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Japanese Waygu beef-raising traditions have been a closely-guarded secret for centuries, and now the famously fine beef is being raised in New Zealand's fields.
On the Black Origin farm south of the Rakaia River in Canterbury, carers play soothing music for the specially-bred Wagyu cattle and give them daily massages. A vet regularly checks in on the animals, which live in loafing barns with metre-deep sawdust bedding and oodles of room to move around and go outside.
It all started with Arato Tsujino, from Kobe, the home of Wagyu in Japan. He spent his late teens in New Zealand and puzzled over why the country, with its pasture and cattle-breeding success, did not have true Wagyu herds. Back in Japan, Arato met former All Black halfback Andy Ellis – then playing for Kobe’s rugby team, the Kobelco Steelers. The two would go on to become partners in New Zealand’s Wagyu operation.
Their first hurdle was convincing Japanese breeders to bring them in on the industry secrets and allow Kobe-style Wagyu farming techniques in New Zealand. Japanese growers have worked on genetics, rearing and feeding methods for 200 years, and guard the brand closely. Thanks to the carefully laid-out plans, the farmers came on board quickly and the South Canterbury farm got started in 2015.
Wagyu is widely considered to be the tastiest beef in the world. That reputation is hard earned, and Black Origin takes great effort to make sure that continues in New Zealand. It takes three and a half years to raise a Wagyu animal. The meat is a delicacy, created through a combination of genetics, special treatment and feeding. Tokuhiro Nakao, president of the Hyogo Meat Industry Cooperative Association in Japan (and chairman of Black Origin) says he is “very excited about growing Wagyu in the proper, precise Japanese way, in New Zealand’s great environment”.
The cattle get their start on good South Canterbury grass and hay, then they are carefully transitioned onto a diet of a unique blend of New Zealand grain, custom designed for Black Origin by Japanese Wagyu experts. The whole environment is free of artificial hormones and antibiotics.
The farm is sustainable and largely self-sufficient. It captures 100% of effluent to protect waterways, and distributes it back on the farm to help grow huge crops of grain for the cattle. Even the sawdust from the barn is used in crop fertiliser. Maximum land productivity, and minimum carbon footprint.
This year, Black Origin’s prime beef met the strict quality standards of Wagyu traditions, and is now available to a limited number of top Kiwi restaurants and online for home cooking.