WAGYU is a well-known beef breed, synonymous with high-marbling, tender cuts of beef served at top-end restaurants.
As demand for Wagyu beef has expanded over the years, some WA beef producers have started experimenting with Wagyu bulls within their commercial beef operations but a less well-known breed, Red Wagyu, is also now being road tested by two South West producers.
Pinjarra-based farmers Leigh McLarty, Blythewood Pastoral and Marc Ross, Lanstal Shorthorns, have each taken on some Red Wagyu bulls from North Dandalup-based Melaleuka Red Wagyu stud to trial during their 2019 joining period.
It all came about following a field day in April at Melaleuka Farm which was attended by producers interested in learning more about the Red Wagyu breed.
John Dawkins from Melaleuka Farm said there has been Wagyu at their North Dandalup property for a number of years.
"My father comes to cattle breeding from a medical profession, so we're interested in the health attributes of Wagyu beef," John said.
"We've had Wagyu for about 10 years and the Red Wagyu for about five.
"The traditional black Wagyu breed is well-known for it's high intramuscular fat content and Red Wagyu has similar marbling ability but what stands out about the Red Wagyu is the healthier type of fat which is more like olive oil and less like butter which makes it more heart-friendly for consumers when they're enjoying a steak."
In recent years Melaleuka Farm has been putting Red Wagyu bulls over their commercial herd of Simmental females to produce F1 calves to supply restaurants with Wagyu beef.
"We've had success ourselves with the Red Wagyu cross calves, but now we want to see how they perform for others which is why we've been inviting people to try the Red Wagyu bulls," John said.
Leigh McLarty, who farms with his brother Geoffrey and son Nick at Blythewood south of Pinjarra agreed to have a go with the Red Wagyu.
"I was just curious to see how they'd perform," Leigh said.
The McLarty family runs a commercial herd of 700 breeders including Shorthorns, Red Angus-Shorthorns and Simmental-Shorthorns and have adapted their beef operation in response to market changes over the years.
"We have always tried to have a variety of animals on the property so we don't lock into one market," Leigh said.
"And we are always open to options as market trends change."
Hence the Red Wagyu trial at the McLarty place this year.
In mid-May, two Red Wagyu bulls went in with a mob of 70 Shorthorn and Red Angus-Shorthorn females which currently have March-drop Simmental cross calves at foot.
"We've decided to trial the Red Wagyu bulls for four weeks and we'll back them up with Simmental bulls afterwards," Leigh said.
"But I'm confident we'll get a lot of the Wagyu calves because we have been really lucky with the rain this year, meaning we've had a lot of green pick to get the cows on a right plain ready for mating.
"I'm looking forward to seeing how the calves perform within our operation in comparison to the typical drop of calves we'll have hitting the ground at the same time next year."
Another producer interested in what a Red Wagyu cross calf can achieve is Marc Ross, Lanstal Shorthorn stud, Pinjarra.
The Red Wagyus went in with the breeding herd later at the Lanstal property, with Marc putting three bulls in with a mob of 80 stud Shorthorns in early June.
"We'll leave the bulls in for eight weeks and see how they go," Marc said.
"We don't plan to back them up, they seem to have a really good work ethic and we'll be interested to see what happens."
Because the females selected to go in with the Red Wagyu bulls are stud females, Marc will have a lot of information and data at his disposal to help accurately compare the performance of his purebred 2020 calf drop with the Red Wagyu cross.
"We'll be capturing birthweights and weaning weights as usual with these calves so we'll be able to get a really good idea of how they compare," Marc said.
"At first glance looking at the Red Wagyu bulls in the paddock, they've got plenty of length and a bit of muscling and I think that they should combine nicely with the conformation and milk of the Shorthorn females.
"I can't see calving problems being an issue either as the bulls are a bit small so it will certainly be interesting to see how the calves grow."
Alan Peggs is an agricultural consultant who is working with the Melaleuka team and said it was important for the next stage of trailing Red Wagyu bulls in WA to be conducted with farmers like Leigh and Marc.
"Both of these producers are very good cattle people," Alan said.
"It was important that moving from their own in house commercial trail of the Red Wagyu bulls, the Melaleuka team found producers to try the Red Wagyu that really know what they are looking for in a beef animal.
"Their observations and insights once the Red Wagyu calves are on the ground next year will be invaluable."
The Melaleuka team has been in consultation with some WA pastoralists, looking at the performance of Red Wagyu in the northern pastoral region.
"We thought the Red Wagyu-Shorthorn cross would be a good mix, but we are also very interested in the adaptability of Red Wagyu in pastoral areas," Alan said.
"We had a group of pastoralists come down in November last year to look at the Red Wagyu cattle and we're looking at Santa Gertrudis crosses as an option in partnership with Granite Peak station and also Droughtmaster crosses in partnership with Boolathana station."
The performance of these oncoming Red Wagyu cross calves will be closely monitored in the coming years but should they prove successful, there may well be more tasty, heart health-friendly options on steak menus across the State.