Black Wagyu & Akaushi Terminal Value Discussion
Which side are you on? Personally, I'm bi-partisan. Why...? The two breeds offer complimentary economic strengths and some of the largest Wagyu programs outside of Japan are capitalizing on their complimentary strengths.
I have been very blessed to be able to travel the world and visit with cattle producers that believe in producing high quality and healthy beef. The common production goal is to utilize Wagyu genetics in different environmental settings while fitting local and international markets. This is the hard part. Progressive commercial cattle raisers should compare close out margins and break evens from different breed combinations to maximize production efficiency and profitability. Ultimately, if the terminal buyer is not offering a premium above production costs you might need to re-evaluate or change directions with your program.
Many have seen the advantages of additional growth and maternal performance Akaushi bring to the table. However, an often question most Akaushi breeders incur is "...do they marble as well as the black Wagyu"? As is the answer to so many other comparative questions regarding quantitatively inherited traits, it depends. Age at harvest is the variable to consider.
If you study the environment Japanese Black and Akaushi were developed in you'll understand the cattle were raised separately, under different circumstances and environmental pressures. I agree with others that think the two breeds were developed and selected differently, however, I tend to find many Wagyu enthusiast comparing them as if they are the same minus the coat color. This is simply not the case.
Over many decades the Japanese farmers realized the marbling outcomes of long feeding regimes with specialized rations with Japanese Blacks. Akaushi still to this day are fed on a lower cost option for fewer days. Below is a picture of an Akaushi steak in Japan (source: Jojo Carrales, HeartBrand Beef, 2017).
We all know Wagyu breeds marble superior to non-Wagyu breeds. But the question at hand is what can you expect from each of their F1 sired calves at certain harvest ages. The best overall illustration of the two different Wagyu breeds is to use a realistic example that many commercial producers in the US and Australia encounter. Not all producers operate and market their cattle at the same time. The terminal feeding game offers the most potential marginal loss and risk. Nevertheless marbling is assessed post-mortem so I will use estimated weight ranges and various harvest times. The estimates below have been reviewed by seasoned F1 producers and feeders to reflect their experiences with terminal F1 Wagyu cattle. This should give you an idea of the predicted outcomes, on average, with these two breeds. Remember that there is more variation within a breed than across breeds....I am using the averages and not the outliers for these examples.
Any estimates to look at breed averages need to be from large samples of the population. In this case let's say that we randomly selected 20 typical fullblood Black Wagyu bulls and 20 typical fullblood Akaushi bulls and breed them to 25 high grade Angus cows each. For illustration purposes we'll say 900 F1's were born, weaned and put on feed at the same time and location. Here are probable outcomes of feeding several pens of halfblood steers and heifers from Black Wagyu and Akaushi sires fed the same all-natural, progressive feedlot ration.
At ~6-8 months of age we would expect the Akaushi sired F1's to wean off ~70 pounds (31 kg) heavier than their Black Wagyu sired contemporaries.
At 12 months of age that margin increases to ~150-250 pounds (68-113 kg) in favor of the Akaushi sired calves.
At 18 months of age noticeable differences in development and maturity can be noticed. There will be a large fraction of the Akaushi sired cattle reaching the US average slaughter weight of 1350 pounds (610 kg). Of course if we are targeting a marbling oriented market we would want to keep them on feed longer. However if harvested at 18 months of age, I expect the Akaushi F1's to reach 50% BMS 4+. The Black Wagyu sired F1's were developed to mature more slowly for a long feeding situation so they still need considerable time on feed to maximize end point value. Their estimated weight is now around ~1050-1200 pounds (475-540 kg).
At 24 months of age we would expect the following average outcomes. Consensus data on Akaushi-Angus F1's harvested at this age are ~1400-1550 pounds (625-700 kg) or more, 60% BMS 5+. Black Wagyu-Angus F1's are approximately ~1350 pounds (610 kg), 75% BMS 5+. How a producer gets paid should determine the most lucrative system (i.e., grids, hanging weight times BMS score pricing basis, live weight, etc.)
Starting at 24 months of age, the potential of the Black Wagyu sired cattle to reach BMS 9+ should be greater than Akaushi sired F1's. If a producer is heavily incentivized with BMS 9+ premiums to offset extended feeding costs and risk then utilizing Black Wagyu genetics is a good approach. If you do NOT breed fullbloods I STRONGLY suggest using Akaushi-Angus F1 females as the maternal base to increase maternal ability, payweight weaned and % of Wagyu blood in the terminal calves. It should be noted very little data exist on fullblood Akaushi cattle fed beyond 24 months of age. However, trends have shown that fullblood Akaushi cattle increase in BMS 9+ with additional time on feed beyond 2 years of age (see picture below, HeartBrand Beef, 2017).
Data presented by Joe Allan Hoegh on F1 Akaushi-Black Wagyu sired terminal cattle out of Angus-Brangus dams has been outstanding from a carcass marbling perspective. The below picture shows an example of the marbling ability of using F1 Akaushi/Black Wagyu sires from the 40+ head they have harvested thus far. Cattle were harvested at 27 months of age weighing ~1400 pounds (635 kg).
Feeding Black Wagyu sired F1 cattle to 28+ months of age is not uncommon when incentives are based on achieving higher BMS scores. If carcass premiums rewarding BMS 9+ are not offered then feeding Akaushi sired F1 cattle longer than 24+ months of age would not be advised due to lower feed efficiency (intake:gain not RFI) and increase lower valued backfat trim. I predict we will see more F1 Black Wagyu-Akaushi sires used within larger meat programs globally in the future due to their breed complimentary.
So to recap, there are many ways to make money using Black Wagyu and Akaushi genetics. Akaushi will grow faster and deposit more marbling at a younger age. Black Wagyu have a greater propensity to marble higher if fed longer than 24 months of age. The important take home message is to be open minded about how the different breeds can improve production efficiency and ultimately your bottom line.