history of wagyu

Wagyu (pronounced wa-gyoo) is a Japanese word translated as ‘Japanese cattle’.

Wagyu is widely considered as the best quality beef on the market.

The Legendary Japanese Beef

Japanese cattle were first bred as working animals for almost 2000 years and evolved to be renowned as the best tasting beef we know and love today. The marbling of Wagyu developed as a result of their labour by storing energy as the fine intra-muscular fat. This legendary beef with its fine and perfect marbling is known for its exceptional flavour, juiciness and tenderness.

Japan has roughly 1.6million full blood wagyu cattle, which includes four main lines: Japanese Black, Japanese Brown, Japanese Shorthorn, and Japanese Polled.

The three lines of Japanese Black are Tajima-originating from the Hyogo prefecture. These black cattle were used to pull carts and ploughs so they developed larger forequarters and lighter hindquarters.  They are generally smaller-framed with slower growth rates but produce excellent meat quality with large eye muscle and superior marbling.  Kedaka or Tottori – These were pack animals in the grain industry so they are larger animals with straight, strong backlines and generally good growth rates but sometimes variable meat quality.  Fujiyoshi or Shimane – These are medium framed cattle with average growth rate and good quality meat and are well suited to cross with Angus.

There are five types of Wagyu grading:

  1. Wagyu Crossbred (F1) – 50% or higher genetic content, i.e. first-generation upgrading using purebred or full-blood sire
  2. Wagyu Crossbred (F2) – 75% or higher genetic content, i.e. at least two generations upgrading
  3. Wagyu Crossbred (F3) – 87% or higher genetic content, i.e. at least three generations upgrading
  4. Wagyu Purebred (F4) – 93% or higher genetic content, i.e. at least four generations upgrading
  5. Wagyu Full-blood (100%) – no crossbreeding

The global population of Wagyu is estimated at 2.5million. South Africa’s Wagyu population is estimated at 6000 cattle. Australia has around 400 000 and America roughly 85 000. In total South Africa’s Wagyu represents less than 0.2% of the global Wagyu population.

Read more about the history and types of Wagyu here.