DILLON, Mont. – The sun is just peaking over the mountains as cattle trucks come rolling into the headquarters of the Matador Cattle Company’s Beaverhead Ranch. The corrals are abuzz, it is a crisp winter day in December, but the cowboys and their horses are keeping warm as they sort calves.
On this particular day, the truck drivers are looking at a long haul, four days in fact, because they will be shipping half Akaushi calves from Dillon, Mont., all the way to Climax, N.Y.
Akaushi can also be known as Red Wagyu. The breed originated in Japan and the first breeding stock were brought to the United States in the early 1990s. Known for their high-quality marbling, Akaushi cattle are sought after for their premium meat.
The Matador Cattle Company, with ranches in Montana, Texas and Kansas, saw early on the benefits of crossing Akaushi cattle with continental breeds, resulting in a hybrid that is hardy while also producing a top-quality carcass.
2,300 miles away, in Climax, N.Y., you will also find Akaushi cattle. Climax Akaushi Farm acquired their first purebred Akaushi cattle in the spring of 2018. Located just two hours north of New York City, Climax Akaushi Farm direct markets their meat to high-end restaurants in New York City.
Raising cattle in upstate New York has a unique set of challenges as the area is heavily wooded and there is a lot of water. In addition, large tracts of continual land are hard to come by. Currently, Climax Akaushi consists of about 500 acres and is home to 50 purebred Akaushi cattle.
“Out here you want to work with quality over quantity,” explained Dr. Tyler Mort, farm coordinator and veterinarian for Climax Akaushi.
Due to the geographical challenges of raising cattle in New York, Climax Akaushi has been incentivized to focus more on the individual animal, but there was demand for more and the farm believed they could provide more with a feeder program.
On the hunt for half Black Angus, half Akaushi feeder calves, Mort reached out to a friend in Texas, who in turn put him in contact with Dan Johnson, a rep for Superior Livestock. Johnson, a native of Dillon, Mont., knew the Beaverhead Ranch just so happened to have a herd of Black Angus/Akaushi and they were looking to sell the calves
“Me and everyone involved in the deal were just really lucky I lived only 30 minutes away from these calves,” Johnson said.
Despite being a prized breed, herds of Akaushi are hard to find in the United States. Most established herds already have a market for their calves, so there aren’t a lot of them just floating around. Miraculously, the Beaverhead Ranch has about 1,200 Akaushi-cross calves they market every year. They have found success breeding their first calf heifers to Akaushi bulls, which offers more calving ease. The cross has become so successful that the ranch even breeds some of their older, part Lowline cows to Akaushi bulls. The resulting calf was exactly what Mort and Climax Akaushi were looking for to fill their direct meat marketing program.
As Mort explained, Climax Akaushi isn’t trying to reinvent the wheel when it comes to raising quality beef, rather they are striving to creatively find a way to offer locally raised beef to the consumers of New York City. Once in New York, the calves from Beaverhead Ranch are finished on grass and grain.
Mort categorizes Climax Akaushi as a semi-extensive operation, a creative term he came up with to describe how the calves are finished. Consumers in New York City are so far removed from agriculture that it is difficult for them to relate to the lifestyle. The idea of feedlots, to the misinformed consumer, can unfortunately conjure negative imagery.
“Our calves are on grass, but we are feeding them a grain ration in their bunks so the calves can come and go as they please,” Mort said.
Climax Akaushi bought their first feeder calves from the Beaverhead Ranch in December of 2018. Mort explains that group of calves has come along wonderfully and they will be ready for processing about February of 2020. Because of the way Wagyu cattle deposit their marbling, they take longer then continental breeds to finish out. The superb product is worth the wait, however.
New York City is known for its steakhouses and fancy eateries, and Climax Akaushi is simply working to bridge a gap, making high quality, ultra-marbled meat more accessible to New Yorkers with a historic Montana ranch acting as the starting point for the entire operation.