WAGYU is a Japanese beef cattle breed derived from native Asian cattle. The name ‘WAGYU’ refers to all Japanese beef cattle, where ‘Wa’ means Japanese and ‘gyu’ means cow.
Wagyu was originally draft animals used in Japanese agriculture and were selected for their physical endurance. This selection favoured animals with more intramuscular fat cells, or ‘marbling’, which provided a readily available source of energy. Wagyu is a naturally horned breed and the cattle are either black or red in colour.
In Japan there are four significant breeds described as ‘Wagyu’, the largest is the Japanese Black, comprising 95% of the Japanese national herd. The breed referred to as Red Wagyu in Australia is the Japanese Brown, making about 4% of the Japanese herd.
The Japanese Black was the predominant breed exported to the USA and Australia during the period 1980-1997. Derived from four principle strains – Tajima, Fujiyoshi and Kedaka and the ‘modern’ Itozakura, these strains are based on the Japanese prefectural herds of Hyogo, Shimane and Tottori.
Tajiri or Tajima — originating from the Hyogo prefecture, these black cattle were originally used to pull carts and ploughs so the 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. They are thought to be ideal for the production of F1 cattle for slaughter.
The Tajima bloodlines are generally regarded as producing the best quality meat in all of Japan. The well known Sires, Michifuku and Terutani are examples of the Tajima line
Fujiyoshi or Shimane — from the Okayama prefecture are medium framed cattle with average growth rates and good meat quality.
Tottori or Kedaka — from the Tottori prefecture were originally pack animals in the grain industry, so they are larger animals with straight, strong back lines and generally good growth rates. However, their meat quality is variable. Best strain for milking ability. A combination of all three lines are often used for Fullblood meat production.
The red lines (Akaushi), Kochi and Kumamoto, have been strongly influenced by Korean and European breeds, particularly Simmental.
For a more detailed explanation of Japanese Wagyu history and bloodlines, download the Factsheet (PDF – 347kb)