The Life Of A Wagyu Cow
We’ve spoken before about Wagyu beef. How its legendary marbling makes it truly the premier of steaks and one of the most in-demand cuts of beef in the world. But what does it take to produce this special, upper echelon level, type of steak?
When you purchase a cut of Wagyu beef, one of the first things you’ll notice will be its striking marbling. The little deposits of intramuscular fat speckling its surface making it look more like a Jackson Pollock painting than a steak. The second thing you’ll notice is the price tag. This steak has the appearance of a modern art masterpiece and demands a price to match.
But what is it that goes into making Wagyu such an exemplary bit of beef? There are many misconceptions and myths about how Wagyu cattle are raised the reality is that while they may not enjoy Bach and Mozart while grazing or receive daily massages, they are some truly pampered cows.
Right from birth, Wagyu-producing cows begin to lavish in the lap of luxury. While their mothers graze on pasture, the calves are hand-fed a special milk compound that provides plenty of nutrition and promotes the growth of intramuscular fat.
They will continue this process of alternating between being hand-fed milk replacer and grazing free on the rich and plentiful pastures. Left to their own devices during the day and donning specially made coats when temperatures drop during the night, this cycle continues until the calves reach seven months old.
When their seventh month of life rolls around, the calves are whisked away to specialised farms that have proven themselves capable of rearing Wagyu cows. As a side note, the Japanese government has come down hard on the production of Wagyu and it now requires a litany license, inspections, and certificates to be recognised as the genuine article.
On these specialist fattening farms, the cows are raised in warm and cozy barns while being fed a healthy and bespoke mixture of rice straws, crop silage, and concentrate which allows them to grow up to around 700kg in three years. While this sounds like a lot of weight very quickly, your garden variety beef can reach the 700 figure in as little as 15 months with their heavily processed diet filled with growth hormones. None of that for the Wagyu, they’re allowed the time to grow naturally.
Your average cow will just be assigned a number and an ear tag for its identity. Its entire being simply a number on a spreadsheet stored in some far away computer. While this is the unfortunate reality for the majority of cows in a world that demands beef quickly and cheaply, the standard rules do not apply to Wagyu.
The Wagyu cows are given their own name instead of a number, a name that reflects their individual and distinct personality. They’ll also be issued with a birth certificate that identifies its bloodline so every single morsel of Wagyu steak can be traced all the way back to the farm that cow was born on.
It may be a seemingly benign addition of information but it allows the farmers to tweak their rearing techniques to each cow as each cow is easily identifiable and is given the opportunity to display their personalities.
This helps create bonds between the cows and the farmers which all goes into creating some of the greatest steaks in the world.
We touched briefly on the misconceptions that surround Wagyu. They are supposedly fed on local beer and given massages, this is not true for the most part. The cows won’t receive massages from a specialist cow masseuse but they will be given a stiff brushing every day.
This brushing isn’t designed to tenderise the meat or anything like that, the golden rule of raising award-winning Wagyu producing cattle is to make sure they are as unstressed as possible.
Brushing is a great way to relax the cows and helps to prevent stress and adrenaline building up in their bodies which will have an adverse effect on the tenderness of the meat.
When the time comes to slaughter the cows, they are shown respect and gratitude right to the end. They have lived probably the best life a cow could hope for and the meat it produces will be revered in Michelin starred restaurants across the globe.
So yes Wagyu can be very expensive but the cows producing it have lived amazing lives. They’ve been loved and cared for probably better than most humans could wish to be and have given us a great gift in the form of the steak artwork that is Wagyu beef.
So is the price worth it? In my humble opinion, worth every penny and more.