Protect Your Profits with Wagyu

Published on Wed, 09/27/2023 - 4:07pm

Protect Your Profits with Wagyu

By Jenny Tweedy

The Conditions are Stacked
The midyear report published by the USDA showing the results of consecutive years of drought conditions across the Western United States coupled with a 14% increase in slaughtered beef contributed to the continued decline in the US beef cowherd. Yet the NOAA 2023 weather outlook predicts that starting in December 2022 through February 2023, drier-than-average conditions across the South with wetter-than-average conditions for areas of the Ohio Valley, Great Lakes, northern Rockies and Pacific Northwest. With beef demand sustaining amongst the end consumer, a tightened feeder cattle inventory warranting increased prices, and areas across the North and Western states starting to see reprieve from the drought: cow calf producers in recovering areas will begin to see more promising conditions for production and start to consider how they restock their herd.

And whether replacements are ranch raised or purchased, either decision will have long term implications on an operations’ profitability. A cow’s longevity in the herd is one of most significant economic factors in managing a cow calf operation, and management practices should be considered to protect that initial investment.

Consider the true cost of heifer development. Journal of Applied Farm Economics Article Profitability of Developing Beef Heifers on Stockpiled Winter Forages illustrates how costly heifer development can be. This article calculates the breakeven cost of heifer development in years of calf production. For heifers on forage-based systems, they would breakeven after 3-4 years of calf production while dry lot heifers would breakeven after 9-10 years in calf production. With that level of investment being involved with replacing culled cows with heifers, all management decisions should be considered to increase longevity and profitability in that young female’s production lifetime.

Wagyu Could Be the Solution
Ranchers have many management decisions that impact a females longevity including nutrition, bull selection, and herd health protocols. From a breeding perspective, the heifer’s best opportunity for increased years in calf production is to breed her to a bull with high fertility and increased opportunity for a low-birth-weight calf to get through the first calving season. Many producers have turned to the use of Wagyu on their first calf heifers to produce a terminal F1 cross. This decision provides many quantifiable benefits: increased opportunity for pregnancy rates, low birth weight calves, increased breed back, and a low-birth-weight calf that yield a premium over market.

Phenotype of Wagyu bulls tends to be the first hurdle for the commercial cattlemen when considering the decision to incorporate Wagyu genetics into their operation. Wagyu bulls have not been selected off phenotype for generations, rather Wagyu seedstock breeding selection revolves around the value represented on the rail.  Yet “beauty” is in the eye of the beholder for the commercial cattlemen when considering breed attributes that Wagyu bulls contribute. Excellent semen quality and increased libido are known breed characteristics of Wagyu bulls. This fosters an increased opportunity for a confirmed pregnancy, a decrease in stress at the time of calving, and increased likelihood that heifer will breed back for the following years in production.

Low birth weight is the first opportunity commercial cattlemen consider when breeding to heifers to Wagyu. Montana producers who have been partnering with Mishima Reserve Wagyu Beef to produce F1 Wagyu calves for the luxury beef brand were interviewed about their initial decision to breed their heifers to Wagyu. Producers interviewed reported the average birth weight is 65 pounds and attested to the additional attributes in participating in Mishima Reserve’s calf buy back program.

When asking Clay Bedford of Kite Cattle Company in Roundup, MT about why they initially incorporated Wagyu genetics into their production system, his response was “We have been running Wagyu cattle for almost 15 years now. We initially started breeding heifers that way, and we never went back to calving heifers the usual way.” Clay reports once his operation started using Wagyu “we could calve them on the range, and we have always told people that was the real benefit for us.” That decision has benefitted their production system for over a decade. “We have never turned back, and we eventually decided to breed our whole cowherd to Wagyu.”

Opportunities around calving ease is not the only benefit, the low-birth-weight calf as a result will also bring a premium over the market when partnering with Mishima Reserve Wagyu Beef. Mishima Reserve offers quality Wagyu genetics in the form of leasing or selling bulls to cow calf producers with a guaranteed buy back program. Calves eligible for the buy-back program come from a predominately angus dam base, have been raised naturally, and have been weaned 45-60 days when they are marketed to Mishima Reserve.

An expressed hesitation from cow calf producers when committing to Mishima Reserve’s Wagyu program is the belief that a low-birthweight F1 calf will not wean enough pounds for the premium to warrant a change in their production system, yet many producers after committing to the F1 production program report that they wean on average 50 less pounds in comparison to their straight Angus animals, but still profit more dollars per head than calves produced out of their cows.

Mishima Reserve is a proven partner when considering breeding heifers and marketing into a premium market. Turk Stovall of Billings, MT, owner of Stovall Ranches and partner in Yellowstone Feeders stated “We really put a lot of effort into research and data and working with Mishima Reserve and their team has been awesome. We couldn’t find a better partner.” Producers like Turk Stovall have been using Wagyu Bulls on their heifers for years and marketing their calves to Mishima Reserve.

Mishima Reserve is a growing branded beef company meeting the continued demand of a premium beef product and is seeking additional partners in production. Mishima Reserve procures calves across the Western United States and is hosting an educational symposium and producer event in Columbus, MT on February 22, 2023 at Midland Bull Test. For more information on the program and the producer event visit