I’m back in Tokyo, after a few days in Kyoto and Kobe, where Internet access proved a bit sketchy.
I’ve eaten highly marbled, domestic beef many, many times since I arrived in Japan (the hospitality here is amazing, and everyone wants to feed the beef lady…well…beef!), and I’ve often wondered how domestic producers get beef to A-5.
Yesterday, I learned all about it at a Waygu feedlot about two hours outside of Kobe city. With a capacity of 1000 head, all under what I would call hay shed structures, I saw animals from six months to 30 months old. (Disclaimer: I’m not a feeder, so I ask my feeder friends to please go easy on me with the technical details as I describe what I saw. I’m guessing I missed some things, and sometimes the technical translation became challenging.)Animals receive a starter ration from six to 15 months, that consists solely of roughage. The lot imports high-quality Timothy hay from Anderson in Washington State, paying $.50 USD per kilo (yes, I said per kilo) for it. In addition, cattle receive oat hay, vitamin supplement as well as access to mineral block.
At 16 months through 27 months, the grower ration kicks in. This consists of oat hay, wet distillers mash, wine mash made from winery byproducts (an extra special treat provided at this feedlot because it produces solely a branded product called Kobe Wine Beef), fescue, soy syrup (this is what I call it, because I had trouble getting the gist of what it was. I asked if it were molasses, and the manager said yes, but made from soy) and sugar cane concentrate they get from an American company in South America. I saw very little corn in this ration, as I sifted through it.
From 16 to 21 months, the lot withholds vitamin A, which they told me encourages intramuscular fat deposit. They track vitamin A by random sample blood test on a regular basis to make sure levels are falling appropriately.
From 28 months to 30 months, a finishing ration increases corn (but not by as much as I expected).
The extended feeding time caused me to ask about input costs. While they didn’t have labor costs handy, they did tell me that it costs about $4,000 per animal in feed (24 months at the lot/$4,000 for a monthly cost of roughly $167 per animal). With the extremely high cost of calves, the feeder can have about $7,000 into an animal by the time it goes to market. However, carcasses can sell for $10,000 or so (again, for my feeder friends, all numbers are approximate).
From the feedlot, we went to eat (hey, who’s surprised I’m eating again?!) at a Kobe beef restaurant back in Kobe city–Ishidaya. Let’s just say I didn’t need supper.Random photos of the day: