The word Akaushi means red cow, in Japanese. This breed is one
of 4 indigenous breeds of cattle in Japan and has only recently
been introduced to the U.S. “This is the only free-grazing beef
breed in Japan,” says Bubba Bain, Executive Director of the
American Akaushi Association. “These cattle have been in
existence as a distinct breed for more than 150 years and are a
national treasure in Japan.”
Dr. Antonio Calles introduced
Akaushi cattle to the U.S. in 1994. “He saw that the Japanese
were extremely healthy people. They don’t have problems with
obesity or coronary heart disease like we do. He wondered what
they were doing different. The Japanese eat a lot of fish, but
also consume a lot of beef. Dr. Calles started researching this,
because the Japanese had never done studies on the health
aspects of beef—since they didn’t have any health problems. But
Dr. Calles did, and he began investigative research at
Washington State University where he got his PhD,” says Bain.
Dr. Calles found that meat from
these animals had an abundance of oleic acid (the healthy
ingredient in olive oil) and mono-unsaturated fats. He imported
11 animals (8 cows and 3 bulls) to the U.S. so he could build a
herd and find out more about these cattle.
“Dr. Calles started doing embryo
transfers. In the last 15 years there have been more than 12,000
embryos and roughly 6000 offspring produced. Many of the cattle
are located at Harwood, in south Texas. HeartBrand beef is the
owner, and in charge of the beef operation and selling cattle to
other breeders. Many new members have now joined our breed
association,” says Bain.
The American Akaushi Association,
started in early 2010, has been recognized by the National
Pedigreed Livestock Council and the USDA as a fullblood breed.
“We have our branded meat programs established through USDA.
Members can utilize these to create premiums for the offspring
and harvested carcasses,” says Bain.
The Akaushi is known for
consistent, tender, flavorful, juicy meat. “Even though the end
product is very important, this breed has not sacrificed any
other important traits such as reproduction and performance to
get to the end result. We are proud to have an animal that will
put a good calf on the ground, give good weaning weight,
yearling weight, efficiency in the feed yard, grade and yield
well on carcasses—and give you that consistent excellent cut of
meat that we’re all looking for,” he says. This breed performs
well for the cow-calf man, the feeder and packer—an integrated
product that’s efficient all the way down the chain.
“Carcasses on fullblood cattle are highly marbled and prime or
prime-plus,” says Bain. “We also have a lot of data on
half-blood carcasses; we’ve bred a lot of fullblood bulls to
other breeds. They cross extremely well with all breeds. We can
double the grade and improve the yield on any breed we put
Akaushi on,” says Bain.
Bill Fielding is CEO of
HeartBrand Beef. His background is in the packing and feedlot
industry. “I was with Cargill for 26 years and president of
Excel, the meat-packing part of their business. I ran their
worldwide beef, pork and poultry operation. After I left Cargill
I was president of that part of Swift’s business for a couple
years, with ConAgra, and then president of Farmland’s meat
business. I’ve had a lot of experience looking at different
breeds of cattle,” says Fielding.
“Lanny Binger was one of the top
people in Excel who came up through the cattle-buying ranks. He
recognizes the qualities of Akaushi cattle. He has part interest
in a feed yard and has given us results on how they’ve fed. The
clincher for me was when I saw a group of red Angus crosses (50
percent Akaushi) that graded 80 percent Prime with no yield
grade 4s and 5s. All the data we’ve seen shows there’s about
$200 per head in improved efficiency and value in premiums and
net of cost. That’s $200 that can be shared between the
producer, the feedyard and packer in picking up those
Ronald Beeman (Eddy Packing) has
noticed in working with these cattle that not only the quality
grade goes up but the yield grade is exceptional also. “Usually
when you get prime grade cattle you expect a lot of yield grade
4’s and 5s. With these prime cattle you get an average yield
grade of 3,” he says.
“When testing all the
crossbreds—Akaushi bred to Red Angus, Brangus, Beefmaster,
Herefords, Charolias, etc.—we noticed the quality grade would
always be one grade higher than what you’re used to seeing. Just
as important, the yield grade would drop. These cattle put fat
inside the muscle (marbling), not on the outside, so there’s
less waste,” says Beeman.
“This is an exciting project,” says Fielding. “We got some
publicity in May when an upscale hamburger place opened in
Florida, called Burger Monger. We have an exclusive agreement
with them for 3 years to buy HeartBrand Akaushi ground beef and
hot dogs. They’re talking about quality and healthiness.”
