FAQ- Wagyu

Frequently Asked Questions

Below are a series of questions that are frequently asked, for the commercial cattlemen please understand that Wagyu are made how they are made. They are a very unique high performance breed, all attempts to westernize them have been tried. At a certain point we must acknowledge the Japanese know how to make this breed marble and if the American breeder can’t accept that then we risk losing what makes them special from constant meddling. Just have faith and keep your eye on the prize.

What is the difference between Kobe and Wagyu?

Kobe is a brand of beef that’s raised only in the Hyogo Prefecture and can only be from the Tajima lines of the Japanese Black Wagyu. All Kobe is Wagyu from the Japanese Black but not all Wagyu are Kobe. Kobe is the most well known of the Wagyu brands but each Prefecture has its own brands, some farms and co-ops have their own brands as well. Miyazaki is another well known brand, Miyazaki beef has beaten Kobe in the last 3 Wagyu Olympics which is held every 5 years. The last winner was in 2017 and it was Kagoshima beef.

Are “Purebreds” and “Full Bloods” the same thing?

No they are not, “Purebred “ in most other breeds means 100% Full Blood but with the American Wagyu Association it is as low as 93% to 99% but can never be 100%. It can be confusing since we have the term Purebred and Full Blood which usually mean the same thing. When purchasing genetics make sure to look at the registration number. A Full Blood will start with FB followed by its registration number, a Purebred will start with PB followed by the registration number and below Purebred we also have Percentage which will start with a PC followed by registration number.

Can I buy 100% Full Blood Wagyu genetics in the US?

Yes you can, we only raise 100% Full Blood Wagyu that DNA trace all the way back to Japan. Just be aware when purchasing genetics Purebred is NOT 100%. It must say FB followed by its registration number for Full Blood on the pedigree to be 100% Full Blood. Also be cautious of the color, if it does not say 100% Black or 100% Red on the pedigree then it is a cross of the two and biologically not Full Blood according to the Japanese. Some older registration papers may use the word “composite” in place of coat color percentage. The term composite (cross) which more accurately describe them was removed and replaced with a color percentage.

Are Black Wagyu and Red Wagyu the same breed?

No, they are not biologically related at all and are only considered the same breed outside of Japan. The disservice that’s being done when the breed organization will not acknowledge this is changing the genetics of two separate breeds for all future generations. When those cattle were brought over I think some things were lost in translation. For years Wagyu was described as the breed when in fact Wagyu is breeds of cattle not one breed. The Red Wagyu also known as the Japanese Brown, Kumamoto and Akaushi are one breed and the Japanese Black is the other breed that was exported. A couple Mishima cattle were exported which are black in color but not a Japanese Black Wagyu. Any combination of these is a cross breed of Wagyu although the Association does not acknowledge them as crosses. The reason for that is simply put that too many breeders have crossed the breeds and it’s too late to change it now, which is really a shame.

Do the Japanese cross breed the Black Wagyu and Red Wagyu?

No they do not, they do however cross the Japanese Black with Holsteins for meat production. Holsteins have very good marbling ability and are the best cross for meat production short of full blood production.

What does F1 mean?

Traditionally F1 means that animal is a cross between a 100% Full Blood Wagyu and another breed of cattle which will give it 50% Wagyu blood. (But be careful, the American Wagyu Association allows any animal bred by a “Purebred” bull which is as low as 93% Wagyu to be labeled as Wagyu even though it’s offsprings Wagyu blood can be 46%.)

What does F2 mean?

F2 has 75% or higher Wagyu blood. This can be achieved by using a 100% Full Blood bull bred to an F1 cow.

What does F3 mean?

F3 has 87% or higher Wagyu blood. This can be achieved by using a 100% Full Blood bull bred to an F2 cow. These are also know as Percentage Wagyu.

Are all Wagyu horned?

