How Do They Raise Wagyu Beef? A Complete Guide to Wagyu Cattle Farming

Wagyu beef is renowned worldwide for its exquisite marbling, velvety texture and rich, buttery flavor. This premium Japanese beef commands astronomical prices at upscale restaurants and butcher shops, with single portions often costing over $100.

So how exactly do producers consistently achieve such incredibly high standards with wagyu? What goes into raising the cattle behind the world’s most sought-after steaks?

An Overview of Wagyu Cattle Breeds

The term “wagyu” refers generally to four breeds of cattle native to Japan:

  • Japanese Black – The most common wagyu breed, provides Kobe beef and 90% of all wagyu in Japan. Known for its extensive marbling.

  • Japanese Brown – The largest wagyu breed. Produces richly flavored beef but less marbling than Japanese Blacks.

  • Japanese Shorthorn – A rare wagyu breed, makes up less than 10% of all wagyu. Features moderate marbling.

  • Japanese Polled – The rarest wagyu breed. Only available on the island of Kyushu. Noted for its fine texture and marbling.

The Japanese Black breed is considered the highest quality and accounts for the majority of wagyu beef exports. However, all four breeds produce superior beef compared to conventional cattle.

The Rigorous Wagyu Cultivation Process

Producing wagyu beef requires meticulous care and attention at every stage of the animal’s life:

Sourcing Wagyu Calves

  • Wagyu farmers purchase registered, purebred calves from specialty breeders at around 7-10 months old.

  • These calves come with a birth certificate verifying their pure bloodline.

  • A single wagyu calf costs around $30,000, 10 times more than conventional breeds.

Feeding and Care at Fattening Farms

  • Calves are sent to fattening farms where each is given a name and raised humanely in a low-stress environment.

  • Wagyu cattle are fed a high-energy diet 3 times per day, usually including hay, grain, silage and concentrates. Imported feed is common.

  • They are housed in ventilated barns with just 4-5 other cows per pen, avoiding overcrowding.

  • Farmers brush the cattle daily to stimulate blood flow and relieve muscle tension.

  • Wagyu cows are never given growth hormones or steroids. Their development relies entirely on a natural, high-quality diet.

Achieving Fat Marbling the Wagyu Way

  • Wagyu cattle are allowed to grow for 2-3 years until they reach about 1500 pounds and have gained at least 50% fat.

  • Their weight is closely monitored, with the goal of around 2.5 pounds gained per day.

  • This extended growing time allows fat to marbel evenly throughout the meat instead of concentrating on the exterior.

  • Less physical exertion also prevents the buildup of tough muscle tissue.

From Farm to Table

  • At slaughter, wagyu carcasses are carefully graded on metrics like marbling, color and fat quality. Only A5 grade beef, the top level, can be sold as authentic wagyu.

  • Meat is further inspected and certified to verify the geography and breed lineage. For example, true Kobe beef must come from Tajima-gyu cattle raised in Hyogo Prefecture.

  • Consistent raising and vetting procedures enable wagyu’s legendary standards of excellence.

Notable Wagyu Breeding Regions in Japan

While wagyu originates across Japan, certain prefectures have gained fame for their local specialties:

  • Kobe Beef – Hyogo Prefecture. The most famous wagyu worldwide. Renowned for its heavy marbling, rich flavor and tender texture.

  • Matsusaka Beef – Mie Prefecture. Known for its delicate marbling, subtle aroma and meltingly tender texture.

  • Ohmi Beef – Shiga Prefecture. Features fine marbling and a characteristic sweetness.

  • Miyazaki Beef – Miyazaki Prefecture. Excellent marbling plus a mellow, slightly acidic flavor.

  • Omi Beef – Shiga Prefecture. Derived from Japanese Brown cattle, with rich umami flavor and fine marbling.

  • Hida Beef – Gifu Prefecture. From Japanese Black cattle grazed in the Japan Alps. Tender and well-marbled.

  • Yonezawa Beef – Yamagata Prefecture. Japanese Shorthorn cattle produce this mildly flavored, moderately marbled beef.