“In the past 8 months we began
aggressively promoting our cattle and we’re now ready to go full
steam ahead to increase the herd size of fullbloods as much as
we can,” says Fielding. With more bulls, more crossbred animals
can be produced to increase the supply of meat.
Ronald Beeman has been in the
meat processing business for more than 30 years, and working
with Heart Brand Beef and Akaushi cattle since September 1998.
When he first was introduced to these cattle he didn’t believe
they could be this good, but said he would help with the
processing end of the program. “I now feel this beef will change
the industry,” he says.
The eating satisfaction is truly
remarkable. “Muscle fibers are longer and thinner, which makes
meat more tender. The fatty acid composition is also different.
When you cook this beef, you can pour the fat off into a cup,
and at room temperature it stays liquid. Regular pork or beef
fat, if you leave it sitting there, will solidify to a hard,
white fat. Akaushi fat doesn’t do that,” says Beeman.
His company makes smoked sausage,
beef franks and hot dogs. “This meat has more water-binding
capability, which helps keep the product moist and fresh. If you
use the ground beef to make meat loaf, you don’t need bread or
other extenders to bind the meat; it binds better than any other
meat we’ve seen. Now we’re seeing Akaushi meat in leading
restaurants across the country. The product speaks for itself;
all you have to do is get people to taste it, and they’ll be
convinced,” he says.
“Akaushi meat has a high ratio of mono-unsaturated to saturated
fats,” says Bain. “It is extremely heart-healthy. Our first
research, now finalized at Texas A&M, indicates this. This breed
may change the way we look at how protein is consumed by humans,
because of the health aspects.”
Dr. Antonio Calles says oleic
acid is recognized by many people in the medical community and
the American Heart Association as the ‘good fat’ for the heart.
“Akaushi beef provides the highest amount of oleic acid per
square inch of meat. This beef, 100 percent of the time, will
have the same uniqueness and the same healthy fat,” says Calles.
Fielding says consumers want
healthy, tasty products. “We’re seeing growth of this aspect of
the industry—whether it’s grass fed or all natural beef. People
want a healthier product with better nutritional value, and
something that will reduce their bad cholesterol instead of
increasing it. If the whole industry started using these
genetics and change the way cattle are fed, we could produce a
product that is better for you than pork, chicken, buffalo or
any other meat,” says Fielding.
Calles says Akaushi beef should
be looked upon as a beneficial health supplement because of the
high level of oleic acid. “We’ve been told red meat increases
cholesterol. Now we must educate people that these fats are good
for you,” says Calles. People who must be careful what they eat
no longer have to reduce their intake of red meat. This is
helpful because meat contains many nutrients the human body
needs, such as vitamin B12, which is not found in a vegetarian
Beef is a great source of all the
amino acids to produce a complete protein. It’s a good package
of complete nutrients, combined with eating satisfaction. This
is good news for the beef industry and for the consumer.
“This country can produce many
millions of pounds of meat, but we need to be concerned about
producing high quality beef that’s healthy. If we can combine
palatability with the health aspect, the cattle industry will
survive. Our meat now has be healthier, raised with no
chemicals, no hormones, no additives,” explains Calles. That’s
the only way we can compete with other industries such as
chicken, fish, pork etc.
Akaushi are moderate size, red, horned, more heat-tolerant than
black animals (a major issue in southern states), and has low
birth weights. Fullblood males average 72 pounds at birth, and
females 68 pounds. Adult bulls weigh 1700 to 1800 pounds on
average, and cows are usually 1000 to 1100 pounds.
Disposition is excellent. Akaushi
have been extensively handled for many generations, selected for
ease of handling. “There are things they do with them in Japan
that we can’t even imagine; these are very docile cattle,” says
Bain. People working with Akaushi cattle view them as part of
“We don’t claim to be number one
on weaning or yearling weights, but a rancher will never be
embarrassed about the weights,” says Bain. “Fullblood calves
wean at 500 to 600 pounds. Crossbred calves average 600 to 700
pounds at weaning because of heterosis,” he explains.
You get maximum heterosis when
crossing totally unrelated animals, with wide genetic diversity.
Akaushi are not related to American breeds, and crossbred
offspring have maximum hybrid vigor. “The Akaushi is a true
fullblood because no other breeds have been infused into it.
This produces more heterosis than when crossing two American
breeds, because most American breeds today have become
crossbreds already,” he says. The Akaushi in this country are
fullblood descendents of the original cattle in Japan.
“When I was with Cargill, we had
operations all over the world,” says Fielding. “Nowhere but
Japan has beef research been done this way. This is why there
haven’t been any inbreeding problems with Akaushi—why they’ve
kept the sire lines the way they have.” The Japanese went about
this very systematically and scientifically.
