2019 Volume 128 Issue 2 Pages 277-300
The conditions required to maintain the techniques and standards used by farmers who fatten Japanese black cattle to produce Maesawa beef, a high-grade Wagyu meat, in Oshu City, Iwate Prefecture, are elucidated. To determine the reproduction mechanism of Maesawa beef, the relationship between labor productivity of fattening farmers and transformations effected in the strains of feeder cattle purchased are investigated, as well feeding methods since the 1990s. The results are summarized as follows:
1. Daily sales per man-day (labor productivity) of Maesawa beef-producing farmers in 1994 can be classified into four types: Type Ia (large-sized, intensive farming enterprises achieving the highest productivity); Type Ib (large- and medium-sized farm businesses engaged in pluriactivity); Type II (full-time farm households retaining two or more workers); and, Type III (medium- and small-sized farms emphasizing the fattening of beef cows).
2. Until the 1990s, Maesawa beef-producing farmers notably tended to purchase feeder cattle, the sires of which belonged to the Tajiri strain, which is endowed with a higher marbling score. However, toward the end of the 1990s, emphasis shifted to gains in the dressed weight of fattened cattle, and farmers began to select bull strains such as Kedaka and Fujiyoshi, which yielded a combination of superior meat quality and a higher average daily gain. The ratio of feeder cattle born and bred in Maesawa District as fattened cattle to those branded Maesawa beef was 1:3. To maintain the locally integrated nature of Maesawa beef production throughout the life cycle, from calves to fattened cattle, Oshu City provided subsidies to fattening farmers who purchased feeder cattle born within the city and to breeding farmers who reserved calves born on their own farms. Recently, some producers of Maesawa beef have entered the breeding business.
3. Knowledge of the self-mixing of individual feeds is only communicated through the generations on family farms, and this specialist know-how helps to maintain higher grades of meat quality. In addition, fattening farmers try to share data on the composition of their feeding rations through organized activities of Iwate Furusato agricultural cooperatives to raise the jomono rate, which is the proportion of dressed carcasses rated Grade 4 or Grade 5. Since the middle-2000s, researchers also observed the increasing use of compound feeds as replacements for self-mixed feeds and the utilization of rolled bales of rice straw to substitute for pole rack-drying straw.
Through such changes in the selection of feeder cattle and feed acquisition, Maesawa beef has gained a high market value over the last 25 years. Some surveyed farmers had increased labor productivity by shortening the fattening period and reducing the amount of labor required for feeding.