If you were writing a "want ad" for your cowherd, calving ease, a docile temperament, and the ability to adapt to the environment would probably be on the required traits list. Along with that, carcass traits - specifically marbling - would also likely rank high in order to command premium prices.

So if a Wagyu bull answered your "want ad" would you give him the job?

Fact is, the Wagyu breed's resume does include all those attributes - from calving ease and adaptability to high marbling genetics. Most importantly, Wagyu beef has earned a reputation synonymous with exquisite taste - and research has proven it to be beneficial to human health.

Because of that, there are some opportunities for the breed within the beef industry - from fullblood and percentage operations to commercial herds.

Charles Gaskins, who serves as Executive Secretary of the American Wagyu Association and is also on the faculty of the Washington State University Animal Sciences department says, "The Wagyu breed has some valuable attributes ...Wagyu can greatly enhance the marbling potential of progeny in beef crossing systems. Wagyu will also improve tenderness and enhance beef flavor because Wagyu have a different profile of fatty acids compared to other breeds."

Additionally, he points out that Wagyu bulls produce smaller calves at birth than most other breeds, and therefore are an excellent choice for breeding to heifers. "Reducing calving difficulty reduces costs and improves the lifetime productivity of cows," he says.

Thus, from adding desirable traits to commercial herds to aiming for the high-dollar premiums associated with high percentage and fullblood Wagyu beef, some producers might find Wagyu fits their needs for the future.

A Nebraska Example

On their ranch near Burwell, NE, the Morgan family has been raising and selling Wagyu beef for nearly 20 years. They have focused on raising registered Purebred Wagyu (93.75% Wagyu or more) and three-quarter blood Wagyu and selling their Wagyu beef online and through contracts nationally and internationally to restaurants, gourmet food markets and individuals.

Of their Wagyu herd Jeanne Morgan says, "We are ranchers in the beef business, and the cows have to work for us."

The Morgan's began raising Wagyu because of the exceptional quality of the final product. In addition to carcass quality, they also like the Wagyu breed for its fertility and calving ease - average birth weight is 65 lbs. By concentrating on a high a percentage Wagyu, the Morgan's feel they are able to increase efficiency, particularly feed efficiency.

"We've put heavy selection pressure on polled genetics, and we've worked at selecting for feed efficiency," Jeanne says. She explains that their cattle are often on feed for 200-250 days to finish - where most Wagyu cattle are fed for 300 days or longer. And she adds, "To verify our quality control we collect carcass data on every animal harvested relating back to sire and dam."

"Our main goal is to maintain a high percentage of Wagyu genetics and still maintain the superior quality of the meat. We've found that you can raise a Wagyu that is acceptable to look at phenotypically and is economically efficient and offers an exquisite dining experience," she says. In 2006, Morgan Ranch American Wagyu was the winner of the Wall Street Journal's Best Value Award in a blind taste test of Wagyu beef.

In addition to selling their Wagyu beef direct, Morgan Ranch also sells bulls by private treaty to a well-established customer base of commercial producers who buy Wagyu bulls for calving ease, hybrid vigor, carcass quality, and to retain females in order to add fertility and carcass traits in their herd.

Morgan's advice to others is that Wagyu can fit a commercial operation and that not all Wagyu need to be fullbloods. She says, "There is a place in the real world for these genetics, but you have to know how to manage and market them."

Advice from AgriBeef

As one of the largest suppliers of Wagyu beef in the U.S., AgriBeef sells their American-style Kobe beef under the label Snake River Farms. Luke Detar, a production specialist, explains that in producing their Wagyu product AgriBeef owns the genetics and contracts with producers that have Red and Black Angus and baldie based herds, and then buys back the Wagyu calves. About 95% of the Snake River Farms beef is supplied this way.

Detar says it is done through controlled genetics and contracts to ensure a premium product is produced.

Because of this Detar also advises those looking to get into the Wagyu breed to "know your plan and know your buyer."

He adds, "It is important to have some contracts set up because that is how the majority of Wagyu beef is purchased."

But he cautions that producers need to look at using Wagyu for the right reasons and be sure it will benefit the industry. He concludes, "There is opportunity but producers need to be careful and realistic. There can be a lot of variance in the Wagyu breed; there are also vast differences in the traditional long fed and short fed Wagyu beef. Just like any breed it takes a whole system to result in quality beef."