Global - United KingdomMike Tucker founding Chair of Wagyu Breeders Association UK

The British Society held their second Elite Wagyu Sale at Hexham 27th August 2019 commencing at 3pm. On offer are 30 Wagyu Fullblood, Purebreed and F1 (first cross Wagyu-sired) Lots comprise bulls, females, cows with calf at foot, semen, embryos, crossbred heifers and steers. Open the sales catalogue here.

GIF file for Hirashiget WG045 promoting semen from Wagyu-Gentics on Wagyu International

After a career in banking and trading, David Wynne Finch was supplying imported Wagyu beef to discerning restaurants in the United Kingdom in 2003. A Wagyu burger cost £55 at Zuma in Berkshire, London. The insatiable demand led him to import embryos from USA to be raised for breeding on 800 acres of the Voelas estate on the Llyn Peninsula in north western Wales. Radio 1 was played to encourage them to rub their haunches on electric massagers and their diet included beer from a local brewery.

The herd was sold to Andrew Deacon in Suffolk. After his retirement, Andrew had visited the USA and raised Angus cross Herefords. He sought what he called the "ultimate" in beef and bought the small Wagyu herd that had been pioneered by Jonathan Denby from pure Wagyu embryos imported from Holland and has been expanding since. Andrew is running 150 head on pasture in Earl Stonham near Stowmarket and plans to expand to 500. Le Manor Aux Quat'Saisons was the first prestigious restaurant to serve his Wagyu.

Steve Ramshaw introduced Wagyu from Canada. Northumbrian Wagyu is in Newcastle Upon Tyne and they produce embryos and semen for sale in the UK as well as F1 beef for local customers. Sires that are presently being used are Itoshigenami, Michifuku and Haruki II.

Rob Cumine has been breeding Angus through Grass Cattle Ltd since 2005. A few years later he introduced Wagyu cattle on the lush grassland surrounding St Davids. He is focusing on fullblood breeding and only uses purebreds in the commercial herd. The first breeder in the UK to register Wagyu in a herdbook, Rob participates in Australia Wagyu Association BREEDPLAN. Pure Wagyu embryos are for sale and "Natural Wagyu" beef will be available online. Rob has recently taken up an appointment in Australia with the Wesfarmers retail chain Coles and is a director of the British Wagyu Breeders Association.

Blackford Farms is the home of "Highland Wagyu" which is owned by Martine Chapman and Mohsin Altajir, a husband and wife team, who moved from Dubai in 2011 to Scotland. Situated in the majestic heart of the Perthshire countryside in central Scotland, the estate spreads over 20,000 acres of rich fertile land with an abundance of water for breeding cattle. Wheat, barley and oats are grown. Martine runs the cattle enterprise across several breeds including Red and Black Angus, Highland, Shorthorn and Dexters.

Fullblood Wagyu heifers and two bulls were purchased with some embryos in 2011 from David Ismail. The embryos were implanted into pedigree Angus, Beef Shorthorn and Highland cows. A third Wagyu bull was bought plus some semen to broaden the genetic base and Highland Wagyu started to flush their own embryos. The entire Wagyu herd was purchased from David Ismail in 2013. David's herd had origins from embryos from David Blackmore and other Australian breeders..

This acquisition gave Martine slaughter-ready Wagyu overnight. Acquisitions have been brought in from the Netherlands. Highland Wagyu is the largest producer of Wagyu in the UK. Semen, embryos and live animals are on offer. Fukustsuru and Itoshigefuji blood shows through and Westholme blood from the Netherlands.Wagyu cross calf with recipient cows on Springwood Lodge

While commentating at the Beijing - Hong Kong Olympics in 2008 Mike Tucker first tasted Wagyu beef and realized that its unique and outstanding characteristics would be well received in Britain. Mike introduced Wagyu to the award winning dairy farm on Cotswold's lush green grass near Tetbury which has been in his family for over three generations. The "Newnton Herd at Church Farm" was established using pure genetics from Australia using Lake Wagyu black lines and Sumo reds from Gabni Wagyu. Pedigree links are maintained back to Japan by registering progeny with the Australia Wagyu Association. DNA parent verification to both parents ensures integrity of data. "We have stock on the ground and plan to have semen and embryos for sale later in the year. The bloodlines go back to some of the very best out of Japan."

Mike Tucker passed away suddenly on 28th March 2018 aged 73. As founding Chairman, Mike had been the driving force behind the WBA since its launch in November 2014.