Yes, all 100% full blood Red and Black Wagyu are horned. Dehorning is easily done when they are young by using hot irons, gouger style loppers, electric irons or surgically. Horns can be an inconvenience for some but removal is necessary, easy and cheap. When going from commercial cattle to Wagyu you must keep your eye on the prize which is extreme marbling.

Do polled Wagyu exist?

Yes and no, polled Wagyu are another breed of Wagyu in Japan, that breed was never exported. In 1916 Aberdeen Angus were crossed to the Japanese Black cattle to create the Japanese Polled. In 1975 the Japanese crossed the Japanese Polled back to the Japanese Black to improve marbling that was lost because of the earlier crossing. In 1986 the Japanese stopped reporting carcass data on the Japanese Polled and it is now considered an at risk breed with less than 200 head because they are not being used and consists of less than 1% (trace) of Japanese breeds. An interesting fact is Angus was only crossed to make the Polled in one Prefecture, the Yamaguchi Prefecture. All other crosses to the Japanese Blacks were mainly Short Horn, Devon, Brown Swiss and Ayrshire but no Angus. Currently American and Australian breeders are trying to make polled Wagyu by crossing Angus just like the Japanese did. Those cattle are Percentage or Purebred, not Full Blood. For us the trade off of having to dehorn our cattle is worth the extreme marbling we get from the full bloods. 

What kind of climate can I raise Wagyu in?

Wagyu can be raised in any climate, in Japan the island has tropical areas in the south and farther north it has lots of snow. Wagyu can be found from South American to Canada and everywhere in between. We have calved in as cold as -10 degrees Fahrenheit.

What are average birth weights of Wagyu calves?

The birth weights we have recorded range from 40 pounds being the smallest to 70 pounds being the heaviest we will normally see. Even the 70 pound calves are calving ease since Wagyu are narrow bodied and finer boned than other breeds at that weight. The average birth weight we see is 60 pounds. Don’t let the small size fool you, these calves are very hardy.

What are the growth rates of Wagyu like?

Wagyu are a very slow growing breed, it’s how they are made. It’s another thing the commercial cattleman must accept much like the breed being horned. Remember keep your eye on the prize.

When can I breed a Wagyu heifer?

We will not breed our heifers until at least 18 months of age. Although you must be careful, some breeders have found out on accident that Wagyu heifers are fertile very young and will get bred at 6 months of age.

If I buy an embryo and have a bull calf should I keep it a bull?

I would say no, this breed has too many bulls and not enough steers. The sooner you get a steer on feed and finished the sooner you jump ahead of the majority of Wagyu breeders with no carcasses of their own to show.

How long does it take to finish a steer?

It takes 30 months to properly finish a steer. We strive for at least 400 days on full feed.

What are average daily gains of Wagyu steers on feed?

Average daily gains are between 2 pounds to 2.25 pounds per day. Marbling takes time and can not be rushed, if you try to rush them it will show in the final product.

What are average finish weights?

The average finish weights we are seeing at 30 months and full feed are between 1600 and 1800 pounds. Although our largest to date was harvested at 34 months and 1980 pounds. While touring a feed lot in Japan we seen many finished steers in the 1800 pound range.

How much do full blood steers on feed consume per day on average?

Our steers are consuming on average 22 pounds of grain every day when they are on full feed.

Are Wagyu steers easy to feed out?

Yes, our full blood steers are fed using a free choice creep feeder, every time we run the numbers the full blood consistently consume 22 pounds per day on their own, eliminating the need for bunk feeders and feed truck. F1s will not feed out as easily as full bloods because they will consume far too much free choice. They will need to be fed out of feed bunks and fed twice a day.

What do you feed your steers?

We use a feed ration that’s developed for the Japanese. All the feed in Japan is imported from the US. We have everything available to us the Japanese do but at drastically reduced costs. Anyone who purchases genetics from us will be given full access to our feed ration and method.

How do I market full blood steers?

