What Wagyu Cattle Are Fed

Whenever you see the word, “Wagyu,” you are looking at the term for Japanese beef cattle. Wagyu does not refer to one single breed. However, 90% of Wagyu raised for consumer use are Japanese Black cattle (found inside and outside of Japan). The other two significant cows include the Japanese Brown (raised in and outside of Japan) and the Japanese Shorthorn (raised only in Japan). Japanese Polled cattle are also Wagyu species; however, only several hundred exist in all of Japan. Therefore, when the diet of Wagyu cattle is addressed, it primarily points to the feeding of Japanese Black cattle. The Wagyu diet is essential, and the methods used have made it possible for producers to command a higher price for Japanese-fed beef. The main parts of the steer sold for consumption include the chuck, brisket, sirloin, and butt.

The Main Characteristics

You only need to look at the characteristics of Wagyu beef to see how diet impacts the quality of the meat. Features include the following:

  • Intramuscular fat or marbling
  • A fatty acid composition that is high in monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs)
  • A low melting point (below 26 degrees Celsius or 78 degrees Fahrenheit)
  • A firm texture A tender cut A unique and savory flavor

Dietary Components

The use of Japanese style feeding considers the following dietary components:

  • Total growth management – designed to meet the nutritional needs of Wagyu cattle at each phase of feeding
  • A specially formulated ration. Feeding up to the age of 30 months old.
  • A focus on minimizing cattle stress.
  • Feeding management of small groups.
  • Choice feed ingredients – designed to intensify flavor and to add to the fatty acid composition.

Feed Rations

Feed ratios and rations are broken down in starter, grower, and finisher formulations. Therefore, the starter feed ration is for pre- and post-weaning cattle while a grower ration covers development from post weaning to 13 months old. The finisher ration is designed for cattle aged 14 to 30 months old.

Types of Feed Ingredients

An example of Wagyu feed ingredients include the following:

Grain Products

  • Barley – denoted by a high crude fiber, steam flaked, so it is highly digestible
  • Corn – serving as a high energy food that contains an excellent fat content – steam chipped, so it is highly digestible or served in a hominy feed, which is a high crude fiber


  • Soybean meal – high in lysine
  • Canola meal


  • High-fiber wheat bran
  • Okara (A pulp made of the insoluble by-products of soybeans after pureed soybeans are filtered. The byproduct is produced when soy milk and tofu are manufactured.)
  • Nut husks – high in fiber
  • Barley husks – high in fiber Minerals Salt – used as a balance mineral Limestone – used to prevent kidney stones


  • Grasses and hay in the form of ryegrass and Bermuda grass – soft fibers that are easily digestible
  • Alfalfa hay – high in crude protein (CP) and vitamin A
  • Rice Straw and Wheat Straw – high in fiber

An Example of a Starter Feed
A Wagyu feed ration may consist of varying percentages of feed, depending on the dietary phase. For a starter feed, the following ratios may be represented:

  • Corn – 25% Barley – 25%
  • Wheat bran – 10%
  • Soybean meal – 13%
  • Barley straw – 0%
  • Nuts husk – 0%
  • Alfalfa – 15%
  • Alfalfa meal – 10%
  • Wheat straw – 0%
  • Wheat husk – 0%
  • Limestone – 1% Salt- 1%

The above list is merely an example of a breakdown; however, it gives you a good idea how feed rations may be combined.

A Grazing and Starter Ration Feeding Program

From birth to the third month, a grazing and starter ration feeding program is implemented. Early weaning is done to ensure the growth of the calf and prepare it for the grain feeding program later.

A Weaners/Grower Feeding Ration

From three to 13 months, a weaners/grower ration plus hay are introduced to ensure that the cattle receive enough roughage. This is done to support rumen (ruminant stomach) size and muscle growth.

The Ruminant Stomach

All cattle are ruminant animals, or feature four-chambered stomachs. The four chambers are represented by the following:

  • The rumen
  • The reticulum
  • The omasum
  • The abomasum

The Fermentation Process

The ruminant stomach is designed to ferment or break down the feed the cattle cannot. Microbes, such as bacteria and microorganisms, assist in the process. During the digestion, several by-products are produced, including volatile fatty acids, or VFAs. The animal absorbs these by-products and uses them for energy.

Vitamin synthesization

Vitamins synthesized in the rumen are adequate for maintenance and growth. Also, during fermentation, certain gases are produced, including methane and carbon dioxide. The gases are eliminated by eructation (belching).

A Feeders/Finisher Ration

From 14 to 30 months, a feeders/finisher ration plus rice straw is typically given. This formulation restricts the consumption of vitamin A and maximizes feeding to develop marbling.

Why the Japanese Style of Feeding Is Beneficial

When Wagyu cattle are fed in the Japanese style, the cattle grower realizes some benefits, namely the following:

  • Managing the animals in a small group minimize the variation in feed consumptions and allows the grower to organize the animals by age group, thereby making it easier to make ration modifications.
  • Managing animals in sheds minimize stress or feed wastage.

Maximized Marbling

When a Japanese style feed ration is given, marbling is maximized. This occurs, as the eating quality is optimized. Also, the fatty acid composition is better controlled.

Key Points to Remember for Feeding Success

The key points to remember when feeding Wagyu cattle include the following:

  • Begin feeding at a young age. By early weaning and supplementation, the Wagyu calf is better able to grow. That is because the Wagyu cow’s milk production is limited. Muscle development is essential as it will determine the beef yield. 8 8
  • Develop the rumen with high-quality roughage. Rumen conditioning, during the post-weaning state of four to nine months, is necessary to promote a high consumption of feed later. Roughage consumption increases the size of the rumen and assists in maintaining the balance of bacteria in the rumen.
  • Maintain the feed consumption. Maintaining the feed diet of the cattle is required to increase the rating for marbling. If feed consumption is irregular, gastrointestinal problems can result, thereby leading to low meat quality.

When feeding remains consistent, and according to schedule, the result is a high-quality meat product. That is why a Japanese feeding style is recommended to support growth, marbling, and beef yield.