JUMPING on board the Wagyu wave was a key message coming from the WA Lot Feeders Association workshop held at the Gilmour family’s Irongate stud, Albany, recently.
Irongate managing director Peter Gilmour welcomed a good crowd of attendees to the property and informed them of the exciting times ahead for the Wagyu breed.
Already attracting significant premiums on the domestic market, Mr Gilmour said there was huge potential for the breed in terms of the boxed beef exports into markets such as Japan, China and, potentially, the Middle East.
Mr Gilmour stressed that collaboration was the key to grasping these opportunities, saying he was keen to work with all cattle producers to build numbers of Wagyu and F1 Wagyu in WA to meet increasing demand.
“Our aim is to lift our full blood herd from 800 breeders to 2000 as well as running a herd of 300 Angus for Wagyu F1 production,” Mr Gilmour said.
“There are also plans in place to develop a Great Southern Wagyu brand that could produce 1000-5000 head of F1 Wagyu and we will be looking at working with Angus heifer producers on this.”
Mr Gilmour told the crowd that the move of the Australian Wagyu Assocation into genomics was another exciting development for the breed.
“The breed has made good progress with the use of Estimated Breeding Values but with the move into genomics, the gains in quality will be increased significantly and quite rapidly,” he said.
“The traits that can be measured are traits that pay and the aim is to have 3000 animals on the register with genomic prediction.
“From birth it will take five to six weeks to predict an animal’s carcase traits and this will lead to rapid gains in selecting elite female and bull seedstock at birth.
“If we can drop the bottom 15 per cent of the bell curve in terms of what an animal’s potential is, we can rapidly improve the quality of herds and also get those lesser performing animals off earlier and to another market, such as the feeder market.
“This reduces risk and optimises feed outcomes.”
Recently returned from a trade mission to Japan with other Australian Wagyu breeders, Mr Gilmour said it was good to have dialogue with Japanese Wagyu breeders.
“While you cannot sell Australian Wagyu under the Wagyu brand in Japan, quality marbled beef is making a premium in that market,” he said.
“We visited the Tokyo meat market and there were Wagyu carcases being sold for around $38 a kilogram there, so you can see the value placed on quality marbled beef in that market.”
Mr Gilmour, in conjunction with Irongate farm manager Mark James, has big plans for continued expansion of the Irongate herd.
“We have a clear focus on improving genetics and creating economically important value chains,” Mr Gilmour said.
“We need to improve the fineness of the marbling within the Wagyu breed in Australia. While we have pretty good quality now, when you compare it to what is produced in Japan we still have a bit of a way to go.”
The Irongate team is looking to use digital data, genomic technology and a whole of farm approach to increase quality and efficiencies.
The stud has done a lot of work on pastures with Australian Mineral Fertilisers and the GrowSafe program and sees pasture improvement as a way to increase herd numbers.
In terms of cattle, calves are now being measured from within 12 hours of birth and the focus is on trying to breed quality beef from day one of an animal’s life.
Birthweights of calves are recorded and a DNA test is done so they can be registered. Calves are also given a shot of B12, MultiMin and a probiotic and from one-month-old are given access to creep feeders, which only allow the calves to feed not the cows.
“They are on a high protein pellet manufactured by Kojonup Feed Supplies,” Mr James said.
“We want to put high energy into the calf so that we can set it up for an early weaning.
“We probably wean about a month or two earlier than normal and we are looking for calves to put on 1kg a day.
“While we want to do that off grass ideally, if the season isn’t there we use the pellets to get them to that 1kg/day growth.”
In terms of seedstock, the Irongate stud is producing bulls that will service the large F1 market.
“We want to bring that marbling to the table,” Mr James said.
“The bulls are mostly going over Angus or Bos indicus and they already have the frame and milk, we want our bulls to lift that meat quality and marbling.”
Mr James also addressed the unusual look of the Wagyu and the heavy forequarters on the animal.
“While most breeds are looking for that square animal, the Wagyu is a real wedge shape, thicker in the front than the back,” he said.
“Every cut close to the heart of the animal seems to get the marbling, so the forequarter of the Wagyu is where the real value is.”
Summing up the day overall, Mr Gilmour said it was great to get producers together to learn from each other.
“We will get feedback from them and we have hopefully given them one or two ideas they can take away and that is what is pleasing for me,” he said.
“It can be a lonely game farming, and if you are not talking to others in the production system, it is a difficult practice and there is so much technology out there we need to embrace it.
“The Wagyu industry is on the cusp of this single step Breedplan analysis and that is very exciting for the breed.”
Mr Gilmour said WA now had a unique opportunity to capture premium markets.
“We are 10 years behind a State like Queensland probably, but we have to do our best now and try and utilise the State we live in and the story we can tell about our products,” he said.
“We are lucky we have the federal and state governments behind us, we have rising prices and we have new markets emerging city by city as they evolve in China.”