The full blood steer market takes some ground work and requires creating contacts, it’s not easy and you can’t sell them in the local sale barn without a huge loss. If you can, your best option is to market whole steers to higher end restaurants and chefs with the ability to change the menu at will for weekly specials as they make their way through the different cuts. Most restaurants will try to only buy primal cuts but breeders need to be training these chefs to buy more cuts because everything on a Wagyu steer is exceptional. You can also sell your beef by the piece online as we do. Selling online does take more time and labor but you will get the most profit that way. Farm to market (restaurant or online retail) is the most profitable.

How do I market F1 steers?

There are more ways to market F1 steers but in our opinion only one way to do it to make money, farm to market. You can sell the steers through the sale barn but you will get docked although not as much as running full bloods through the sale barn. We do have customers who use Wagyu bulls exclusively for calving ease on their heifers, they run the F1s through the sale barn and consider the live calf and unassisted birth their premium. We have also seen new breeders sell weaned steers to Wagyu cross buyers for a premium, I strongly discourage that. When they are buying the F1 calf let’s say at 5 weights offering a .20 cent “premium” over Cattlefax averages you must understand that Angus calf you were selling at the same time would out weigh that F1 calf by about 100 pounds. That “premium” on the F1 does not overcome the loss of weight. You would be better off staying with your angus cows if that’s how you are going to sell them. Now if you take those F1 steers from farm to market you have potential to make good money just as you do with the full blood steers.

What genetic testing is available for Wagyu cattle? (and why you should save your money)

GH Exon 5 Test
This test represents a method for evaluating Wagyu cattle for the characteristics of growth rate and marbling using genetic polymorphism of the growth hormone Exon 5. Wagyu variants of this gene are A, B & C, therefore there are six genotypes: AA, AB, AC, BB, BC & CC. Prescribe Genomics suggests the preferred genotypes for producing bulls for F1 production are BB, BC and CC.

SCD Test
This test is designed to assist in the selection of cattle that show a genotype that produces a superior fat composition. Stearic acid, which corresponds to the amino acid Valine (V), makes deposited fat harder. Oleic acid, which corresponds to the amino acid Alanine (A), makes deposited fat softer, which Prescribed Genomics states is more palatable to the Japanese market. There are three possible genotypes for SCD, these are AA, VA and VV. AA is the preferred type.

Tenderness Test
Igenity profile Tenderness is a DNA genetic marker panel test comprised of three markers (UoGCAST1, Calpain 4751 and Calpain 316). An increase in “tenderness” is associated with substituting a “C” allele at calpastatin (UoGCAST1) and a “C” allele at both μ-calpain loci (Calpain 4751 and Calpain 316). The following table shows the decrease in “toughness” (Warner-Bratzler Shear Force, lb) for each of the possible genotypes contrasted to the least tender genotype (i.e. UoG-Cast1 “GG”, Capn4751 “TT”, Capn316 “GG”) calculated from a combined analysis of 1209 cattle from four sample populations (Brangus, Charolais x Angus cross, Red Angus and Brahman) used in the validation study.

Why you should save your money and not waste it on the genetic testing listed above. 
If you are researching Wagyu I’m sure you’ve come across advertising for the tests listed above in either private treaty marketing or breed sales. We too invested in these tests when we first got in the breed. What we noticed is some of the top carcass bulls test poorly according to the tests. Take Itoshigenami for example, he is the all time top carcass bull in Australia where Wagyu is a very serious business . His carcasses are amazing yet he scored a VV on the SCD Test and a Tenderness Test of 3. Those results do not correlate to real world carcass data. Shigeshigetani is another excellent carcass bull that has proven himself , he is a VA with a Tenderness score of 3 but he is one of the most sought after bulls in the breed because he performs every time. 

