By HEATHER SMITH THOMAS
American consumers don’t know how good beef can taste — unless they’ve tried Japanese beef.
Western producers are discovering the advantages of adding Japanese bloodlines to their herds, to produce more flavorful beef.
There are two basic Japanese “breeds” in the U.S. today, according to Matt Cherni, a rancher at Ranchester, Wyo., who was the veterinarian for the Padlock Ranch near Sheridan, Wyo., for many years, and he has used both breeds.
“Some years back, a lady in Texas, Marie Wood, told me she had some really good beef that more people needed to learn about. At that point they were called Japanese Brown, to differentiate them from the Japanese black cattle. The word Wagyu simply means Japanese cow, and can refer to all of these breeds,” he says.
• More commercial cattle producers are adding Akaushi bloodlines to their herds.
• Japanese cattle can add quality and flavor to American beef.
• Crossing Akaushi with any breed improves traits, hardiness and longevity.
American producers now call the Japanese black cattle Wagyu, according to Cherni. The red ones, now called Akaushi (a Japanese word that simply means red cow) first came to the U.S. in 1994, when a professor at Washington State University imported eight cows and three bulls. He used them to create embryos, to transfer into recipient cows and increase their numbers quicker. Today, HeartBrand Beef at Harwood, Texas, owns many of these red cattle and sells or leases them to other breeders, and buys back the steer offspring for beef.
“I had seen the black Wagyu and thought they were ugly. Marie asked if I had ever tried the meat, which I had not. So her ranch foreman brought coolers of meat to Dayton, Wyo., where we had a barbecue in the park for interested ranchers. The meat was from the offspring of an Akaushi bull and a Devon cow, and it was phenomenal,” recalls Cherni.
Cherni then located some Wagyu bulls to mate with the three-breed cross heifers at the Padlock Ranch, to reduce calving problems. “The Wagyu are very easy calving because of their streamlined conformation. We started using them on Padlock Ranch heifers in 1994 and that ranch still uses them. We bought some Wagyu in 2003 for our little ranch here at Ranchester, but for our fall calving program these calves were too dainty. If the newborn calves got cold and wet, they didn’t do very well,” Cherni says.
The Akaushi are not as small at birth, so he started using Akaushi on his mature cows. “We went to Harwood, Texas, and got into HeartBrand’s program to use their cattle. We could keep all the females we produced, but HeartBrand wanted all the males. We sent them our crossbred Wagyu and Akaushi steers, and they graded 100% USDA Prime,” he says.
“I feel the Akaushi cattle have a huge potential that hasn’t been tapped to become crossbred mother cows. They solve the problems of the black Wagyu that doesn’t have much milk, and therefore has low weaning weights. We use the crossbred Akaushi heifers (produced by mating the reds with the blacks) and they are terrific!” says Cherni.
When crossed with other breeds, hybrid vigor significantly improves fertility, disease resistance and longevity. “Another advantage of the cross is improvement in temperament, when crossed with Angus. The Akaushi bulls are easy to work with, compared to Angus bulls,” Cherni says.
Scott Madison, a rancher near Bend, Ore., uses Akaushi bulls on Simmental cattle. “A big benefit is a good market for the calves. The HeartBrand people pay a premium for the calves, at more than market price. Using these bulls on Simmental cows, we get a smaller calf at birth, which helps with calving ease.”
The hybrid vigor is phenomenal. “When the Akaushi-cross calves hit the ground they are up and sucking before the cow can get them dried off. They can be born out in the pasture at 5 degrees and be mothered up, nursed and happy. With some of the full-blood Simmental, a big calf will just lie there and won’t get up soon enough to nurse before he gets too cold,” Madison says.
A growing number of producers in the Northwest are producing and using half-blood Akaushi cattle, and Idaho is No. 5 in the U.S. for commercial ranchers who have bought Akaushi bulls. Many come from the original HeartBrand Ranch in Texas, and are bred to Idaho and Oregon cattle.
Smith Thomas writes from Salmon, Idaho.
‘Overall beef quality in U.S. cattle is very low, according to the 2011 Beef Quality Audit,” says Matt Cherni, a Wyoming veterinarian and rancher.
“Very few carcasses grade Prime [less than 5%]. This is one thing that disappoints me in the Beef Quality Assurance program. The focus has been mainly on how we handle cattle and where we give injections, so we don’t end up with blemishes or needles in the meat,” Cherni says. “We’ve done all this, but have not done anything toward improving the actual meat quality!”
Eric Dorr, Kemin Animal Nutrition, worked with a group of feedlot cattle in Idaho and presented the results of his study at the annual Akaushi convention in November. His research for HeartBrand compared a group of Akaushi-sired calves raised in an Oregon-Idaho ranch environment with a group of their herdmates sired by traditional breed bulls.
“I was impressed with the Akaushi-cross calves’ notable increase in carcass quality. We had one load of Akaushi cross cattle that was 38% Prime. The genetics for marbling are certainly there, in the crossbred animal,” says Dorr.
This article published in the March, 2015 edition of WESTERN FARMER-STOCKMAN.
All rights reserved. Copyright Farm Progress Cos. 2015.
Beef Herd Management