Where to Enjoy Wagyu Beef in Japan

Many destinations in Japan offer opportunities to taste exemplary wagyu:

  • Kobe, Osaka – Home of Kobe beef. Find top steakhouses and wagyu speciality shops.

  • Tokyo – High-end wagyu at Ginza’s upscale restaurants. Also try wagyu sukiyaki, shabu-shabu hot pots.

  • Kyoto – Elegant wagyu kaiseki meals and teppanyaki restaurants.

  • Sendai – Specializes in wagyu rice bowls (donburi) and yakiniku barbecue.

  • Fukuoka – Casual yakiniku spots serve affordable, high-quality local beef.

  • Takayama – Known for fine Hida wagyu. Enjoy tender steaks and shabu-shabu.

Is Wagyu Worth the Price?

With single portions easily costing over $100, wagyu is clearly a luxury ingredient. While the price is undoubtedly steep, fans insist the sublime eating experience justifies the cost. In particular, the tremendous care given to raising wagyu cattle enables meat qualities that are virtually unparalleled:

  • Flavors – Incredibly rich, complex and savory umami flavor from the ample fat marbling.

  • Texture – Extreme tenderness and velvety smoothness you can cut with a fork. Melts in your mouth.

  • Marbling – Thin veins of fat permeating the meat result in next-level succulence and flavor.

  • Appearance – Beautiful snowy-white fat striations make wagyu an artisanal feast for the eyes.

For hardcore foodies and beef lovers, wagyu’s hedonistic pleasures are well worth the price of entry. While certainly a splurge, even one taste provides a luxury experience that will linger in the memory.

How Does Wagyu Compare to Other Luxury Beef?

As the world’s most prized beef, how does wagyu measure up to other top-shelf offerings?

American Wagyu – Derived from crossbreeding Japanese wagyu genetics with American cattle. Marbling and tenderness don’t match Japanese wagyu.

USDA Prime – The highest beef grade in the US. Excellent marbling but not to wagyu extremes. More affordable.

Aussie Wagyu – Australian take on wagyu from crossbred cattle. Very good quality but steps below Japanese wagyu.

Kobe Beef – The crème de la crème of wagyu. Incredible marbling, flavor and texture perfection. The pinnacle.

Matsusaka Beef – Top-tier Japanese wagyu. Nearly comparable to Kobe. Melting tenderness and refined flavor.

While domestic competitors come close, Japanese wagyu – especially the elite Kobe and Matsusaka breeds – remains in a class of its own. The meticulous care and genetics make it virtually impossible to replicate this beefy nirvana anywhere else.

In Conclusion

Raising wagyu cattle for top-quality beef requires tremendous investments of time, care and money at every stage – but the results speak for themselves. By pampering wagyu cows, monitoring their diets and genetics, and properly aging the meat, Japanese farmers consistently produce what many consider the ultimate steak experience.

The exquisite marbling, velvety texture, rich umami and sheer foodie pleasure of wagyu beef make it a Japanese culinary icon worthy of its phenomenal reputation. For the fortunate few able to savor this beef nirvana, the extraordinary care that goes into cultivating wagyu cattle pays off in every decadent bite.

Day in the Life of a Japanese Wagyu Beef Farmer


Is Wagyu beef humanely raised?

American wagyu beef companies have long claimed that their cows are humanely treated, however, very few wagyu operations have been certified by humane meat or animal welfare associations.

How long do Wagyu cows live for?

Cattle in the U.S. can reach slaughter around 16 months, Wagyu reach slaughter 30 months or longer. Because they live longer they eat more feed which is one reason Wagyu brings a higher price.

How is Wagyu beef developed?

Its genetic origins can be traced back 35,000 years. Initially, the Wagyu was used as a draft animal for agricultural work and bred for physical stamina. Today’s Wagyu cattle are the product of crossing this native Japanese breed with a majority of imported black breeds from Great Britain, Korea, and Europe.

How is Wagyu beef raised beer?

Beer is fed to the cattle during summer months when the interaction of fat cover, temperature and humidity depresses feed intake. Beer seems to stimulate their appetite. It’s merely part of the overall management program designed to keep the cattle on feed in the heat of the summer.

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