We were fortunate enough to attend the Miyagi-Zenkyo (Wagyu Olympics) in Japan fall of 2017. It is the National Wagyu Show for all of Japan held every 5 years with several hundred Japanese Black Wagyu being shown with over 200 carcasses. We spent several days there looking at cattle, sitting in on seminars and walking the booths with hundreds of vendors and not one of those vendors had any literature or marketing materials for Exon 5, SCD and Tenderness testing. We also toured a Japanese feed lot where we asked them directly if they were familiar with any of those tests and the answer was no. 

If you look at those tests you will see the Tenderness Test was developed using Brangus, Charolais x Angus cross, Red Angus and Brahman.  None of those breeds are even close to Wagyu. Those tests also do not account for the extreme marbling to muscle fiber ratio in Wagyu and if that isn’t enough the Japanese do not use it. As for the SCD Test and Exon 5 those tests were developed by researchers in Japan but we could find no presence of them at the Wagyu Olympics or speaking to the Japanese breeders. We were contacted by researchers in Japan a couple years ago with a new test they developed. We’ve come to find out researchers will keep developing tests as long as someone will buy them, it doesn’t mean they are worth it. In fact when this breed started out in the US the test that was promoted was Genestar, it included the Tenderness Test and the entire test was dropped not long after its implementation. Also note a recent study done by a Japanese scientist on the difference between AA and VV was about 1%. 

To put it bluntly you will see these tests in marketing materials from breeders that do not harvest steers, they are "seed stock" producers relying heavily on genetic testing not carcass evaluations, testing that can’t replicate its results in the real world. The most accurate test we have is taking steers to finish and evaluating the carcasses. If we continue to use tests with no merit then we will be actively devaluing genetics out of our own pastures, it will also guide our breeding decisions with no basis. We must harvest steers to determine how we want to breed. Wagyu is a performance breed and that performance is judged by carcass quality and extreme marbling, if we are not careful we can breed the marbling right out of them.

What are the recessive disorders in Wagyu? (And why none of that should concern you whatsoever.)

Erythrocyte Membrane Protein Band III Deficiency (Spherocytosis) (Band 3)
Affected cattle (cattle with two copies of the causative mutation) are morbidly anemic. The mutations affect a protein necessary for proper shape and function of red blood cells. Calves are typically born weak and small (40-55 lbs birth weight) with severe anemia, labored breathing, palpitations, and not able to stand or suckle at birth. This disorder is often lethal, but some affected cattle survive to adulthood, although with severely retarded growth.

Claudin 16 Deficiency (CL16)
This mutation causes a buildup of fibrous tissue in the kidneys as well as other tissues. Affected cattle suffer from a severe risk of kidney failure throughout their lives. Other symptoms include growth retardation, increased blood urea nitrogen and creatinine values, diarrhea and overgrowth of hooves. It may or may not be lethal, but affected cattle tend to have atypically short lives.

Chediak-Higashi Syndrome (CHS)
Affected cattle have a deficiency in cells that make up a functional immune system. As a result, these calves are often more susceptible to disease and infection. These cattle may also have a light coat color, and slight coagulation problems (hemorrhaging). This disorder is usually not lethal.

Bovine Blood Coagulation Factor XIII Deficiency (F13)
This disorder is where one of the proteins needed to form blood clots is missing or reduced. Symptoms include severely prolonged bleeding time, bruising from castration/branding, and severe anemia. Death occurs in most cases.

Factor XI Deficiency (F11)
This mutation affects the efficiency of the clotting factor F11. Affected cattle suffer from mild hemophilia-like bleeding tendencies, either spontaneously or following trauma and surgical procedures. It is also possible that Carrier x Carrier mating have increased difficulty producing viable fertilized embryos and full-term pregnancies and are often Repeat Breeders1. Normal repeat breeding may be considered 40% with 60% conception being an industry average. It has been reported that factor 11 increased rebreeding by 50% in the Canadian Holstein breed, so now instead of 60% conception we will get 40% conception with 60% of the animals open to be rebred.

