Authentic Wagyu beef is among the most sought-after and luxurious meats in the world. What makes it so special is its copious marbling, which creates a luxurious, buttery tenderness unlike any steak from cattle raised in America. The highly revered beef comes exclusively from Japan and is sourced from four main cattle breeds - Kuroge (Black), Aakage (Brown), Nihon Tankaku (Shorthorn) and Mukaku (Polled).
The only way to consistently produce this exceptional quality meat is to practice the highest, most meticulous forms of cattle raising. Over a period of decades, expert Japanese farmers have honed their cultivation techniques to ensure that their cows develop evenly marbled fat deposits and do not build tense, tough meat. Luckily for the cattle, this often means a bit of extra pampering and very little exerted effort.
The Sourcing and Feeding Process
Wagyu cows are raised by specialty breeders until they are between seven and 10 months old, when they are sold to a farmer along with a birth certificate certifying their pure bloodline. These animals cost farmers as much as $30,000 each, which is as much as 10 times more than the typical American Angus! In other words, Wagyu are veritable cash cows! Proper care and a good diet ensure that each investment turns a profit in a few years.
After auction, the cows are taken to feeding farms where they're given names and allowed to roam and graze in a stress-free environment. Wagyu farmers take great pride in providing a humane life for their cows, and they are given plenty of room in their pens and outside on the pasture to graze. They often share a pen with only four or five other cows, whereas mass operations tend to keep dozens of cows in a single pen.
During this period, the cows mature for two or three years or until they reach about 1,500 pounds or gain around 50% fat. The way Wagyu are fed and cared for is important to ensuring that they reach this milestone. Wagyu are never given growth promotants, steroids, hormones or drugs to help them gain weight faster. The process is natural, which means it takes more time than it does in the typical methods used in the U.S.
Most Wagyu farmers provide their cows with three meals a day made up of high-energy ingredients, including hay, grain and wheat. Often, this feed is imported from other countries, which contributes to the high cost of Wagyu cultivation. They are generally weighed once a month and are expected to gain around 2.5 pounds per day.
Stress-Free Grazing Environments
Contrary to popular belief, Wagyu cattle are not routinely massaged or serenaded with classical music (at least not daily). However, farmers do take great care to ensure that their muscles do not become tense. This generally means simply avoiding rigorous activity and stress, but it may also involve using a stiff brush to increase blood circulation and work out tension. It's important for Wagyu to remain in a stress-free environment because stress increases adrenaline and contributes to tensed muscles and tough meat.
A Worthwhile Endeavor
Though it's much more expensive and time-consuming than other methods, the way these cattle are raised is crucial to the production of the beautifully fatty, deliciously tender Wagyu beef that made them famous.