Niche cattle breed Wagyu under the hammer first time in South Africa
A catalogue auction in Pretoria is hoping to entice Namibian redmeat producers to invest in the relatively unknown but highly profitable Wagyu breed of cattle. This week, the auction organisers said this will be the first South African production auction ever for the elusive Wagyu and that a massive response is expected from South African breeders.
In order to make it easy for Namibian farmers who are interested in the animals on auction, bidding can be done by telephone. An electronic catalogue is available at www.certifiedwagyu.co.za .
The Wagyu breed first attracted attention in South Africa some ten years ago when Australian breeders showed that the revenue per carcass of around 400 kg is in the order of N$130,000. This immediately raised eyebrows as the income from a comparable carcass for any of the conventional redmeat breeds, would be between N$12,000 and N$13,000.
The Wagyu, originally from Japan, has made huge inroads in the Australian luxury meat market. At first sight it appears an ungainly and akward animal as most of the weight is in the forequarters, a feature redmeat producers do not favour and intentionally shun when looking for good genetic material.
But the Wagyu’s secret lies in what is popularly called “marbling.” This is the ability of the animals to store fat among the muscle fibres which normally defines a good quality steak. As this genetic trait is most prominent in the forequarters, the animals originating from Japan, all produce a unique carcass that is visibly biased for weight in the front half. The breed is more than a thousand years old but since the Japanese kept their cattle in small enclosures for a considerable part of the year, the breed was not ideal for extensive farming.
In stepped the Australians who realised the potential of the meat and started selecting animals with specific traits to improve their outdoors endurance. Today there are many Wagyu breeders in the Australian outback.
From there the breed found its way to South Africa where conventional cattle breeders at first were not impressed until they realised the race’s enormous financial potential. Wagyu steak is only now becoming popular in South Africa but its extreme retail price makes it a delicacy only for the well-heeled.
Demand in the United States and Europe however, is soaring and it is this demand that makes the Wagyu’s unique meat such a high-priced commodity. The price, in turn, is the reason why at this stage, it is a niche commodity and prospective breeders must realise that they are producing for an overseas niche market.
From the location of the fat marbling in the forequarters, it implies that animals must be more mature than what is considered normal slaughter age. It requires farmers to keep Wagyu production units on the land for longer, and to market oxen only when they reach around 600 kg on the hoof.
One of the pioneer Wagyu breeders in South Africa, Samuel Pauw, earlier this week spoke to the Economist, explaining the differences between Wagyu and conventional redmeat breeds, and also why the animal is ideally suited for Namibian cattle farmers to introduce the genetics into their existing herds, or to breed and produce pure Wagyu as a separate branch of their farming operation.
At the auction some 190 breeding animals comprising SA-bred Wagyus, Red Wagyus (Akaushi), Black Japanese Wagyus, as well as 128 embrios and 36 semen straws, will come under the hammer.
The Pretoria auction is scheduled for Saturday 21 October 2017. It is organised by the South African Wagyu Association with its headquarters in Bloemfontein in the Orange Free State.