Malcolm Collier, president of the New Zealand Wagyu Breeders Association, has moved to Northland. Photo / Donna Russell
One of New Zealand’s longest-running Wagyu breeders has moved to Northland.
Malcom Collier is the President of the New Zealand Wagyu Breeders Association.
In March of this year, he brought his entire flock with legendary meat
cattle enjoy Pakaraka near Kawakawa and an additional 90ha leased from a neighbor next door.
Collier and his wife, Chari, a writer, settle into their new farm without a house. They currently rent a cottage nearby and spread out in a large caravan for some space.
His prized herd of 200 cattle now roams gently rolling pastures on 60 paddocks set between volcanic rocks and drystone walls, and he continues his Wakarua Wagyu farming venture.
Collier grew up in Taihape Hills, where several generations of his family have raised sheep and beef since the 1880s. In 1994, he started breeding Wagyu cattle.
In 2008, he moved to manage the infrastructure of Lifeway College, a Christian school in Snells Beach, keeping his flock on various rental blocks around the Matakana and Snells Beach districts.
Now he’s happy to have all his cattle in one room to expand the operation.
The Wagyu breed originated in Japan, and its name literally translates to “Japanese cow”.
Its highly marbled and tender meat is considered a delicacy all over the world. It has 300 percent more monounsaturated fat than other beef. Wagyu beef also has a genetically higher percentage of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, making it a healthier choice than other red meats and closer to salmon and olive oil.
Collier built his herd on a Wagyu/Friesian cross and now has all purebreds, as well as full bloods from Japan, both dam and sire.
“It has taken over 25 years of breeding to get the herd to where it is today and for the past five years I have been running an embryo transfer program to improve the herd to full blood.” he said.
The breeding process is highly scientific, with a specialist technician involved in carrying out the embryo transfers for each breeding cycle.
“It’s very difficult and expensive, and it’s only successful in 50 percent of transfers,” he said.
Careful herd management is needed to ensure that breeding cows kept for embryo transfers are not absorbed by the Wagyu bulls on the property or, at worst, any other breed of bulls from neighboring properties.
While Wagyu cattle in Japan and Australia are traditionally fed grain, Collier raises his cattle entirely on grass.
“Grain feeding is a very expensive model of farming/finishing. Some New Zealand farmers use grass feed and then finish the cattle on grain. But that’s a matter of personal taste and grass-fed Wagyu is still great.”‘
“The Asian palate has become more attuned to grain-fed meat, where fat marbling is prized for being ‘snow-white,’ while intramuscular fat in grass-fed meat has a yellowish color due to the carotene in grass,” Collier said.
A New Zealand meat company that processes Wagyu carcasses has specific criteria for evaluating the meat, which is priced up to $3 a kg higher than other breeds.
“Achieving top honors is not easy,” he said.
“Wagyu cattle also take longer to grow because the marbling effect develops gradually when the cattle are fed grass. Optimal grading is not achieved until the animal is at least three years old.”
Collier uses DNA testing to verify the lineage of his calves so they can be properly entered into the national herd registry.
This is maintained by the New Zealand Wagyu Breeders Association using an Australian database management system.
As president, Collier is interested in developing the registry as a useful platform for the association to build its brand.
The association started in 1992, but went on hiatus in the late 1990s when the breed became unattractive.
“There were a few stubborn people like me who were into the breed and so we re-established the association a few years ago. We now have about 30 members from all over New Zealand.
“Fortunately, the information from the original database was preserved, so we were able to build on that.
“Our goal is to provide a reliable way to register Wagyu genetics and create a meaningful network within the Wagyu community,” Collier said.
Despite the potentially high returns, life as a Wagyu breeder requires “going slow and being patient” because the costs involved in establishing a thoroughbred herd can be eye-wateringly expensive, he said.