F1 production is out of Angus and marbling is 4-5 and worth £2,500 to £3,000. The goal is to produce a 400+ kilogram carcass at no more than 30 months of age which marbles 6-7 and may come from fullbloods or purebreds.

"Despite the austure times, once people have tasted Wagyu they want to come back despite the added cost whether it be for a Wagyu burger or a prime steak". Mike considers that marbling is the most important factor in marketing now, and also being able to prove that it is genuine Wagyu.

Multiple award winning "Ifor's Welsh Wagyu" is local UK fare from Upper Bryntalch Farm, Abermule, Montgomery, Powys in Wales. The herd was established from "Westholme" genetics in 2006. Ifor raises his first and second cross Wagyu the traditional Japanese way on clover rich pastures before finishing on a grass or hay and blended grain ration. Waste beer from nearby Monty's Brewery is fed to the finishing animals plus the occasional massage. He believes this helps to reduce stress which produces tastier beef. Output is three carcasses a month with marbling estimated 3-5 mainly through online sales. "Ifor's Welsh Wagyu" is in high demand and a variety of rolls, roasts, steaks, diced beef, mince, meatballs are available. Roasts average per £15.00 per kilogram and rib eye, sirloin, minute flat iron, rump and fillet steaks range from £26 to £136 per kilogram in convenient packs.Wagyu heifers on Springwood Lodge

Christopher Leith of "Springwood Lodge" in Aberdeenshire, Scotland introduced Wagyu bloodlines independently to the UK. He had read about Wagyu cattle in the Farmers Weekly where it was reported that Australian dairy farmers were adding value to their calves by using a Wagyu bull. He was unable to source any genetics from Australia but imported fullblood embryos sired by Yojimbo from Bob Estrin on Lone Mountain Ranch. Initially he selected sires which had good size with marbling and embryos were implanted into Angus recipient heifers that had been destined by a neighbour for slaughter. One of the first bull calves was kept intact for breeding and has been used on unrelated pure Wagyu heifers and the Angus recipient cows. The costly establishment of a base of pure dams has been completed with 20 pure cows and 22 Angus cows calving next year. Imports of pure genetics are continuing for the breeding of stock bulls. Christopher registers fullblood Wagyu through the American Wagyu Association so is maintaining links back to Japan.  Semen from his first bull has been exported to Ireland and Switzerland. Other pure Wagyu breeders in the UK sourced genetics from Australia so there is some outcrossing with his American lines from local sales.

Christopher describes his finishing regime “The pure Wagyu steers are finished at 30 months old having been on a mainly maize based ‘starter diet’ from 8-14 months old and on a more barley based ‘finisher diet’ from 14-30 months old. Good hay is a very integral part of the early feeding though for the finishing animals the quality doesn’t need to be so high. The Angus cross steers and heifers are fed the same way but are slaughtered at about 24-25 months old as the maturity is not quite as important as it is for the pure animals”.

Pure Wagyu steers have been processed at 520 kilogram but they will be taken off earlier at 450 kilogram dead weight from now on and the crosses at around 350-375 kilogram. He hopes to average £10.00 per kilogram across the carcase.

Christopher continues “I sell rib eye and sirloin steak to the Marcliffe Hotel in Aberdeen with the rump and fillet from these animals going to colleagues and friends. The lesser cuts are made into burgers which are again sold to local hotels, colleagues and friends though I am currently developing a market with a major catering company for these. In addition to this I also have a market at the Gleneagles Hotel in Perthshire who take an entire animal from time to time”.

Embryos were imported from Sutton Creek Cattle Co, USA and Photo of Wagyu cow and calf on pasture at Cheshire Wagyuimplanted by Richard Bailey at Rushton Spencer. The first Fullblood calves were born in December 2008 and Shikoodoji was the first bull to be raised and is registered with the Australian Wagyu Association. "Cheshire Wagyu" provide semen and embryos for sale.

Joe McGinnis with "Glebe Wagyu" is on the Derry/Donegal in Northern Ireland. He started breeding Wagyu in 2011 with a fullblood Wagyu bull on Hereford and Angus cows. The herd of 80 head is mainly F1 Wagyu cross but next year F2 cross and more Fullblood are due.

Calves are weaned in autumn at around seven months with a creep feed with minerals, barley, corn, etc. which is offered from around 6 weeks. This is maintained through to the spring along with very good quality high dry matter silage and straw. A similar ration is given each winter until stores are coming up to 24 months of age where they will be finished on grass if possible to 30 months or carried over with a finishing ration the following year.

