Irreplaceable Cattle

100% Fullblood Wagyu

Wagyu are different than the other 800 or so breeds of cattle in the world. They were isolated in Japan for a thousand years and did not interbreed as much as other breeds. They are smaller, take longer to mature, and, because they were originally used as draft animals, have large shoulders and smaller hindquarters. They are also docile, sweet, and playful in disposition. Their  genetic protein coding causes them to produce a marbling that is closer to salmon in terms of nutrition and is beyond compare of any other breed.

During the 1970’s the trade relationship between the United States and Japan started to thaw. U.S. management guru’s, including William Edwards Deming, helped Japanese industry enter the modern world in areas of auto manufacturing and electronics. As the friendship between our two countries grew, a shipment of four Wagyu was sent to America in 1976. Two of the four bulls were Akaushi or Kumomoto Reds named Rueshaw and Judo, a Japanese National Akaushi Champion. The other two bulls were Mazda, a Tottori, and Mt. Fuzi, a Tajima breed. The greatly respected Japanese Wagyu master Shogo Takeda made two final shipments of Wagyu to the U.S. in 1996 and 1997. Ted Naruke tells the story:

“We chartered the 747 and took the animals to Iowa.… We held them in a quarantined facility for thirty days before they shipped out. The first shipment went smoothly. The Japanese Kobe registry complained to the government when we shipped the second time in 1997. Kobe is considered a national treasure. They didn’t want that much material leaving the country.”

After that, Japan ceased all exports of Kobe. The American Fullblood Wagyu population is 100% Japanese heritage, but every animal is a descendent of the three original shipments of animals from Japan to the U.S. Today, the American Wagyu Association estimates there are approximately 12,000 Fullblood Wagyu in America. Compare this to the approximately 30 million beef cattle in the U.S., and it’s easy to see what makes Wagyu so rare.

What makes Old Three Wagyu Irreplaceable?


Just as the French own the Bordeaux brand, so the Japanese own the Kobe brand. By international agreement only wines containing grapes originated from the Bordeaux region of France may be called a Bordeaux. But that does not mean that the exact same genetic vines grown in France cannot be grown in California. Indeed, they are. Some California vintners have planted the same cultivars of Cabernet Sauvignon, for instance, that are grown in Bordeaux. In fact, California labels like Screaming Eagle are every bit as good as their French competition.

Similarly, only beef produced in Kobe in Hyogo Prefecture, Japan, may use the brand Kobe on their beef. In fact, if a Kobe beef steer roams a few miles outside its prefecture, it can no longer be called Kobe beef. In America we cannot call our cattle Kobe, so we call them Wagyu. Wagyu simply means “Japanese cow.”

Fullblood Wagyu 16/16 100% All of this animal’s parentage can be traced back to the original Wagyu animals that were imported from Japan
Purebred Wagyu 15/16 93.75%–99.99% A majority of this animal’s parentage can be traced back to the original Wagyu animals that were imported from Japan. 1/16 of this animal is from some other cattle genetic base.
Percentage 1/16–14/16 6.25%–93.74% Has some portion of Wagyu blood in its pedigree

When you blend Scarecrow Cabernet with a lesser varietal, you get a lower-quality blended wine. You no longer have the world-class glass of wine that is 100% Scarecrow Cabernet. The same applies to Wagyu. If you have a Fullblood Wagyu, you have 100% of the real thing. The problem is the USDA allows beef that is only 50% Wagyu and 50% Angus (or another breed) to be called Wagyu. That has caused a lot of confusion and has damaged the breed as a whole. Here is the bottom line: unless you are 100% sure you have tasted 100% Fullblood Wagyu, you probably have not.

Here’s why. Best estimates are that the number of Fullblood Wagyu harvested for steaks each year are in the hundreds, not thousands. This is compared to an estimated harvest of other beef cattle in excess of 25 million. Here’s another reason it is difficult to find a 100% Fullblood Wagyu steak: Breeders can hire out their  Fullblood sire to collect semen “straws.” Then they collect eggs from their Fullblood females in order to create embryos and make thousands of dollars in one cycle. And they still have their “golden goose” to repeat the cycle over again. Further, a typical Angus beef steer is harvested at around eighteen months of age whereas a Wagyu takes ten to fourteen months longer to reach the point where the incredible marbling is just right. This translates into more than 50% more feed, care, and husbandry that go into a Wagyu steak versus that of other breeds. Finally, the normal adult harvest weight of a Wagyu is probably about 1200 pounds compared to an Angus’ harvest weight of about 1500 pounds. Like the Screaming Eagle Cab example, Wagyu takes more time, is more expensive, and is much rarer than a lesser steak. But that is what makes it irreplaceable.