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Akaushi Cattle
An Exciting New Breed For The U.S. Cattle Industry
By Heather Smith Thomas
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.

Carcass Traits
“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 efficiencies.”

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.

Exceptional Meat
“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.

Healthy Meat
“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 diet.

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.

The Cattle
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 their family.

“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 says.

“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 says.

“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,” says Calles.

“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,” explains Fielding.

“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,” says Calles.

“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 explains.

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 Industry
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 Fielding.

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 explains.

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