“I’ve always had an interest in
improving the quality of meat, and tried to identify the most
efficient breed in terms of yield grade and quality grade. About
2 years ago, through coincidence, I learned about Akaushi cattle
and spent a year finding out about them,” he explains.
“I looked at the black Japanese
cattle and what is called Kobe or Wagyu, and various issues with
those. I discovered there are few, if any, fullblood black Wagyu
cattle in the U.S. There are also some inbreeding and production
efficiency issues for ranchers raising them. In contrast I saw
the benefits of Akaushi, the advantages they brought to beef
production and how they’ve been managed over the last 15 years
in the U.S. and the tremendous job Antonio Calles has done,” he
“I spent a lot of time going to
ranches, large and small, that have worked with Akaushi for 4 or
5 years, including the 100-year-old McAllen Ranch that raises
Beefmasters in south Texas. They used Akaushi bulls on
first-time heifers, had great results and saw the benefits of
this cross,” he says.
Dr. Calles explains that
high-quality beef comes from animals that have the genetic
capability to express this potential. “Akaushi, if fed properly,
will always, 100 percent of the time, achieve this high
palatability level—which is difficult to do in some of the other
breeds that are affected by management. The feed, the place
where they are raised, feeding procedures and ingredients, etc.
will change the meat composition dramatically in American beef
animals, because their genetics are not set to a level that can
express that potential every single time. There is a lot of
variety and inconsistency, and lack of uniformity,” he says.
“The way the Japanese selected
Akaushi and worked with them for many decades, we don’t have to
worry about variation on productivity or performance traits,
feed efficiency and feed conversion. These traits were already
selected and fixed for many years. All we need to do is provide
a natural ecosystem for these animals, with good care and low
stress management. If we do that all the time, the animals will
reach their genetic goal 100 percent of the time,” he says.
Akaushi are hardy in a variety of
environments. “These animals were developed in Kumamoto, which
latitude-wise is the same as between Austin and Temple Texas,”
says Calles. “They were selected and developed in a very hot and
humid climate, so they do well in the south. If you move them to
the northern U.S. they do even better. Any time you reduce
humidity and summer temperature, you stress cattle less and they
have less trouble dissipating heat. Akaushi also have the
ability to grow a good hair coat to withstand cold winters,” he
“The reason Akaushi are able to
thrive in a variety of climates is because the Japanese
government in the 1940’s took some from Kumamoto and put them in
Hokkaido and around Tokyo. Hokkaido is the same latitude as
between Seattle, Washington and the Canadian border. In winter
it’s very cold, with a lot of snow. It took the Japanese 50
years to select genetics that do well in cold, dry weather, and
infuse those genes back into the general Akaushi population to
improve versatility of the breed to handle any environment,”
“We now have a unique opportunity
to take advantage of all the research and scientific selection
that’s been done with this breed,” says Fielding. “It would be
easy to just let this breed go out into the industry without
restrictions, but we have contracts to protect the integrity of
Akaushi. We don’t want someone generating a bull and putting it
out there if it doesn’t meet the exact specifications it has to
meet or doesn’t stay within association parameters. We can learn
from past mistakes of others who have put their animals out in
the marketplace and made a quick dollar. We’d rather go slow and
do it right. Whoever we sell a bull to, we feel it’s to their
benefit if we preserve the value and integrity of the breed,”
“As an association, we want to
eliminate the politics. Our goal is efficiency of the cattle for
each segment of production, and quality of the end product. If
we can’t meet those two requirements, then we won’t do it.”
SIDEBAR: The American Project
Dr. Antonio Calles was able to bring 8 unrelated Akaushi cows
and 3 unrelated bulls to this country in 1994, as a nucleus to
start a breeding herd. “When you do careful selective breeding
with this number of animals you can prevent inbreeding. You mate
bull number one with 8 cows, giving 8 lines of cattle. You mate
bull number 2 with the same 8 cows to give another 8 lines, and
do the same with bull number 3. We started doing embryo work and
using reciprocal crosses on daughters of the 3 bulls, and
switched bulls to create more lines. Inbreeding coefficient with
this system was between 5 and 5.6, which is very healthy. An
unhealthy inbreeding coefficient would be 14 percent and higher.
Many cattle breeds have an inbred coefficient of 35 percent,
which is very high, with risk for genetic problems” he says.
“We have some additional sire
lines we’ll infuse, from another population that is also pure,
to help avoid inbreeding problems. These sire lines came to this
country earlier, in 1976. I was able to purchase semen from
these bulls in the early 1980’s and plan to use it to create
more genetic diversity. Hopefully in the near future we can also
obtain semen from different bloodlines in Japan. We’re working
in a very precise way, to maintain all the important
traits—fertility, productivity, milking ability, etc.—with no
problems, in every generation,” he explains.
