A move into the production of F1 Wagyu was ‘the best agribusiness decision we’ve ever made’ according to one of the nation’s leading Angus seedstock producers Lock Rogers of Wattle Top Angus, Guyra, NSW.
At the moment there is a clear margin of well over $300/head over similarly weighted Angus or Hereford weaners although Mr Rogers admits Angus weaners of the same age have a 10% weight advantage.
When Wattle Top started using Wagyu semen across Angus cows in 1993, the first F1 drop brought 60c/kg more than Angus steers and a decision was made to continue to focus on F1 production while still maintaining a large performance recorded Angus herd. Last year the annual Wattle Top Angus bull sale grossed over $750,000 and averaged $8080 for 94 bulls to make it one of the top bull sales of the year for any breed.
In the 90s F1 production was so lucrative there were not enough Angus replacement heifers produced so Arthur Cox’s Angus heifers were purchased for $400 while the Wagyu F1 heifers could be sold for $800.
“That didn’t last too long as others discovered the quality of the Cox heifers and the Wagyu price went up,” said Mr Rogers.
For the first five years of the operation all F1 steers and heifers went to Whyalla feedlot in southern Queensland at around $3/kg while Angus were bringing $1.15/kg.
Market uncertainty created by Japan’s 2001 E.coli scare in 2001 resulted in a change of available outlets with Aronui and Rangers Valley feedlots joining the market options along with the live boat trade to Japan contributing to demand over the past four to five years.
$800 to $850 was there for 300kg eight to nine months F1 calves straight off their dams according to Mr Rogers who said one mob of F1 weaners averaged 335kg with the tops at 390kg, only slightly behind straight Angus.
But Mr Rogers warned the F1s need to be carefully managed and put on creep feeders if necessary. F1 weaning is in April while Angus are weaned earlier in February/March. The tops of the F1 steers were weaned in March this year straight onto the boat. In fact 90% of the F1 steers will make the live export weight of 300kg off their mothers by April.
In 2005 Wattle Top started breeding some full bloods (pure Japanese) mainly to supply their own bulls and now run a breeding herd of 70 full bloods selling about 15 to 20 full blood bulls a year.
Last spring there was strong demand for Wattle Top’s Wagyu bulls selling to Young, Barraba, upper Murray, central Queensland with Macquarie Bank’s Paraway Pastoral Co being another to venture into Wagyu genetics. Mr Rogers uses high content Tajima bulls (usually 100% Tajima) and top quality high marbling and high growth Angus heifers and cows.
“I only sell Wagyu bulls to producers who fully understand the marketing situation,” said Mr Rogers.
“I tell them to talk to feedlots, exporters and other potential buyers and have some plan in place before going into F1 production”.
The correct genetics are also important with several strains of Wagyu available with different attributes. One aspect of Wagyu production has changed Mr Rogers’ attitude to bone.
Wagyu are light boned but produce high quality beef which led him to appreciating lighter bone in Angus. He believes the lighter bone is also denser and stronger thus improving yield.
“The F1 job has been fantastic and most rewarding but not for everyone,” he said.