By name, a purebred and full-blood Wagyu may sound identical, but in the world of Wagyu they are distinctly separate. Over the decades, full-blood Wagyu have been bred in Australia with other cattle breeds to combine characteristics such as size, marbling fat, adaptation to the Australian climate and flavour. Depending on their genetic make-up, a Wagyu can be considered crossbred, full-blood or purebred. To fully understand what a purebred is and how it differs from other Wagyu, it’s important to know the genetic differences between ratings, what goes into breeding a purebred Wagyu and how this ultimately impacts the final product.
What is the genetic difference between purebred, full-blood and crossbred Wagyu?
It is generally safe to assume that the more Wagyu blood, the better intramuscular marbling fat will be in the meat. Crossbred cattle have less Wagyu blood but may carry other desirable characteristics such as size. They are ranked in F-levels depending on the amount of Wagyu in their family tree. At King River we produce levels F1 (50% or more Wagyu) to F4 (up to 93.75% Wagyu). Purebreds have a genetic profile of 93.75% to 100% Wagyu. They often have almost identical characteristics to a full-blood Wagyu, such as premium marbling fat, but this is achieved through careful breeding over multiple generations rather than direct descent. A full-blood can only hold this title if it is 100% Wagyu and has a traceable bloodline to Wagyu from Japan.
What does purebred breeding involve?
The goal of the King River breeding program is to curate and raise calves with the most desirable characteristics for our customers. Producing high-quality purebreds requires more than just two beasts with the correct genetics. It also involves the careful selection of cows and bulls with the best physical and personal characteristics, and a cow that is well adapted to her location.
As the percentage of Wagyu blood increases in the animal, the overall size generally decreases. One focus of our program, and the value of having small amounts of other cattle blood in the mix, is that we are able to use larger cattle in breeding. This means increased size in the purebred calves, and eventually larger cuts of meat with premium Wagyu marbling fat.
We also breed based on animal temperament and genetic traits. Research and decades of farming have shown that stress-free Wagyu produce much better marbling. While we do our part in keeping the cattle relaxed and happy, breeding a calm temperament is a great advantage. As King River is one of the few conception-to-consumption Wagyu exporters, we have also discovered some genes produce better marbling fat than others. This insight allows us to breed for quality purebred marbling.
Beyond breeding for key traits, the living conditions of the cow are critical to the quality of the calf. The more adapted the cow is to her environment, the more milk she can produce for her off-spring. We breed with cows that have been born into the local area to ensure there is no environmental stress placed on their bodies. As it develops, the calf’s body will prioritise energy for organs, muscles and bones with fat cells being the final thing developed. Therefore, to ensure the proper formation of good marbling, the calf must have an abundance of energy provided from its mother. If her body is strong and healthy, the calf will be also. This can often be just as important as the genetic make-up for the rearing of quality calves.
How is purebred Wagyu meat different from crossbred or full-blood?
Genetics, feeding and lifestyle are all variables that impact the quality of meat and the amount of marbling. Crossbred Wagyu will have a greater variety of marbling results, ranging from lower marbling in F1 to higher marbling in F4. These cattle will often have a mix of characteristics from other cattle breeds such as size of cuts and meat flavour. Full-blood Wagyu have the highest guarantee of premium marbling, although these cattle sometimes have a smaller carcass. Purebred Wagyu sit in-between. While still smaller than crossbred cattle, they are often bigger than full-blood Wagyu. Their adjustment to the local area through generational breeding provides the best opportunity to produce stress-free premium marbling.
While genetics are important to the end product, a Wagyu’s lifestyle and what they eat in the last part of their life should not be under-rated. A crossbred Wagyu will spend up to 365 days in our state-of-the-art feedlot, with purebreds having access to premium nutrition from 400 to 450 days. Well above the required amount, this consistent feeding in a stress-free environment is an important part of producing nutrient-dense meat with quality flavour and marbling.
The purebred program is a proud part of the King River product line. Our careful selection of cows and bulls, with attention to lifestyle and feeding, consistently produces high quality Wagyu beef.