THE Japanese cattle breed - Akaushi - was front and centre of discussions at a recent field day at the McLarty family's property Blythewood at Pinjarra.
The field day, which was organised by the Dawkins family, Tillbrook Melaleuka Group (TMG) and the CY O'Connor ERADE Village Foundation, was well attended by more than 50 people and during the morning's proceedings they heard from a number of speakers who highlighted the benefits of the breed.
Speakers on the day included Roger and John Dawkins, agricultural and pastoral consultant Alan Peggs, Leigh McLarty and Western Meat Packer's Lui Rinaldi and Anthony Morabito.
The Akaushi breed is relatively new to WA and was introduced by the Dawkins family into its breeding program at North Dandalup in 2013.
The Dawkins family runs a paddock-to-plate program which involves 1000 breeders at properties at North Dandalup and Waroona, alongside five taverns and a burger bar.
The breeding herd is made up of 250 full-blood, registered Akaushi and 750 commercial breeders, which are Simmentals or first and second cross (F1 and F2) Akaushi.
The Akaushi breed is one of four breeds in Japan and comes from the southernmost island of Japan and the region Kumamoto, where it was developed to withstand the challenging terrain and climate of the region and its origins date back to the late 1800s and early 1900s.
The breed was developed from the Kumamoto Red breed with infusions of the South Devon, Simmental and Hanwoo (Korean) breeds.
Speaking first, Mr Peggs said the role for the Akaushi cattle in Western Australia was confirmed when he and John Dawkins visited Texas in the United States in 2019 to attend a convention on the breed.
"I was aware of the breed from 2013 via my association with the Dawkins family but I came back to WA from the convention convinced they had a role here after seeing that the breed had adapted to a wide range of environments in Texas and seemed to cross well with any breed - from Brahman to Jersey," Mr Peggs said.
"They also tend to have a higher marbling content and a lower melting temperature of fat, which is good for health.
"The high marbling trait was of particular interest as it guarantees a consistency of eating quality.
"We were also told buyers were prepared to pay a premium for F1 Akaushi calves and demand was outstripping supply of F1 Akaushi calves.
"It was also evident by the attendance at the conference that there was plenty of interest in the breed, not only in the US but there were also representatives from Mexico, South Africa and New Zealand in attendance."
From their observation and findings on the trip, Mr Peggs said they were convinced the breed could play a role in both the pastoral and agricultural regions of WA when it came to enhancing beef eating quality in terms of improved marbling and a lower melting temperature of fat.
"We knew the breed could benefit WA beef producers but our next challenge was to convince them they could run the breed successfully," Mr Peggs said.
So over the past couple of years he has convinced a number of producers, who are based in different regions and run a variety of breeds, to try some Akaushi bulls and to date Mr Peggs said the progeny by these bulls have shown promise.
Producers who have tried the bulls include Leigh, Geoff and Nick McLarty, Pinjarra, over Shorthorns; Adam Hamersley, Boolathana station, Carnarvon, over Droughtmasters; Todd Quartermaine, Ucarty feedlot, Dowerin, over Angus; Lachlan McTaggart, Gingin, over Brahman and Murray Grey-Brahman cross and Jorgen Jensen, Yowergabbie station, over Santa Gertrudis.
Along with discussing his personal observations on the breed, Mr Peggs also went through a trial undertaken by Michigan State University and published in the Journal of Animal Science between Red Angus and Red Angus-Akaushi steers.
He said the trial showed there was not a great deal of difference when it came to growth of the two lines of steers but there were significant differences when it came to the carcase on three measurements.
The trial showed Red Angus-Akaushi cross calves had a higher dressing percentage, a larger rib eye (eye muscle area) and higher marbling score than the pure Red Angus calves.
In concluding Mr Peggs said based on what he and the Dawkins family had seen, they believe producers were not going to lose anything by putting an Akaushi bull over any breed, but they may gain something especially in terms of carcase quality.
Roger and John Dawkins followed on from Mr Peggs and went through how they see the Akaushi breed fitting into WA and their beef operation.
Professor Roger Dawkins, chairman of the CY O'Connor Foundation, said the Akaushi has a wonderful genetic base to develop further and adapt to WA conditions.
"It was developed slowly and a lot of selection went into it which means it has a solid genetic pool and predictability," professor Dawkins said.
"We believe we can develop a version, the WAKaushi, which will be adapted to WA conditions.
"We want to breed an Akaushi which is red, polled (safe horns) animal that produces a first-cross animal recording more than three marbling score off WA pastures, maintains growth (ADG) and carcase weight, has high fertility and ease of calving.
"We also want it to be adapted to WA conditions through continual upgrading, have continued selection for marbling and low TM genes plus have traceability through the supply chain.
"We would like to come up with a collaboration whereby we can record and maybe register the Akaushi in Australia.
"At the moment it is in the black Wagyu register and doesn't get the support and credibility it deserves.
"The American Akaushi Association is interested in establishing a relationship within Australia whereby we could register animals on their systems."
John Dawkins, who is managing director of TMG, said the reason the family got into hospitality as well as Wagyus and now Akaushi, was both the science and research side and their interest in human health.
"The human health side led us through the healthier fat side and Wagyus/Akaushi while the pubs came about by Dad wanting to build a pub where the researchers could go after work and have a beer and a catch up," Mr Dawkins said.
"Initially our family's breeding herd was originally Shorthorn bloodlines but over the years they have introduced Simmental and Wagyu genetics and in more recent years the Akaushi.
"We are now getting more polled purebred Akaushi in our herd while we are also increasing the numbers of F1 and F2s in our commercial herd.
"The next decision for us will be where to stop with the commercial herd in terms of crosses as there are arguments both ways.