Ideal weather provides good quality grass and this is the base for low cost production. Current wholesale prices are in the range of £3.50-£4.00 per kilogram dressed weight. A premium of £10.00 per kilogram is expected to be realised from the infusion of Wagyu. Customers are lined up from the local restaurant trade from the first production due next year. “Our future plans include increasing the overall quality and consistency of the product while reducing the input costs through working with traditional breeds such as Dexter and Hereford - therefore lowering the levels of management required for the herd and hopefully increasing margin”.

Wagyu surrogates and crosses on Glebe Wagyu at Derry on Northern Ireland, UK

"Irish Kobe Wagyu" is in the Ring of Gullion in County Armagh in Northern Ireland. It is an area that is steeped in history with beautiful scenery and plenty of grass, water and air to produce healthy beef.

The process to raise Wagyu was started by Peter O'Hagan in 2005 and plans were set into motion after tasting sensational, authentic Kobe Beef in the port city in Japan the following year. Embryos were imported from New Zealand and the first fullblood Wagyu were born in 2007 and they were registered through the Australian Wagyu Association.

On the farm, cattle are raised and managed in a stress free natural environment. This includes leaving all calves with their mothers for as long as possible before weaning to guarantee the best start.

Irish Wagyu cattle are fed a diet of grass in the summer and fresh silage in the winter. This is supplemented when needed with meal that includes vitamins and minerals.

They lead a free range lifestyle and are only housed when absolutely necessary. This keeps them healthy and comfortable.

The cattle are allowed to grow slowly and naturally.  This, along with using pure Wagyu bulls, leads to beef that is tender and full of flavour.

The flavour and tenderness of the beef is ensured throughdry-ageing while hip hung for a minimum of 21 days. Wagyu on Glebe Wagyu at Derry in Northern IrelandCraft butchers check the beef each day after 21 days of dry aging to judge the perfect time to parcel the delicious cuts. They are then vacuum packed to capture the beef in this perfect state.

"To ensure all Irish Wagyu Beef is at its best, we blast freeze our parcels at just over 21 days of maturation. Since our beef has been dry aged, it contains much less water than beef that is wet aged in plastic".

"To further help, we freeze our beef using blast freezers. This method involves fast freezing, resulting in no loss in eating quality".

Semen, embryos, bulls and pregnant surrogate cows are on offer.

After two years spent establishing one of the biggest wagyu cross and Wagyu full blood herds in the UK, Yorkshire Wolds farmers Jim Bloom, High Warrendale Farm, and Jonathan Shepherd, Field House Farm, have launched The Yorkshire Wagyu Company to sell their premium beef direct to consumers, retailers and restaurateurs.Jonathan Shepherd and Jim Bloom are also founder members and directors of the Wagyu Breeders Association

The Wagyu Breeders Association is the UK based association that was established in July 2014. Mike Tucker was founder and the WBA Spring Conference was held at Jonathan Shepherd's farm at Field House Farm, Huggate Road, Tibthorpe, Driffield in York on 21-22 May, 2015. The Association provides registration and DNA testing and is proving a focal point for the industry and actively supports the Wolrd Wagyu Congress. The second Elite sale was held in August 2019.

Directors of WBA are Jim Bloom of High Warrendale Fram, Hugh Pocock of Corro Common Farm, and Steve Ramshaw of Monkridge Hill Farm.

Genetics

Wagyu breeding is progressing in the UK and imports are brought in from neighbouring EU or from Australia and USA.

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

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.

References

Luebbe 2014. Methane's Impact on Animal Performance - VFAs. University of Nebraska - Lincoln. March 2014.

Ogata et al., 2019. Effects of an increased concentrate diet on rumen pH and the bacterial community in Japanese Black beef cattle at different fattening stages. J. Vet. Med. Sci. 81(7): 968–974

Ogata et al., 2019. Long-term high-grain diet altered the ruminal pH, fermentation, and composition and functions of the rumen bacterial community, leading to enhanced lactic acid production in Japanese Black beef cattle during fattening. PLoS ONE 14(11): e0225448

Osawa et al., 2008. Image analysis of carcass cross-section in Japanese Black Genetic analysis of traits and meat-producing ability traits. Report posted in Japanese by Department of Bioproduction Science, Graduate School of Agricultural Sciences, Iwate University.