The word Wagyu refers to all Japanese beef cattle ('Wa' means Japanese and 'gyu' means cattle). This is the breed that produces Kobe beef, named for the city where the cattle were first bred 170 years ago. The original import of these cattle to the U.S. in 1976 consisted of two Tottori Black Wagyu and two Kumamoto Red Wagyu bulls.
Wagyu were derived from native Asian cattle which were crossed with British and European breeds in the late 1800s. Although the breed was closed to outside bloodlines in 1910, regional isolation has produced a number of different lines with varying conformations:
Tajima – These were used to pull carts and ploughs so they developed larger forequarters and lighter hindquarters. They are generally smaller-framed with slower growth rates but produce excellent meat quality.
Tottori – These were pack animals in the grain industry so they are larger animals with straight, strong backlines and generally good growth rates but variable meat quality.
Shimane – These are large-framed cattle with average growth rates and meat quality.
Kochi – These red lines were strongly influenced by Korean lines.
Kumamoto – These red lines have a Simmental influence and were mostly bred in a region where there was an abundance of grassland.
Wagyu is a horned breed and can be either black or red. Black animals are perceived to have the best quality carcass. Calves are vigorous and average 70 pounds when born. Wagyu are renowned for their marbling, calving ease, early puberty and good fertility, docile temperament, and are hardy and adaptive to different environments