The first 11 animals arrived in
New York in November1994 and stayed there 6 months. “It was cold
and wet that winter. They went to Wisconsin for several years.
The first 3 winters it was between 10 and 22 below zero. Then
the cattle were sent to Texas. They came all the way from humid,
hot weather of Kumamoto to New York, to Wisconsin, to Texas. Out
of the original 8 cows, 7 are still alive. The oldest is 21
years old on July 7, 2010. These old Akaushi cows are still
productive,” says Calles.
“They’ve been in every
environment and ecosystem. I did a lot of research in Australia
in multiple ecosystems (south, north and central portion) of
that continent and they do extremely well. I started working
with Akaushi in Australia because of lack of interest in the
U.S. I was able to get funding from the Australian government.
The first imported cows and bulls went from Kumamoto to New
York, ending up in Texas, and I took embryos from those cows in
1997 and 1998 to Australia to work with this breed in larger
numbers, doing embryos and research in crossing with Australian
breeds, to show the economic benefits and carcass components,”
“After that, enough interest was
generated in the U.S. and we brought all the cattle and all
embryos generated out of those cows to this country. The
Australian project is finished and we are continuing here,” he
He was able to generate a large
number of embryos from a handful of cows, which shows their high
level of fertility. “When the animals came to the U.S. the bulls
were confined in a special collection center. We didn’t retire
them from collection until last year. We lost one bull but the
other two are still alive and will be 21 years old this year.
What is amazing is that those bulls were kept confined and
stayed sound, functional and healthy,” says Calles.
“The biggest challenge for this
breed in America was to get enough numbers—starting with such a
small nucleus of breeding stock—to produce enough Akaushi to
supply the growing demand. It took several years to be prepared
to offer semen to producers. Now we have that capability, and
can begin to tell our story to the cattle industry.”
SIDEBAR: A Plus For Our Cattle
The biggest way Akaushi can benefit our American beef industry
is in genetic predictability. “If you don’t know exactly what
the genetic potential is of animals you’re raising, it’s a big
gamble,” says Calles. “Cost of fuel, grain, etc. has been
increasing. For many breeds, quality is not increasing to give a
bigger premium. Producers are getting the same price, or less,
but at higher cost,” he says.
Akaushi are tremendous for
crossbreeding because they are so unrelated to our American
breeds. “The calves are small at birth yet you get a huge amount
of heterosis response, with performance, growth and feed
efficiency. By adding these components, the cattle producer will
be making a premium in a very predictable way,” says Calles.
Even though the Akaushi
association is striving to quickly increase the number of
fullbloods, via embryo transfer, the big plus will be the F1s.
The increased number of carcasses will make the meat more
affordable, and the healthy fat ratios are still there,
according to Fielding. “These ratios are better on an F2 (3/4
Akaushi) but still very positive on the F1 (first cross). We can
really complement existing breeds. We are not in competition
with them. We feel that our genetics in the F1 will be good for
everyone, especially in responding to the consumer,” says
The purebred Akaushi herd will
always be small, compared to the cattle industry as a whole. “To
me, however, the future of this breed is to infuse these
genetics the proper way into the national beef cattle
population,” says Calles. Then thousands of producers and
consumers will benefit.
Hopefully, by doing this, the
price per pound of something desirable and very healthy will
become affordable for many people. “Our concept, when we started
this project was not to sell steaks for $200 apiece to a few
people. The majority of people are the ones we want to
experience the benefit,” says Calles.
SIDEBAR: Creation Of the Akaushi
The Japanese government owns all cattle in Japan. “For the past
40 years, 125 scientists per year have worked with this breed,”
says Fielding. “They’ve spent billions of dollars doing what we
in the U.S. as individual ranchers have been trying to do—some
more scientifically than others. We tend to focus more on single
traits, whereas in Japan they’ve studied and kept all the
numbers to develop what the breed is today,” he explains.
“The Japanese used a scientific
approach, selecting traits that control palatability—juiciness,
tenderness and flavor,” says Calles. “Over 100 years, they were
able to biologically create a type of animal that produces
highly marbled beef in a natural and efficient way, eating
grass,” he says.
“Over the last 100 years the
Akaushi has kept the highest level of purity, not contaminated
with other genetic sources. In 1944 the Akaushi was recognized
by the Japanese government as an established breed, and
classified as a protected breed with the purity maintained,” he