Price of Quality

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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.)

Cattle barn. No regulation on runoff or scrapings exists in Japan.

Cattle barn. No regulation on runoff or scrapings exists in Japan.

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Pen identification.

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We noticed how immaculately clean the place was–again, demonstrating the pride in work I see everywhere in Japan. I’m pretty sure they do most of the cleaning with this straw broom.

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Randy: “These bales are so small, I’ll bet they would fit into my suitcase!” Oat hay on the left, Timothy on the right (for you forage novices out there).

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Gentle, curious dispositions speak to the fact that most animals have been handled individually before arriving at the feedlot. Many wear nose rings with a handle attached as well.

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Feed containing wine by-products from a Kobe winery.

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Composing system for manure. The drill operates on a timed program.

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.

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I wish the light weren’t so weird on this piece of Kobe beef, so you could see the marbling. A-5.

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Three perfect pieces, accompanied by grilled garlic, mustard, sea salt, plum salt and coarse pepper, served on a beautiful piece of handmade Kobe pottery.

Random photos of the day:

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A bakery displays cakes in Kyoto Station. Talk about over-achievers!

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We stayed at a traditional Japanese hotel (ryokan) where we slept on a Japanese futon mattress, and I enjoyed the baths. This is the robe I wore into the bath space. Note to CBB staffers: This shall not appear in any upcoming Board slide show!

 

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