We would like to share with you the way in which our Wagyu cattle are kept and how we look after them. Animal welfare, good living conditions and good food are very important to us. Given below is a description of our working method. Furthermore, we would like to invite you to come to our farm and see for yourselves how our Wagyu cattle live in the Cowshed-garden (De Koeientuin).
As a herd together
The Wagyus are kept as a herd of nursing cows, where the calves remain with their mothers for a minimum of 9 months. The herd consists mainly of summer-born calves. In the summer (May-Oct/Nov) they are kept outside in the fields, partly on a geological monumental piece of land which, because of its ancient sedimentary landscape, is difficult to cultivate with modern machines. Additionally, they graze on normal grasslands where, if necessary, supplementary structure-enriched hay can be provided. The female animals give birth chiefly unaided in the fields. The calves walk with and drink directly from their mothers but we ensure that the calf is given extra colostrum (first milk) containing antibodies from a vaccinated cow, so that we are certain the calf has a good start in life. Thereafter, the mother takes over. If the calf requires nutrient concentrate at a later age, it will receive supplementary feed via a suckling-calf trough.
Two months after calving, the female is mated naturally with a bull. This is our preferred method. However, artificial insemination (A.I.) is also used. This is necessary in order to diversify the bloodline. Together with the breeders, we try to maintain the traditional breeding objective of breeding for quality and taste.
When the ground becomes too wet (around Oct-Nov) the Wagyus walk as a complete herd over the public road to their (indoor) home, where they are housed in our Cowshed-garden (De Koeientuin). The Cowshed-garden, which we personally developed, is a free-roaming cowshed containing rows of tall fruit trees placed between the supporting pillars. The cows walk on 50cm thick shredded woodchip (the rough parts of which have been sieved out for bio-fuel). The cows tread on this ground and fertilize it. We cultivate the soil by adding oxygen to it to stimulate the composting process. In order to effect equal fertilization of the ground, we have placed moveable water butts and feeding troughs throughout the cowshed. When all the woodchip has been composted, the by-product we have is an especially nutritious type of compost enriched with cow dung.
There is an optimal climate in the cowshed that can be controlled thanks to the moveable side walls and roof ventilation. In addition, daylight is used wherever possible so that only night lighting is required.
In Japan, Wagyu were massaged as they do not move enough there. The massage was to prevent that they would become stiff. At our farm, massaging is not really necessary, because the animals roam freely and with that get enough exercise. But of course they can truly appreciate a relaxing back massage by brush. There is not enough time for massages by hand. (But of course masseurs who want to help are always welcome!)
The male animals are castrated at a young age (from bull to bullock), so that their growth is slower and the much praised marbled meat can develop. This will then approach the butchering quality of the female animals. The animals live together as a herd. After approximately 2.5 years, the male animals are placed on fattening feed. This also contains structure-enriched hay that has been obtained from land where the harvest date has been delayed, the so-called ‘bird island’. In addition, they receive a balanced nutrient concentrate mix which has been specially compiled to enhance the extraordinary taste and unsaturated fats in the meat. The elements within the concentrate are GMO free and are mainly by-products not suitable for human consumption, so that they are not extracted from productive agricultural land into our food chain.
After about 3 years, the Wagyu bullocks are ready to be slaughtered. We personally bring the animals to the abattoir. Earlier in the month, they are driven around in the cattle-truck to get them used to being transported. They are brought to the abattoir early, so that they have time to recover from the transportation before being slaughtered. In this way, we try to ensure that the animals are not stressed before they are killed, which maintains the quality, taste and shelf life of the meat.
Processing Wagyu beef
We have purposely sought a local abattoir (within 30 km radius), so that transportation is kept to a minimum. Obviously, the abattoir is certified and, in addition to other cattle, they only slaughter Wagyu cattle from ‘Het Koeienhuis’. As Wagyu beef is unmistakably recognisable, we are certain that we are processing our own meat. Firstly, the bones are removed from the carcass and then allowed to ripen in a vacuum. After that, we process the meat in cooperation with a butcher from a meat processing company (16 kilometers from our house). We are present from the beginning to the end of the process; even the minced beef (for burgers and mince) is manually made by us. Everything is also labelled and packaged by us. Accordingly, we can give a 100% guarantee that our meat contains 100% Wagyu beef from our own cattle.