THERE are no secret herbs and spices in what the Japanese are feeding their cattle but rather it’s the strict maintenance of nutrition, with no setbacks, and the attention to detail that is setting a very high bar.
This was one of the insights to come from a trade mission run by the Australian Wagyu Association, which explored everything from Japan’s beef production systems and feedlots to abattoirs and auctions.
The Japanese set a very high bar in terms of what is possible, AWA chief executive officer Matt McDonagh said, outlining a 583 kilogram carcase from a 24 month old steer, with a marbling score of 12, which sold for $22,000 in Australian dollars.
The costs of production to achieve that might be astronomical but it shows what is possible with genetic selection and the right nutrition, he said.
“That’s the opportunity. This is genetic potential expressed and we can have a crack at this,” he said.
In Japan, the world’s third largest economy, 280kg, three-month-old fullblood Wagyu calves were selling for A$10,000 or $38/kg, the delegation reported, having visited the Tokyo Meat Market live auction of carcases.
At the top end was $19/kg for dairy F1s, so a 440kg carcase was worth $8,800.
At the retail level, Wagyu beef was selling for between $125 and $750/kg.
Knowing what beef produced in Japan is worth on their market highlights the value of our live export trade to Japan, Mr McDonagh said.
“If cattle spend more of their life in Japan they are classified as Japanese beef and sold at a premium over imported,” he explained.
“The Japanese consumer has a strong preference for Japanese beef.”
Delegate members Noel Chiconi, Kevin Eakin, Laird Morgan, John Dawkins, Brett Blancett and Lorna Tomkinson provided snapshots of the standard Japanese production system during a panel session at this year’s AWA conference in Mackay recently.
At three days, the 35kg calves are taken off their mothers and put on feed.
The target is 100kg at three months, 300kg at ten months and 800kg by 30 months.
The intensive production system showcased at Oona Farm produces F1s per annum, mostly Holstein Wagyu cross.
The cost of Holstein calves at one week is $1100; it costs $9 a day to feed them and they are typically fed for 570 days
So the cost to reach the 800kg live weight target by the age of two is $6000.
Wagyu F1s are even more expensive to source - $3000 at one week. By the time Oona Farm finishes feeding these for 700 days, the 800kg animal is a $9000 investment.
Wagyu calves at one week are $4500. They are fed for 28 months, so the operation is paying $12000 to get to the kill point.
Mr Morgan said cattle were housed in facilities much smaller than how it is done in Australia.
“They were fed in little pens of three to six head, at two to three square metres per beast. In Australia we have them somewhere between 13 and 16 square metres each,” he said.
Mr Dawkins said supermarket presentation and packaging in Japan was impressive, with a strong focus on food security and provenance.
“Consumers clearly like to know where the meat comes from and it was good to see Australia has a very good reputation for being clean and green. I believe that is something we could leverage more going forward,” he said.