Wagyu beef is a highly sought-after delicacy known for its exceptional quality and luxurious taste. But have you ever wondered how this prized meat is prepared for consumption?
In this article, we’ll take a closer look at the process of slaughtering Wagyu cattle, from their upbringing to their final moments. We’ll explore the meticulous care and attention that goes into producing this premium beef, and shed light on some common misconceptions about the industry.
So, grab a seat and get ready to learn about the fascinating world of Wagyu beef slaughter.
How Is Wagyu Beef Slaughtered?
The process of slaughtering Wagyu cattle is a highly regulated and carefully monitored process. Before the cattle are even considered for slaughter, they are raised with the utmost care and attention to ensure their well-being and the quality of their meat.
Wagyu cows are typically raised by specialty breeders until they are between seven and 10 months old, at which point they are sold to a farmer along with a birth certificate certifying their pure bloodline. These animals can cost farmers as much as $30,000 each, which is significantly more than the typical American Angus.
After being sold to a farmer, the cows are taken to feeding farms where they are given names and allowed to roam and graze in a stress-free environment. During this period, the cows mature for two or three years or until they reach about 1,500 pounds or gain around 50% fat. The way Wagyu are fed and cared for is important to ensuring that they reach this milestone. Wagyu are never given growth promotants, steroids, hormones or drugs to help them gain weight faster. The process is natural, which means it takes more time than it does in the typical methods used in the U.S.
When it comes time for slaughter, the cattle are transported to a processing facility where they are handled with care and respect. The facility must meet strict guidelines for cleanliness and safety, and all workers must be trained in humane handling techniques.
The cattle are first stunned using a captive bolt gun, which renders them unconscious and pain-free. They are then hoisted up by their hind legs and bled out. This process is quick and efficient, ensuring that the animal experiences minimal stress or discomfort.
Once the animal has been bled out, it is then processed into various cuts of meat. The meat is carefully inspected for quality and graded according to strict standards set by the Japanese government. Only meat that meets these standards can be labeled as Wagyu beef.
The Upbringing Of Wagyu Cattle
The upbringing of Wagyu cattle is a crucial aspect of the process that ensures the quality of their meat. These cattle are raised with great care and attention to detail, starting with their genetic lineage. The Wagyu breed originated in Japan and has been selectively bred for centuries to produce high-quality meat. Today, there are four different breeds of Wagyu cattle in Japan: Japanese Black, Japanese Brown, Japanese Shorthorn, and Japanese Polled.
Wagyu cows are typically raised by specialty breeders who ensure that their lineage is purebred. Once they are sold to a farmer, they are transported to feeding farms where they are given names and allowed to roam and graze in a stress-free environment. During this time, the cows are fed a natural diet consisting of grass, hay, and sometimes rice straw. They are never given growth hormones or drugs to help them gain weight faster.
The feeding process is critical to the maturation of the cattle. Wagyu cows mature for two or three years until they reach about 1,500 pounds or gain around 50% fat. This process takes longer than typical methods used in the U.S., but it is necessary to ensure that the meat is of the highest quality. During this time, the cows are monitored closely by farmers who ensure that they are healthy and happy.
The way Wagyu cows are cared for is crucial to the quality of their meat. These cows are known for their marbling, which is the fine strips of fat found even in lean meat. The flavor of the fat is exquisite, with a buttery, tender texture that dissolves in one’s mouth. The way these cows are fed and raised contributes significantly to this marbling and flavor.
The Importance Of Stress-Free Slaughter
Stress-free slaughter is crucial to maintaining the quality of the meat produced from Wagyu cattle. Stress prior to slaughter can have a significant impact on the meat’s tenderness, color, water-holding capacity, and overall quality. The stress can come from both physical and psychological factors, such as fighting, cold weather, fasting, or excitement and agitation during handling.
Research has shown that cattle that become agitated and excited during handling have significantly lower weight gains, tougher meat, and are more likely to produce borderline dark cutters. Long-term preslaughter stress can deplete muscle glycogen, resulting in meat with a higher pH, darker color, and drier texture. Short-term acute stress can result in meat with a lower pH, lighter color, reduced water binding capacity, and possibly tougher texture. Psychological stressors like excitement and fighting can have a more detrimental effect on meat quality than physical stressors like fasting or cold weather.
