Beef focus: Irish-bred Wagyu stock bulls head for southwest Wales

AgriLand first visited the farm of Wagyu breeder Oliver O’Hanlon in January 2018. Originally, Oliver ran a dairy herd of predominately Friesian cows – moving to Mountbeliarde cows in the latter years – on 120ac of land.

However, the family farm changed dramatically in 1997; falling profit margins focused the Kildare-based farmer’s mind and he knew it was time for a change.

In 2007, he imported 50 Wagyu embryos from Australia. The Wagyu embryos arrived in 2008 and the first offspring were born in May 2009. Now, Oliver is the largest breeder of full-blood Wagyu in Ireland.

Younger Wagyu bulls – sired by Ginjo MarbleMax B901 – on Oliver’s farm

In 2017, Oliver sourced semen and embryos from the “best herds” in Australia and from bulls who had the highest results in feedlots for growth, marbling and tenderness.

Since then, some of these calves have been born resulting in two bulls and two heifers sired by Ginjo MarbleMax B901 and a bull and heifer sired by Ginjo Hatshira K930.

In January 2018, Oliver’s goal was to run a herd of 50 full-blood Wagyu cows. And the Kildare-based farmer is well on the way to achieving this target with 25 full-blood cows and 15 full-blood heifers currently taking centre stage on the farm.

When it comes to selling breeding stock, 50% are sold in Ireland with the remaining 50% of sales coming from overseas; the most recent sale involved six Wagyu bulls heading to a large dairy farm in Wales.

A Ginjo Hatshira K930 sired calf aged four weeks

Every year, 40-50 full-blood embryos are transferred on the farm with an additional 50-60 sold to Irish farmers for implantation; all embryos are sired by high-index imported Austrailian semen.

“Last year, many calves were born in Spain as we exported 1,000 straws from our AI bull Ohanasaki Brilliant who is 10 years old and fit as a fiddle,” Oliver explained.

The Welsh dairy farmers – Mr. and Mrs. Iori Evans – run an 800-cow British Friesian herd – in Carmarthenshire in southwest Wales. A team of eight people work on the farm which operates a grass-based system. In addition, three rotary parlours are installed on the farm.

Mr. and Mrs. Iori Evans on Oliver O’Hanlons farm

Originally, the herd was bred to Jersey bulls. However, by using these genetics, it became harder to find a home for the Jersey calves. So, after first learning about the Wagyu breed on a trip to Australia, Wagyu AI and two Wagyu bulls were introduced last year.

Happy with the performance of the Wagyu genetics – especially the easy calving traits as all heifers calve down at 24 months – the Evans’ contacted Oliver and arranged to purchase three bulls.

However, whilst in Ireland collecting the three bulls, Mr. and Mrs. Evans purchased a further three bulls from the Kildare holding, which were collected soon after.

Regular weighing complements the Evans’ system ensuring that heifers are on target to calve at 24 months-of-age.

The eight Wagyu bulls will each run with 25-30 British Friesian heifers, and they will also be used to ‘mop up’ the herd once AI and sexed semen have been used.

Currently, the six Wagyu bulls purchased from Oliver are settling into their new surroundings and are awaiting the breeding season which is due to commence on June 20.

All Wagyu-bred calves on the Welsh dairy farm will be sold to Warrendale Wagyu – aged two-to-three weeks – for further rearing and finishing.

Prior to sale, each calf will be DNA tested. After processing the Evans will be able to identify which of their full-blood Wagy bulls have the best traits for marbling and tenderness and could possibly collect semen from these bulls.

These calves will be sold for a higher price compared to the Jersey-cross calves that were originally bred on the farm.

Iori Evans is no stranger to Ireland. Back in the 1980s, Iori was one of the first people to paddock graze and, through this, he had many Irish people on his farm to learn the concept. In addition, both Iori and his wife visit Moorepark occasionally.