Wagyu Fellowship Tour – what I thought I knew

The Wagyu Fellowship is about extending the industry’s knowledge – on how we breed, feed and improve the ultimate eating experience of Wagyu beef.

The 2018 recipient of the Fellowship, Jeremy Cooper of Cooper 8 Bulls, aims to discover if a ‘pathway’ can be established to optimise our production systems to achieve the stellar heights of A5 Wagyu seen in Japan.

As part of his investigation, Jeremy proposed to tour well-respected Australian Wagyu operations and feedlots and speak with leading Japanese researchers at Kyushu, Kyoto and Miyasaki Universities as well as conduct a study tour of production systems in the Miyazaki Prefecture. His findings in Japan both confirmed what he believed and busted myths of others.

“I always understood that Japanese Wagyu farmers held small holdings with at most, 20 cattle,” said Jeremy. “The care, empathy and love that goes into those cattle is something that cannot be replicated on a large-scale production system.

“Two observations came out of that – the first is that the level of animal husbandry given to those cattle may have a direct impact on the animal’s ability to thrive and therefore develop the high level of marbling.

“The second is that many of the small farmers do not collect carcase data. That data is available to the feedlotter, but not the breeder. It seems the farmer simply knows his cattle are good quality and that is the end of it.

Jeremy was granted a rare opportunity as part of his study tour to visit the Kyoto Meat Market.

A state-of-the-art facility dedicated to processing Wagyu, the throughput is as little as 100 head per day. On questioning why so few cattle are processed compared to Australian facilities, the response was simply ‘we value the importance of Wagyu and honour the animals and the farmer’.

Tradition at the Kyoto Meat Market is also a strong element of the meat buyer’s decision. If the animal is less than 30 months old, it simply won’t sell as it is believed that Wagyu has not expressed its full marbling potential any younger. It would also appear that the gold standard A5 for grading is certainly well represented, but like any other beef market, lower marble scores still make a large portion of the beef available.

“I believed for years that Wagyu needed a special diet, but in a country that imports the bulk of its grain from Australia and the US, that means Japan is feeding much the same way we are. I also discovered that there is little uptake of genomics and carcase data, to improve Wagyu in Japan, it is primarily pedigree-based – and the cost for a small farmer is high to get it done. What I didn’t know is that it is only recently (1960s) that the Japanese government supported a program to increase fullblood genetics in Japan and 1989 when carcase data became available.”

Based on what Jeremy saw of the raising methods and commitment to animal husbandry, he believes there is a degree of transferable knowledge to Australian systems. Part of that is early intervention.

In Japan, weaning can occur anywhere from less than a week old to three months making the transition to grain, whereas in Australia, that may not occur until nine months old. Adding grain or starch before 200 days will kick start the adipocytes and get the marbling process going.

Jeremy’s ‘pathway’ has now been given a basis on which to test the theory:

  • Introduce creep feeding in the paddock from birth to get the calves used to the concept from an early age
  • Wean between three and six months, ideally at around four months
  • Introduce intensive feed regimes to bring them up to feedlot entry weight
  • Process at 24 – 30 months
  • Genomic testing from the beginning to identify the weaker outliers
  • Apply objective measurement for whole-of-life and analyse through BREEDPLAN

“I honestly think we can achieve A5 Wagyu in Australia by improved animal husbandry and understanding the data and by modifying the Japanese methods to our economies of scale.

“Obviously the theory needs to be tested and one way to do it would be to run two contemporary groups – one that is raised using current methods, the other using a modification aligned more closely to the Japanese system. With our ability to do objective measurement we can really assess which method has greater potential.

“There are a couple of Australian operators using a similar method to Japan, but it would be good to quantify the outcomes and really see if we can achieve the amazing marbling, and more often. We have got nothing to lose by doing this sort of investigation.”

Important Notice and Disclaimer


It is very important that you appreciate when viewing the AWA database that the information contained on the AWA database, including but not limited to pedigree, DNA information, Estimated Breeding Values (EBVs) and Index values, is based on data supplied by members and/or third parties.

Whilst every effort is made to ensure the accuracy of the information reported through AWA, AWA officers and employees assume no responsibility for its content, use or interpretation. AWA disclaims all liability (including without limitation, liability in negligence) for all expenses, losses, damages and costs you may incur as a result of the use by you of the data on this AWA database and the information supplied by ABRI and AGBU being inaccurate or incomplete in any way for any reason.

Regarding EBVs and Index values, it is very important to appreciate, and you need to be aware that:

  • EBVs are derived using Wagyu Single Step BREEDPLAN technology developed independently by the Animal Genetics and Breeding Unit (AGBU), using the information contained within the AWA database.
  • AGBU is a joint venture of NSW Department of Primary Industries and the University of New England, which receives funding for this purpose from Meat and Livestock Australia Limited.
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  • EBVs published in Wagyu Single Step BREEDPLAN are estimates of genetic potential of individual animals and may not reflect the raw animal phenotype.
  • EBVs can only be directly compared to other EBVs calculated in the same monthly Wagyu Group BREEDPLAN analysis.

Regarding pedigree and DNA testing results submitted to the AWA, it is very important to appreciate, and you need to be aware that:

  • Pedigree and DNA data submitted and supplied to AWA may have errors in it which cannot be detected without further DNA testing.
  • Technology may have advanced since a particular test was undertaken so that previous inaccuracies which were not detectable are now able to be detected by current testing technology.
  • AWA estimates that less than 1% of the pedigree entries, ownership or breeding details in the AWA Herdbook may have errors or which may be misleading. For this reason, users ought to consider if they need to obtain independent testing of the relevant animal (if possible) to ensure that the data is accurate.

Regarding prefectural content, it is very important to appreciate, and you need to be aware that:

  • Prefectural content is based on the estimation of prefectural origin from Japanese breeding records of 201 foundation sires and 168 foundation dams.  As genotype-based parent verification is not used in Japan, and full Japanese registration certificates are not available for all foundation animals, exact prefectural composition for these sires and dams cannot be validated.
  • The calculation of prefectural content for Australian Herdbook animals relies on the accuracy of pedigree records and DNA samples provided by AWA members.
  • The reporting of prefectural content for animals within the AWA Herdbook relies on the calculation provided by ABRI.

If you consider that you do not understand or appreciate the nature and extent of the data provided on this website or the EBVs of a particular animal, then AWA strongly recommends that you seek independent expert advice.