Therefore, it is essential to ensure that Wagyu cattle are handled with care and respect during the slaughtering process to minimize stress levels. This includes using humane handling techniques, ensuring that workers are trained in low-stress handling, and providing a calm and quiet environment. The use of new technologies like robot cattle movers and vibrating air prods can also help reduce stress levels during handling.
The Role Of Skilled Butchers In Wagyu Beef Production
The role of skilled butchers in Wagyu beef production is critical to ensuring that the meat is handled and processed correctly. These butchers are trained to identify the different cuts of meat and to use specialized techniques to extract the maximum flavor and tenderness from each cut.
One of the key skills that a butcher must possess when working with Wagyu beef is an understanding of the intricate marbling patterns that are unique to this breed. The marbling in Wagyu beef is what gives it its signature flavor and texture, so it’s essential that the butcher knows how to work with it properly.
Another important skill for a Wagyu butcher is the ability to handle the meat with care and precision. Because Wagyu beef is so tender, it requires a delicate touch to avoid damaging the meat or losing any of its precious juices.
In addition to these technical skills, a good Wagyu butcher must also possess a deep appreciation for the art of meat cutting. They must understand how different cuts of meat can be used in different dishes, and they must be able to recommend the best cuts for each customer’s needs.
Common Misconceptions About Wagyu Beef Slaughter
There are several common misconceptions about the slaughter of Wagyu cattle that have been perpetuated by misinformation. One of the most pervasive is the idea that Wagyu cattle are fed beer and massaged before slaughter. While it is true that some farmers in Japan may have massaged their cows’ muscles during wintertime to prevent cramping, this practice is not standard and is not related to the quality of the beef. Similarly, while some Japanese farmers may have fed their cattle beer to increase their appetites, this practice is not required for Wagyu beef production and is not used in the United States.
Another misconception is that Wagyu beef is too fatty. While it is true that Wagyu beef has a high level of marbling, which gives it a rich, buttery texture, this does not mean that it has an overall higher proportion of fat than American beef. In fact, Wagyu cattle are genetically predisposed to have high levels of unsaturated fats, which are considered healthier than saturated fats. Additionally, because the fat in Wagyu beef is evenly dispersed throughout the meat and melts at a lower temperature than other beef, smaller portions can be just as satisfying as larger portions of other types of beef.
Finally, there is a misconception that all Wagyu beef is Kobe beef. While all Kobe beef is Wagyu, not all Wagyu beef can be labeled as Kobe. Kobe beef must come from Tajima-Gyu cattle that have been born, raised, and slaughtered in the Hyōgo prefecture of which Kobe is the capital. The meat must also meet strict grading standards for fat-marbling ratio, gross weight of beef, and overall meat quality. Any meat labeled as Kobe outside of this region should be labeled as “Kobe-style” to avoid confusion.
The Future Of Wagyu Beef Production
The future of Wagyu beef production looks promising, with the market projected to grow at a CAGR of 6.37% during the forecast period of 2022-2029. The changing consumer preferences and improved standard of living are driving the demand for premium quality beef products, including Wagyu beef. Rising population and increasing consumer disposable income are also key factors boosting the demand for Wagyu beef.
Moreover, the expansion of animal husbandry activities in key producing areas of the Asia-Pacific region is likely to bring down prices, providing a larger customer base for the market. The Australian Wagyu Association (AWA) forecasts that Wagyu beef will account for 7% of feedlot cattle by 2020.
However, the recent drought in New South Wales and Queensland, and subsequent rise in grain prices, has led to reduced profitability for mainstream producers. This could potentially lead to a shift towards more sustainable and eco-friendly farming practices, which could benefit both the environment and the quality of Wagyu beef.
In addition, advancements in technology and genetics could also play a role in improving the production and quality of Wagyu beef. For instance, genetic modification could be used to produce cattle with even more intense fat marbling, resulting in even more tender and flavorful meat.