At a time when feed costs are high, forage crops are drought stressed and consumers are facing higher beef prices, there is growing uneasiness among many cattle producers who have culled herds to downsize operations in the face of market uncertainty.
Bubba Bain, executive director of the American Akaushi Association, says it’s just a matter of time before the industry recovers from the drought and advises producers that now is a good time to focus on quality instead of quantity.
“When it comes to beef, it’s all about quality. Consumers want tenderness, flavor and consistency, and they want a healthier product,” Bains said. “Producers can accomplish higher quality in just one generation by breeding their cows with Akaushi bulls or through artificial insemination, which will result in beef cattle that is highly marketable and will result in greater profits.”
Bain, the American Akaushi Association and Texas producers of Akaushi beef claim the breed provides a superior quality of beef recognized not only in Japan but at a growing number of restaurants in the United States because of its buttery flavor, remarkable tenderness, high degree of marbling and its rating as a ‘health food’.
The Akaushi breed, considered a national treasure in Japan, got its start in Texas in 1994 when a trade loophole allowed eight unrelated females and three unrelated males to be shipped to Texas by Dr. Antonio Elias Calles, a geneticist and researcher who was interested in how the breed contributed to the famously healthy Japanese diet. Over the last nine years, this small nucleus of cattle has resulted in nearly 8,000 head of beef cattle being produced in the U.S.
The Akaushi breed originated in Kumamoto, Japan, on the Island of Kyushu, about 100 years ago. Japan’s Association of Akaushi, established some 80 years ago, began collecting breed data on behalf of the Japanese government and continues to do so today. During this time the data has been used to select prospective sire and dam lines to be used for additional genetic improvement. As a result, even in modern times, new sire and dam lines are only released for general production after they have been proven by accurate statistical analysis.
The Texas line
After bringing the Akaushi to Texas, Dr. Calles conducted research that revealed some startling results. Because of a unique closed system and a careful genetic selection process down through the years, the Akaushi breed became and has remained an extremely uniform and consistent one throughout its genetic line for all maternal, structural, fertility, carcass and palatability traits.
By continuing the same careful selection process, the Akaushi brought to Texas remained true to the genetics of the breed. No single trait was sacrificed to develop the U.S. herd.
“It is this focused attention on Akaushi genetics that has resulted in an animal that will perform efficiently, improve consistency, maintain uniformity and maximize the gap between profit and loss,” Bains said.
Bain says in terms of health, Akaushi cattle have a leg up on the industry. They produce an abundance of oleic acid in their tissue as a survival mechanism. The oleic acid in the fatty tissue surrounding vital organs helps to prevent cold stress among other benefits, and the breed is extremely capable of adapting to most environments, making them an ideal breed for the mountainous West to the coastal plains of South Texas.
In addition, this significant level of oleic acid, the “good fat” found in olive oil, and Conjugated Linoleic Acid (CLA), which has been shown to fight certain types of cancer, make the beef a good choice for consumers. In addition, Akaushi beef is also higher in monounsaturated fat than in saturated fat. Higher levels of monounsaturated fat are linked to lowering cholesterol, which helps to prevent diabetes, coronary heart disease, and even contributes to weight loss.
In addition to its health benefits for the consumer, Bain says Akaushi bulls can improve any breed by doubling the quality grade of the beef, a great benefit to the producer.
“By using Akaushi bulls or semen into existing Texas breeds will result in at least a 20 percent prime rating, with most of the remaining beef rated choice, and that’s just with first generation calves,” Bain says. “In fact, Akaushi crossed with a low-end group of cattle that historically becomes 40 percent USDA Choice produces an F1 product at 85 percent or greater Choice or above.”
Calles, through HeartBrand Beef, the company responsible for acquiring the cattle, began the task of increasing the herd to 4,000 fullbloods through embryo transfer since the early 90s. The Beeman family acquired ownership of HeartBrand Beef about five years ago and redirected the company in an effort to sell bulls as well as marketing Akaushi and F1 Akaushi-cross beef.
Bain says the company is so confident in the quality of the beef produced by the line, even in cross-breeding with domestic varieties, that HeartBrand Beef will buy the resulting calves back from producers at a rate “about $100 more than the normal price of a domestic calf.”
“It’s a win-win situation for the producer who breeds Akaushi because whether he raises cattle for beef or just to sell the calves back to the company, he’s going to come out on top,” Bains said.