"The guys in Texas have done a lot of work looking at F1s through to full bloods and what they have told us moving from F1 to F2 will only give us a small drop in weight gain but a significant uplift in marble score which is important for us."
Mr Dawkins said they have found there was definitely an improvement in eating quality of the Akaushi cross.
"As each load comes through the chefs have tasted the meat and without any encouragement or discussion have formed their opinions that it eats better," he said.
"This is not surprising given you get a better marbling and a healthier fat (lower melting temperature of fat) which also gives a better eating experience.
"We have also found the first-cross Akaushi cattle match our Euro bred cattle in terms of ADG and have better muscling and growth than Wagyu.
"Basically we haven't lost anything in terms of growth but have gained when it comes to eating quality."
The next stage Mr Dawkins said for the operation would be to have a deeper look into the area between long and short term feeding.
"We have put a lot through the longfed (more than 300 days) to get more marbling but now we want to look at the feeding area between 100 and 200 days which the Americans do and see if we can get the marble score 3 plus consistently," he said.
"Personally I think marble score 3 is a good spot to be, as it is a really good eating experience."
Host Leigh McLarty was next up and he discussed his family's experiences using the Akaushi breed over the past couple years in their Shorthorn/Red Angus/Simmental cross herd.
Mr McLarty said they first saw the breed when they attended a field day at Melaleuka and became interested in it when finding out about its marbling traits.
"We learnt a fair bit about marbling when we worked with Rob Nottle and he fed our cattle at Nebru Plains (Three Springs)," Mr McLarty said.
"We did visit Japan when we worked with Rob and saw the Wagyu when we were there and thought about getting into them but didn't at that point, because they decided they could make more from their Shorthorns due to the difference in growth rates.
"But after attending the field day at Melaleuka and finding out about the Akaushi we decided to try a couple of bulls."
Mr McLarty said they put the bulls out for a few weeks and got 40 calves in the first three weeks.
"So the first thing we learnt was they had a very good ability to get calves," Mr McLarty said.
"Before the calves were born we wondered what we would get and when they were born we were pleasantly surprised.
"We had no calving problems and they looked very similar to our Red Angus cross calves when they were born and after a few weeks they just looked like the other calves in the paddock.
"Then at weaning time they were as good as any other calf."
When it came to marketing their first drop of Akaushi sired calves, Mr McLarty said they put the heifers through the feedlot at 11 to 12 months old while they held the steers over for 12 months and sold them off grass.
"As the heifers were immature we didn't really get a great marble score," he said.
We were around the twos but we did get one which did a three or four, which was acceptable.
"We did kill one for ourselves and found the meat to be quite nice.
"In terms of the steers the last of them have just gone and they appeared to also be a good animal.
"We are sort of learning as we are going and if we want to express the marbling, then we are probably going to have to feed them longer.
"But so far we have been happy with the cattle we have produced."
Based on the results they have seen this year, the McLartys are going to mate the 100 Shorthorn and Simmental cross heifers to Akaushi bulls because they have shown to be an easy-calving animal and they are hoping to see the same growth rates they got in their older cows."
Western Meat Packers Group (WMPG) export sales manager Lui Rinaldi and livestock specialist Anthony Morabito rounded out the speakers.
They outlined their insights into what WMPG does and where it is headed in the future, as well as the impacts COVID has had on the business over the past couple of years including increased costs and workforce availability.
Mr Morabito said WMPG had grown significantly since its establishment in 1983.
"WMPG now operates an abattoir, a domestic and export boning room, a cold storage facility, an export approved ready retail plant, a skin and hide business and WA's Big Butcher retail outlet which showcases WMPG's Margaret River Fresh branded beef," Mr Morabito said.
He said when it came to its Margaret River Fresh brand, it has a grassfed and grainfed program, as well as an Angus beef program, an organic beef program and Wagyu program.
"The retail shop provides us with a great tool to market all our different lines within the Margaret River Fresh Brand to all end consumers," Mr Morabito said.
"We are currently trialling a 'Big Barbecue Range' which value adds to some of the cuts we don't normally see in the retail space which is exciting, and the store is providing a great trial run for that."
When it comes to its export markets WMPG sells into the United States, South East Asia, Mauritius and the Middle East, Mr Rinaldi said they all take different offerings.
"For example, Japan takes a lot of offal, Korea the ribs and short ribs, US the bull meat, Mauritius take a full sea container monthly of a range of products, Singapore is the high-end market and we airfreight there every week while Vietnam and Thailand are more the lower quality cuts but they are starting to change," Mr Rinaldi said.
"Before COVID our sales were swayed more towards the export market but that has changed with COVID due to prices and the difficulty in getting products to the export markets.
"Last year our domestic sales made up 57.3 per cent and export 42.7pc.
"We have had to change our sales model due to increased costs such as high cattle prices and the issues with COVID.
"In terms of domestic sales, we supply to supermarkets like Coles, Woolworths, IGA independents, manufacturers as well as butchers and retailers, but we have to fit the weight specifications for the supermarkets and butchers.
"For our premium brand we are chasing up to 340 kilograms carcase weight (CWT)."
Mr Morabito said they were hopeful they were through the worst of COVID especially when it came to issues with the workforce as it had reduced their processing capacity in recent times.
Looking to the future, Mr Rinaldi said demand was still good but it does come and go and WMPG wasn't expecting cattle prices to fall significantly in the short-term.
"They may come back a little, but the drop will not be significant as there still is not enough cattle around," he said.
Also during their presentation, they looked at Meat Standards Australia (MSA) data from a sample of the McLarty's Akaushi cross animals WMPG had processed.
Mr Morabito said they had good fat coverage, but it was just outside the scope of its Margaret River Fresh brand due to weight but if you looked at the other specifications the carcases presented well.
"The carcasses had above average MSA Index scores which is used to predict the eating quality of the beef," he said.