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A history of Wagyu in America, their dominance in the retail industry and the buzz they have created.

The story of Wagyu beef in the U.S. starts with a Japanese breed called Wagyu (which means 'Japanese cow'). Wagyu beef initially became famous all over the world by the name 'Kobe Beef,' which is Wagyu beef raised in the area around Kobe, Japan. The Japanese government regulates Wagyu cattle, and accordingly, only cattle produced in the Kobe region can be called 'Kobe Beef.'

The Wagyu breed is bound by genetics, so Wagyu can be born and raised anywhere - as long as the Wagyu parentage can be DNA verified. Thus, foreign produced Wagyu can bear the name 'Fullblood Wagyu' or '100% Wagyu,' as long as it is from a DNA verified Wagyu genetic line.

Wagyu were originally draft animals used in cultivation, so they were selected for physical endurance. This selection favored animals with more intra-muscular fat cells - marbling, which provided a readily available energy source. Japanese Wagyu derive from native Asian cattle, which were infused with British and European breeds in the late 1800's. Although the breed was closed to outside breed lines in 1910, regional isolation has produced a number of different lines with varying conformation.

For centuries, the Japanese philosophy has been to grow cattle slow and natural, unlike the American system of growing them rapidly, with emphasis on final weight, and getting them swiftly to market. The Wagyu cattle and the beef the Japanese produce are so cherished that they have been declared a National Treasure and are protected.

Wagyu genetics were exported to the United States on several occasions, once in the 1970's and again in the 1990's. American ranchers have begun to produce Wagyu beef high in quality, similar to those raised in Japan, comes from Wagyu cows bred and raised in America. Most of the American raised Wagyu are percentage Wagyu. The American herd size of 'Fullblood Wagyu' or '100% Wagyu' is quite small compared to the Japanese or Australian herds.

Wagyu are black cattle similar to Angus except that they are horned and lighter in the rump and legs. In the U.S., most Wagyu are de-horned. Mature bulls can weigh over 2,000 pounds.

Purebred Wagyu is a term used for cattle that are 15/16ths Wagyu.

Percentage Wagyu is a term used for F1’s, F2’s and F3’s (50% Wagyu, 75% Wagyu and 87% Wagyu).

According to the American Wagyu Association, all Fullbloods need to be DNA typed to be registered. All Purebred Wagyu and Percentage Wagyu that are involved in embryo transfer or from which semen is being collected, are also required to be DNA typed.

2006 National Wagyu Sire Summary

This summary by Washington State University, Department of Animal Sciences, indicates the following (based on measurements from F1 or 50% Wagyu):

Birth Weight mean: 77 lbs
Weaning Weight mean: 503 lbs
Marbling Score mean: 7.74
Ribeye Area mean: 14.5
External Fat mean: .72

*Note that the mean birth weight is 77 pounds, indicating the marvelous calving ease of the Wagyu when crossed to another breed, in most cases Angus.