Wagyu business is
REVERSE psychology is paving the way forward for one of Australia’s leading wagyu beef operations.
Anthony and Chantal Winter, managers of the Japanese-owned Macquarie Wagyu on the Condamine River floodplain at Leyburn in Queensland’s Southern Downs region, don’t look at the business from a paddock-to-plate perspective. In fact, they do the opposite.
“For us it is working back from the plate to the paddock,” said Chantal, who was recently elected the first woman president of the Australian Wagyu Association.
“We turn it around so it is all about the consumers. If you haven’t got those consumers why are you doing what you do?”
This intentional focus on the end-user means all breeding decisions revolve around how a cow’s offspring, having been finished in the property’s 2900-head feedlot, ultimately stack up on the dinner plate.
“We can plug every cow into a computer program and we can look at her bloodlines, DNA, how many carcasses she has produced and how good the carcasses have been,” said Anthony, adding the first three calves from any female – irrespective of breeding – were finished in the feedlot to provide crucial carcass feedback.
“From there we pick the cows we want as donor cows for embryos, the cows that are probably the next rung down but are good enough to join to the top bulls and retain females, and then our commercial production cows.
“It’s not rocket science. We are using our data to find the outliers and breed from them.”
It’s a no-nonsense approach that is paying off in spades. Macquarie has positioned itself at the top of the wagyu genetics tree. At the Australian Wagyu Conference’s elite sale this year it sold a bull for $80,000 and two packages of 10 semen straws for an average of $70,000.
All the while its product continues to win over judges in branded beef competitions.
Not ones to rest on the laurels of their success, the Winters only have eyes for the future.
They are excited by breeding and genetic technology advancements and are in the box seat to be able to alter their programs to suit future market trends.
MACQUARIE Wagyu is run on the property that once served as the Australian breeding headquarters for the US-based King Ranch’s quarter horse and santa gertrudis operations.
Covering about 8700ha, it comprises predominantly grazing country but for
1300ha of farming country –
500ha of which is irrigated. The whole operation, which employs nine full-time staff, is geared around the feedlot with wheat and barley grown over winter to supply it. Chickpeas are also grown over winter with mung beans, sorghum, corn, cotton, soy beans grown as cash crops during summer.
The Winters, who have managed the property since
2009 for the Japanese family which purchased it in the
mid-1990s, said about half the grazing land comprised poor-quality sandy, wattle and bull-oak country with the better paddocks of clay, brigalow and heavy soils.
Paddock sizes range from
20ha to 200ha and the property receives about
625mm of rain a year in a mostly summer pattern.
Last year it experienced a very ordinary winter before things turned around – “but only in this immediate area” – during summer. But following a reasonable autumn “the tap turned off in May”.
“We normally plant about
(605-810ha) of winter crops and this year we have about
450 acres (182ha) and it’s all under the irrigator,” Anthony said.
“We’ve got no dryland at all. We were very lucky in that we have four and a half inches
(112mm) in October which we were able to plant (summer crops) on but all the hot weather since, we really need another drink now.”
Anthony said the property had its own microclimate – “it is not as humid as the (Darling) Downs and not as hot as out west” – but winter could be tough with 40-50 frosts this year. The property was hit by floods in 2010 and 2013 destroying cotton and ready-to-harvest sorghum crops in the process.
ON the beef front, Macquarie joins 650 full-blood wagyu females and 100 recipient cows, used to breed replacement females and some bulls. Anthony said they didn’t breed according to one particular line.
When he and Chantal first came to the property there was a lot of variation in the size of the cows and, with it being “very, very hard to breed size and marbling because they are two distinct lines”, they initially focused on growth.
“We have a very limited genetic pool to work with. We’ve really tried to keep diversity in our genetics and also keep size in the breeding herd,” Chantal said.
The Winters worked on the thesis that it didn’t matter how much marbling the carcasses had, if they were too small in size they wouldn’t have a market.
“We basically spent seven years where all we did was concentrate on getting a more uniformed, medium-framed cow,” Anthony said.
“We were trying to do that while at least holding on to our marble score, which we did reasonably successfully.”
PLATE TO PADDOCK: Anthony and Chantal Winter of Macquarie Wagyu at Leyburn, south of Toowoomba.