One word why you should NOT be concerned about the genetic recessive disorders, MANAGEMENT. 
When we first encountered this breed the first thing we heard about was the genetic recessive disorders. We made sure we were going to stay clear of any carrier animal, when we started to plan our matings we noticed that we would not be able to use the absolute best sires in all of the breed if we went with that way of thinking. If you are going to breed Wagyu you will be using carrier animals often. There is no way around it, in fact you would be ill advised not to use some of the carrier animals. 

It’s easy to avoid making affected animals since you control the matings. We choose every mating for each cow and take into account their status as a carrier or free animal. When we choose the sires we just choose one that’s not a carrier if we are breeding a carrier cow. Our clean up bulls are free of any recessives to make it easier on us. All our animals have either been tested so we know the status or they are free by parentage. As long as the breeder knows the status of each animal (and you will) then you can breed around the genetic recessive disorders. I would also note that Japan and Australia no longer tests for F11.

What happens when carriers are mated to other animals?

A carrier will, on average, pass the undesirable gene form to a random half (50 %) of their progeny.

When a carrier bull and carrier cow are mated:

  • There is a 25% chance that the progeny produced will have two normal genes and will never pass on the undesirable gene.
  • There is a 50% chance that the mating will produce a carrier.
  • There is a 25% chance that the progeny will inherit two copies of the undesirable gene and hence be affected by the genetic condition which is why we do not breed carrier to carrier. 

When a carrier animal is mated to an animal tested free of the genetic condition:

  • All progeny will appear normal and will be unaffected by the condition.
  • There is a 50% chance that the mating will produce a carrier.
  • There is a 50% chance that the progeny produced will have two normal genes and will never pass on the undesirable gene.

What are benefits of implanting embryos?

Embryos are a good way to grow a herd very quickly or evaluate a dams genetics much faster by making multiple calves quickly rather than one every calving cycle.

How does the embryo process work?

Embryologists will super ovulate a 100% Wagyu donor cow with a series of hormone shots over several days then they will AI her to the bull we want to use. Over the next few days the fertilized embryos should start growing. On the seventh day the embryologist will flush embryos out of the donor cow. At this point they will either be implanted fresh into a recipient cow or frozen.

What is a recipient cow?

A recipient cow is a surrogate for the 100% Wagyu embryo.

How critical is recipient cow selection?

Very critical.

Can I just buy the open cows at my local sale barn to save money?

Absolutely not. Any open cow at a sale barn that’s not a special replacement sale is there because she can’t get bred back. Never buy open cows from the sale barn for embryos.

Can I use dairy cows as recipients?

I would discourage using dairy cows for two reason, one is a dairy cow is using so much energy for milk production it will not take embryos as well as an Angus or commercial type cow. I would also be concerned with disease in dairy herds, Johnes in particular, which can be given to the calf and spread on your farm. If you do use dairy breeds use heifers and make sure they are free of Johnes disease.

What makes a good recipient cow?

Most other breeders will use a proven cow to be a recipient. The theory is she will calve unassisted and raise a calf without help. We however use heifers rather than a proven cow. The reason being is Wagyu is a low both weight breed, even the larger calves structurally are narrow bodied and calve more easily than other breeds of the same weight. We are also taking advantage of the higher success rates heifers bring to the table because of their fertility and lower risk of disease. Some will say it’s more labor to use a heifer vs a cow, but if you are going to spend the money on embryos you will be with the heifer or the cow on its due date making sure you don’t have calving issues or making sure the calf gets colostrum soon enough. So in reality because you are going to be protecting your investment it’s no more labor using a heifer in our opinion.

What other factors should I consider when selecting a recipient?

Here are a few examples below, if you research this more you can find extensive papers written on recipient cow selection. 

  • Stress levels.
  • Body condition.
  • Temperament of the recipient. 
  • Breed type. 
  • Using Heifers at least 65% of their mature weight or cows up to 6 years old. 
  • Mineral program months prior to implant. 
  • Upward Nutrition months prior to implant.

