Wagyu Beef - 101

Thompson River Ranch High-Percentage, Long-Fed American Wagyu Beef

From Our Table to Yours

We all have a lot to consider when it comes to providing quality food on the table to our family.  What kind of food, where the food originates and how it is raised – are all major considerations in determining the right food to eat.  At Thompson River Ranch we've become zealots over the past few years in understanding the quality and supply chain of the entire cow to steak process.

In the beef industry, genetics, the use of hormones and antibiotics, and the feed program are all important differentiators in the end-quality and health of meat.  Thompson River Ranch is at the high end of all of these critical parameters. 

The Wagyu Legend – A Japanese Tradition

The legend of producing premium quality Wagyu (Kobe) is not new but it is certainly impressive.  The Japanese Wagyu were initially developed 500 years ago as work animals.  It was only relatively recently that they were discovered to have extraordinary meat qualities, resulting in this cattle breed becoming one of the most coveted in the world.  Genetically different from the traditional American breeds, Wagyu are world renowned for their marbling abilities resulting in taste and tenderness far surpassing the traditional American experience.


The USDA scale for meat quality has 3 levels – Select, Choice, and Prime.  Contrastingly, the Japanese grading system has 12 levels, 7 are above the USDA Prime.  Today roughly 3% of the traditional US cattle grade as Prime.   Our cattle routinely grade at the Japanese level of BMS 7-8 and well over 90% of our cattle are graded Prime.  

This quality comes from meticulous attention to detail and a commitment to premier genetics and healthy nutrition.   We are committed to offering Wagyu beef that is 75-100% Wagyu, a significantly higher percentage than the vast majority of all the Wagyu beef in America today.   We feel strongly about our program and hope that you value this commitment to producing sustainable, healthy, tasty and tender beef.

What's a Wagyu?

Wagyu, or "Kobe Beef" as marketed by many, is a specific breed of cow originating from Japan, just as Angus is the predominant breed in the United States.  "Kobe" is a location in Japan where the cows are raised.  "Kobe Beef" is a catchy marketing term used by many US meat marketers but it really does not mean anything relative to the genetics, quality or ranching practices.   Unless, of course,  it was raised in that specific region of Japan.  We believe that it is more appropriate to call the cattle "American Wagyu" or Montana Wagyu or Texas Wagyu and we go a little further in our nomenclature – High-percentage, Long-fed American Wagyu.

High-percentage: Wagyu cattle are a genetically unique breed.  These animals are ox-like in structure and are built for endurance.  As a result, the marbling occurs in the muscle of the animal rather than on the perimeter of the muscle.  In the early 90's, as a  result of a new trade agreement, a herd of approximately 40 full blood Wagyu cows and bulls were brought into the United States.  Since that time,  only a few ranches have been active in producing this outstanding breed.  Even today there are very limited numbers of 100% Wagyu animals in the United States, numbering only a few thousand.         

The majority of the Wagyu or "Kobe" meat sold in the US is a 50/50 cross between a Wagyu and an Angus.  Wagyu contributes its intense marbling, Angus contributes size and growth, resulting in meat that is a significant improvementover 100% Angus.  After testing a variety of genetic crosses specifically for beef consumption, we believe a 50/50 cros s breed animal does not showcase the best traits of Wagyu.  A higher percentage of Wagyu genetics is needed to achieve the renowned marbling and taste of these animals.   Thompson River Ranch is one of the few American ranches producing 75-100% American Wagyu cattle

It's What They Eat That Matters...And for how long

Grass-fed/Grain-finished: Our concept of nutrition is pretty simple – a healthy, well-fed animal produces healthy beef. With our beef, we never use hormones nor feed antibiotics. Our dual feeding program consists of both 100% grass-fed animals and grass-fed, grain-finished.   The majority of our animals are placed in the grass-fed/grain-finished program where they remain on the ranch for their first 18-months and then switching to a nutritious diet still consisting primarily of grass, supplemented by other natural ingredients (hay, distiller's and other grains).  Currently, we do not sell the grass-fed animals directly as we sell them exclusively to a retailer.

Long-fed Program: Wagyu cattle attains it’s intense marbling relatively late in life – month 28-36.  Traditional cattle are typically slaughtered at 18 months, half of the time it takes our cattle.  Our long-fed program has significant positive health and taste implications.  Slo-o-o-o-w growth promotes healthy fat, intense marbling and incredible taste. Our animal's weight gain is designed to be less than 1.5 lbs/day as compared to 3 lbs/day , this weight gain/day is half  that of traditional production over twice the time. The result is an animal that naturally matures, another aspect of producing delicious Wagyu meat.

Healthy Beef - 3 Times the Level of MUFA to Traditional Beef

Beef is an excellent source of protein and vitamins B-6 and B-12. The largest health concern in beef consumption is is the type and amounts of fat you eat and whether or not the beef contains any additives. 

Studies have been done quantifying the advantages in fat production when feeding cattle a high percentage hay diet over a long period of time. The human body can manufacture most of the fat types it needs, except for essential fatty acids (EFA's). Most positive health benefits are seen in two types of EFAs – linoleic acid (omega 6) and linolenic acid (omega 3). Wagyu beef is an excellent source of both of these EFAs.

Another unique advantage in Wagyu is that it contains a much higher proportion of the desirable fats (mono) than other beef. The Mono-Unsaturated Fatty Acids to Saturated Fatty Acids ratio (MUFA:SFA) is up to three times higher, 6:1, in Wagyu than in any other beef (normal ratio is about 2:1). Consuming Wagyu beef is beneficial to your health, possessing a unique high concentration of beneficial omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids and a higher ratio of mono to saturated fats.

The health/fat benefits come from: 

1) The Wagyu breed – more ox-like, endurance animal that genetically is more marbled than other cattle breeds;

2) The lower-caloric, long-feed program-producing a 1400-1500 lb. animal over 30-36 months; and

3) The type/ratio of feed – grass, roughage and small amounts of grain – lower in calories and higher in the EFA's that represent healthy fats.

We are proud of our American Wagyu program.  Our commitment to provide sustainable, healthy, tasty and tender beef is unwavering.  Our hope is that you are as passionate in discovering products that matter in your family's health and in sustaining the earth's resources.  We feel confident that if these things matter to you, then Thompson River Ranch high-percentage, long-fed American Wagyu is the right meat for you. Come join us!

Further Reading