The Wagyu breed originated in Japan. The word Wagyu refers to Japanese cattle - “Wa” meaning Japanese and “Gyu” meaning cattle.
The original purpose of the Wagyu breed in Japan was that of a draft animal for use in agriculture, due to their unique conformation and stamina that was fueled by the intramuscular fat in the muscling. It was not until the late 1800’s that the incredible quality of the beef was discovered. Four fullblood Japanese Wagyu bulls were imported from Japan to the US in 1976, with 250 additional animals arriving in the 1990’s, and became the foundation for the Wagyu genetics in the US. In the late 1990s, the Japanese government declared the wagyu a national treasure and implemented an export ban on all wagyu. This ban is still in place today.
Since then, the Wagyu breed has been developed and refined as the world’s luxury beef. Wagyu genetics have been used worldwide to improve beef quality in all breeds of cattle. USDA data shows that less than 5% of the approximately 30-35 million cattle harvested in the USA each year grade prime. In contrast, Wagyu influenced cattle (50% or higher) grade above prime 90% of the time. Of the 94.8 million cattle in the USA today there are only approximately 5000 Fullblood Wagyu, showing the massive opportunity for this rare breed to improve overall beef quality.