Wagyu around the World - South Africa

There are 110 members of the Wagyu Society of South Africa (WSA). President is Frans Stapelberg and Vice-President is Dr Neil van Zyl of Stellenbosch. Other Board Members are Stefan Terblanche, Gerhard van der Burgh, Georgina Jeurissen, Jacques le Roux and Richard Stevens.

Chief Executive Officer, Dr Michael Bradfield, is supported by six staff members. The Wagyu Certified Beef Program (CWB) aims to ensure the integrity of the South African Wagyu beef supply chain and to assure the end customer of product reliability and quality. The minumum marble score for CWB is 3, there is a maximum Bos indicus content and there are other definitions for certification.

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 impoorted 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.

Chart of Wagyu registrations by herd in South Africa of calves born in 2017

Photo of Wagyu and calf at Woodview Genetics Photo of Wagyu at Woodview Wagyu

Genetics

Several records have been broken at Australian auctions by breeders from South African so the South African herd has benefitted from top genetics in Australia.

Nutrition

The Wagyu breeds have unique qualities that are attributed to origins from the Fourth Eurochs and they were isolated for almost the first two thousand years after arriving in Japan. This has enabled Wagyu to have retained key differences from other breeds while they are classified to be on the extreme within the Bos taurus pool.

Most Wagyu producers that introduced Wagyu cattle onto their cattle properties around the world had prior experience with other beef breeds or in milk production. Outside Japan, nutrition recommendations for Wagyu generally follow common practices that are applied within each country and there is a strong bias towards the principles that have evolved for the dairy industry. Most of the advances that have been made with genetics in Japan - such as the single step genomic predicted breeding values - have been adopted by progressive bodies outside Japan (such as Australian Breedplan). However, the philosophy that applies to fattening Wagyu in Japan has been more elusive.

Establishment of Wagyu International principles for Wagyu nutrition

Steve Bennett graduated in agriculture in South Africa then was an academic, did research and farmed in Zimbabwe (formerly Rhodesia) so is experienced with beef crossbreding with locally adapted breeds. Subsequently he has specialized in Wagyu genetics and nutrition after moving to Australia.

Initially research data over 20 years from Japan was analysed and some preliminary principles were adopted by Wagyu International. Subsequently the translation of the Japanese Beef Feed Standard 2008 provided additional information.

The Japanese cattle industry requires a large component of feed that is imported and ongoing increases in production costs for beef have increased subsidies by prefecture for fattening (牛マルキン). In March 2015 the policy of Modernizing Dairy and Beef Cattle Production was announced by the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries. Changes are necessary to strengthen competitiveness of beef cattle production by shortening the fattening period. LIAJ estimated that shortening the fattening period by each 1 month will reduce expenses by about 5%. However, it has been acknowledged that shortening the fattening period will have an impact on carcass weight and meat quality.

Calves in Japan are typically sold to the fattening industry between 8 and 10 months of age depending on strain/prefecture.  Although there are differences of sex and strain of Black Wagyu, the weight for age at the calf markets is a useful indication of finishing potential. The traits related to yield tend to increase when there is a higher weight for age. The average is 1.0 kg per day of age from Hokkaido (Osawa et al. 2008). Individuals who exceeded this had invariably been overfed and meat quality was disadvantaged.

In order to minimise the impact on quality by the mandate to reduce age as implemented in 2015, research on feeding has taken on a different perspective. The numerous results have been reviewed by Wagyu International and any findings that have implications for either pasture or grain finishing of Wagyu in the global arena are applied. The effect of ADG and the time to reach the same end-point on marbling (IMF%) is illustrated below:

Chart showing marbling IMF% versus ADG and age of processing Wagyu

An increase in growth rate towards the left of the chart allows slaughter weight to be achieved at a younger age but this reduces IMF% in the lines that are darker in colour. The lighter coloured lines have higher marbling from lower growth rates.

The white line shows the conventional 2008 feed standard applied to Australian conditions. Of course, marbling to this extent is not rewarded by the prevailing price grid outside Japan except for isolated niche markets. Shifting to the left reduces cost but the economics in every enterprise will dictate which coloured line will bring in the highest return.

Fundamental principles of Wagyu International's "pre-2015 Japanese feeding model"

The primary energy sources for beef cattle are starch and cellulose. They are fermented by microorganisms in Pathways during carbohydrate fermentation in the rumenthe rumen to produce volatile fatty acids and gases. The major VFAs produced are acetate, propionate, and butyrate and the type of diet, microbial species present in the rumen, and ruminal pH are the major factors that influence the percentage of each VFA produced.

The loss of energy in heat and methane during the conversion of starch and cellulose to VFA makes the process of fermentation inefficient. When acetate is produced in the rumen there is a loss of one carbon as CO2 which can be used to form methane. Butyrate is produced when two acetate molecules are combined so even though butyrate does not produce CO2 which can be converted into methane directly, the CO2 is produced when the acetate molecules were formed. Propionate is the only VFA that does not release an extra carbon that can be used for generation of methane. Because of these differences in carbon, the energy values for the VFA are highest for propionate, intermediate for butyrate, and lowest for acetate. Therefore, increasing propionate within the rumen will decrease methane production and increase animal performance for beef production.

The Wagyu breed thrives on roughage and Japan was traditionally supplied at an age that exceeded 30 months. The balance of forages and grain that provided optimum performance and beef quality culminated in propionic acid fermentation during finishing. On the other hand, the dairy industry relies on butterfat production and this is favoured by acetic acid fermentation.

The acetate:propionate ratio is important but there is a negative trend between NDF and IMF%. Research data from fattening trials in Japan have been reviewed by Wagyu International is continually monitoring progress in Japan and applying it through collaborations with producers in the northern and southern hemispheres. As always, the economics and end-points are different in every enterprise. Determination of the desired eating quality and carcass size will enable Wagyu International to recommend the growth profile and feeding program that will be based on local resources and feed components.

Many producers are content to follow their neighbours. Those that want excellence contact Wagyu International.