Over the past 20 years, the Angus breed has evolved into the foundation of the US cowherd and with this, the premiums for Choice beef have declined. At Circle A we saw this change coming and wanted to improve the quality of our beef even further. Our goal was to produce a higher percentage of Prime beef, thus increasing the premiums we receive for our cattle. We were hesitant to breed Angus for marbling characteristics as these changes may negatively impact other traits such as cow size, milk levels, fleshing ability, and reproductive performance. Not to mention that a strait Angus commercial cowherd forgoes any benefits derived from crossbreeding and heterosis.
Heterosis is the tendency for the offspring of two crossbred animals to take the superior traits of each parent. As a result, heterosis provides an advantage above the mere average of the animal’s parents and has its greatest advantage in lowly heritable traits such as reproduction and health. When choosing a breed to pair with Angus, we wanted one that would improve the marbling and carcass traits of our herd.
In 2000 we started incorporating Wagyu genetics into the herd by inseminating our top Angus females to the highest marbling Waygu bulls we could find. We then collected semen on those half-blood “Wangus” sons and used that semen via AI on Angus cows to make quarter-blood progeny. To date, we have now harvested thousands of quarter-blood and eighth-blood progeny. We have since incorporated additional blood lines and the project has proven to be very successful and profitable.
For more than a decade we have collected data on our Wangus cattle and found that the quarter-blood Wagyu cross is optimal for both pasture and carcass performance. Our Wangus cattle continue to perform well on the rail averaging 70-85% Prime in an industry where the average for Prime is only 6%. Feedlot health has been noticeably better of our Wangus cattle and we attribute that to the advantages of hybrid vigor. Wangus cattle have a higher percentage of intramuscular fat that contributes to greater amounts of marbling but produce little backfat compared to a purebred Angus. As a result, we are able to feed these cattle to 1600 lbs with less yield grade 4s and 5s than feeding Angus cattle to 1450. The combination of higher quality, fewer yield grade discounts, and heavier carcass weights result in over $300 more per head for our Wangus steers.
In addition to superior carcass data, we were presently surprised to find out the benefits the Wagyu influence would have on our commercial cow herd. The Wangus calves are smaller framed and have lower birthweights than a typical Angus calf but once it reaches 1000 lbs, you would have a hard time differentiating between the two. The quarter-bloods look like a good, feminine Angus female. Their reproductive rates have been consistently higher than the straight Angus, their mothering ability and udder quality has been very impressive, and they are slick haired in the summer. Over the past 5 years, the Wagyu-influenced females have averaged 4% higher in conception rates compared to the straight Angus females in our production system.
TASTE THE DIFFERENCE
It is well-known in the cattle industry that the fat is what gives a good steak it’s flavor, this is why the higher the marbling the higher the grade of beef. Our Wangus beef has fat where it matters with more intramuscular fat and marbling and less back fat. Wangus cattle consistently grade between 70 and 85% Prime, but it is not just the quality grade that makes this beef unique. With over a decade of carcass data, we have found that our quarter-blood and eighth-blood Wangus cattle result in the most desirable eating experience. The high levels of monosaturated fat from the Wagyu influence result in a rich, buttery, melt-in-your-mouth flavor. The Wangus blend perfectly combines the marbling and flavor from the Wagyu influence with the palatability and tenderness of the Angus influence. The flavor of the beef speaks for itself and stays true to our mission that “Quality beef is our business.”