

Wagyu cattle are a cattle breed of Japanese origin, famous for their highly marbled meat and unparalleled flavor, “Wagyu” literally means Japanese cattle (“wa” means Japanese and “gyu” means “cattle”). Originating from Japan, these cattle have a rich and intriguing history that spans centuries. In this article, we will explore the origins and history of Wagyu cattle, their unique genetics, the growth of breeding in Japan and its worldwide expansion, as well as the animal welfare, meat quality, specialized diet that contribute to their distinguished reputation, among other points.

Origin and History

Initially, this breed was used for agricultural work, such as transporting heavy loads and plowing fields. Its meat was consumed only by the working class as a source of protein. As Japan's economy grew, becoming a richer country, the demand for high quality meat began. This is how Wagyu beef began to be highly sought after, recognized for its unique flavor and texture and its marbling.

Wagyu cattle were raised in isolated regions of Japan, which contributed to the purity of their genetic lineage. Thus, the careful selection of animals, focusing on meat marbling and desirable characteristics, was passed down from generation to generation.

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Genetics

One of the most distinctive characteristics of Wagyu cattle is their unique genetics, which contribute to the exceptional quality of their meat. The breeders of this bovine breed have dedicated themselves to preserving and improving these characteristics over time. The gene responsible for meat marbling, known as the intramuscular fat deposition gene, is particularly dominant in the Wagyu breed, which results in even distribution of fat throughout the muscle, giving the meat a tender, juicy texture. More specifically, Wagyu cattle have a mutation in the gene that controls myostatin, which is a protein that inhibits muscle growth. The mutation causes a reduction in the production of myostatin, meaning that muscle growth is not inhibited, resulting in an increase in muscle growth and meat marbling.

Wagyu 1

Growth of Wagyu Farming in Japan and its Worldwide Expansion

Wagyu farming has traditionally been a family activity, with breeding techniques passed down from generation to generation. However, with increasing demand for high quality beef across the world, Wagyu farming has expanded significantly in recent decades.

The Japanese government has implemented policies to protect and promote the Wagyu breed, encouraging the preservation of its genetic lineage and ensuring high quality standards. Furthermore, the export of Wagyu and derived products has grown, with producers establishing themselves in several countries such as the USA, Brazil, Australia and some European countries. It should be remembered that breeders outside of Japan comply with the regulated standards for breeding this breed.

Animal Welfare and Meat Quality

Concern for animal welfare is fundamental when raising Wagyu cattle. Producers provide ideal conditions, including a balanced diet, adequate space for movement, and regular veterinary care.

If animals are raised in conditions that encourage natural behaviors and allow them to express their natural instincts, they are generally healthier and less stressed cattle, which translates into better meat quality. Wagyu cattle are raised in small herds, which allows more attention and care from the producer and has plenty of space to roam and graze. Due to such conditions, the quality of Wagyu beef is very high, making it a luxury product.

Specialized diet

Diet plays a crucial role in the quality of Wagyu beef. Producers who breed this breed pay great attention to their diet. The diet includes a combination of forage, grains such as corn and barley, and dietary supplements. Some breeders even offer beer to their animals, believing that this contributes to the flavor and tenderness of the meat. Forage that includes grass, hay, straw and other vegetation is an essential part of the Wagyu diet, providing a source of fiber and essential nutrients. It should be noted that farmers often graze livestock in open pastures, rotating them across different areas to avoid overgrazing and promote healthy soil. In addition to forage, the diet is also supplemented with cereal-based foods, especially during the final phase of production. This type of diet stimulates the development of intra-muscular fat, responsible for the marbling and unique flavor of Wagyu beef.

Wagyu

Other characteristics

In addition to what was mentioned in this article, there are still some characteristics of Wagyu cattle that should be considered.

Wagyu cattle are best suited to low temperatures and excessive heat can cause stress, dehydration and death. Hence, producers must provide shade and water during warmer weather and heaters and dry bedding during cold months.

Wagyu are sociable animals that interact and stay in the company of their herd. It should be noted that separating the herd causes severe stress, leading to health problems and reduced meat quality. Therefore, producers use a variety of techniques to reduce stress: providing calm music to the animals, using natural lighting and minimizing noise or severe movements.

Conclusion

Wagyu cattle are more than just a cattle breed; It is a centuries-old tradition that encapsulates the dedication of Japanese breeders to producing meat of exceptional quality. Its rich history, unique genetics and incomparable quality make the Wagyu breed one of the most valued breeds on the market. As demand for high-quality beef continues to grow, Wagyu cattle will continue to play an important role in the global livestock industry, captivating palates and inspiring admirers everywhere.

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References

Fueling The World’s Most Expensive Beef: A Look At Wagyu Cattle Nutrition. (2023). https://wagyuevolution.com/fueling-the-worlds-most-expensive-beef-a-look-at-wagyu-cattle-nutrition/ 

Gotoh, T., Nishimura, T., Kuchida, K., & Mannen, H. (2018). The Japanese Wagyu beef industry: current situation and future prospects — A review. Asian-Australasian Journal of Animal Sciences, 31(7), 933–950. https://doi.org/10.5713/ajas.18.0333 

Inagaki, S., Amano, Y., & Kumazawa, K. (2017). Identification and Characterization of Volatile Components Causing the Characteristic Flavor of Wagyu Beef. https://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/acs.jafc.7b02843 

Morales, J. (2024, March 12). What is Wagyu beef? Origin story, how it’s graded, and more. https://www.themanual.com/food-and-drink/what-is-wagyu-beef/ 

Murray, A. (2023, November 6). 12 Facts You Should Know About Wagyu Beef Read. https://www.tastingtable.com/1437722/facts-know-wagyu-beef/ 

Raising Wagyu Beef Cattle. (n.d.). Garden Farm Drive. Retrieved April 4, 2024, from https://www.gardenfarmthrive.com/blog/wagyu-beef 

The Complete Wagyu cow guide: interesting facts about Wagyu cattle. (2021, June 24). https://osmeatshop.com/blogs/blog-posts/the-complete-wagyu-cow-guide 

The world of Wagyu beef. (n.d.). The Wagyu Shop. Retrieved April 4, 2024, from https://wagyushop.com/pages/the-world-of-wagyu 

What is Wagyu beef? (2019, December 22). Steak Boyz. https://www.steakboyz.com/wagyu/wagyu

Ana Vanessa Dias Sousa (Researcher FeedInov CoLAB)

About the author

With a degree in Veterinary Sciences from the University of Trás-os-Montes and Alto Douro, she worked for five years as a field veterinarian and in a pig and cattle feed factory. She worked in the pharmaceutical industry as a sales manager and technical support for pigs, cattle, rabbits and poultry in mainland Portugal and the Azores. She is currently at Feedinov Colab as a Researcher in the One Health Department.

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