What is the success rate of embryo transfer?

The industry standard is a 50% success rate on frozen embryos. We generally see 60% to 65% but there are many variables we must contend with. Our highest success rate was 14 live calves from 15 embryos implanted in dairy heifers. We tell all our customers to budget for a 50% success rate though.

What other variables should one consider when implanting embryos?

When purchasing embryos from us you will get an embryo that’s been made and graded by a certified embryologist. That is one of many variables you need to consider, who made the embryo? Below are many examples of the other variables you will have to control from the recipient side. 

  • Weather Stress, How hot is too hot and how cold is too cold? I would say weather ranks up there as one of the most important factors. The more stress the less likely the cow will take the embryo. Summer in Missouri we will generally implant until mid June. As long as the nights cool down and we don’t see high 90 degree days with no relief we will implant. After Mid June you are risking it I think. We don’t recommend starting back up until late October, even though September is a great month in Missouri the August heat stress carries through September and will give very poor results. As for how Cold is too cold, I would say getting into the single digits for too many consecutive days will create a problem. We’ve not seen the cold stress as much as the summer heat stress but stress is stress so be aware. 
  • Nutrition is another factor, we like to see our cows on an upward diet months before implant but we don’t want them to fat either. 
  • Mineral intake is also very important. We do not want any deficiencies in our recipient herd. We give free choice mineral to all of our recipients along with a MultiMin shot at least 30 days before implant.  
  • Working facilities if you can not work your cattle quiet and efficient then you are adding unneeded levels of stress that can impact conception.
  • Farm hands are our savior and sometimes biggest mess makers, when setting recipients up for implant it a several day process. As long as they follow the instructions given by the embryologist then you won’t have any problems but if they miss a step or give the wrong medication then all the work is for nothing.

How long is an embryo good after freezing?

When an embryo is frozen in liquid nitrogen all time stops for that embryo. It doesn’t matter if it’s been frozen for 15 years or a month.

Can hauling recipients hurt conception rate?

No, most cows implanted are usually hauled into the embryologist and hauled home the same day.

Can embryologists come to my farm for implants?

Yes they can, they usually will do that if you have more than a trailer load.

Can you ship embryos to my embryologist?

Yes, we ship our embryos around the world with no issues.

How are they shipped?

They are shipped in a shipping tank via UPS and will come with a prepaid label for return.

How much is shipping?

Shipping is around $100 to $125 for most places in the US.

Do I need a liquid nitrogen tank?

No you do not as long as your embryologist has one to store them in once received.

Can my local vet do the implants?

We highly discourage using a veterinarian to implant embryos simply because they do not get the same repetition the embryologist do. Our herd vet implants a few hundred embryos a year while our embryologist might do a couple hundred a day. You also want to shy away from someone who just learned how to do embryo transfer because you don’t want them learning on your cows, use and experienced embryologist because like everything there is a learning curve.

Can embryos be shipped overseas?

Yes, we often ship overseas. We will work with exporters that specialize in embryos and use group shipments to keep costs down.

How do I set up my recipient cows for implant?

After scheduling a desired implant date the embryologist will give you a step by step guide on when to set your cows up. It’s a simple and easy process but does take running the cows through the chute a few times.

Do you sell sexed semen?

Yes, we do have sexed semen on some bulls. Sexed semen does not always make heifers but it gives you around a 90% chance of heifers.

Do you sell sexed embryos?

Yes, we are now starting to make sexed embryos through IVF production.

What is the difference between IVF and conventionally flushed embryos?

IVF allows us to choose the sex for the embryos under a microscope. Conventional embryos are usually equally bull sexed and heifer sexed. Frozen IVF now gives equal success rates as frozen conventional embryos.

For additional questions please email cbrant100@gmail.com.

Rubia Gallega

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