Meat producer First Light Foods has won gold for the second year running at the 2019 World Steak Challenge in Dublin.
For the past four years Markus has been putting Wagyu bulls over the Kiwi-cross heifers he grazes off the farm at Matawai in the Gisborne region.
He was encouraged to try the different genetics by his grazier who had run Angus cattle and crossed them with Wagyu. Ruegger was also keen to seek out a breed that would be an easy calving option, and deliver higher value calves.
“The reality is that when you put a Jersey bull over a Kiwi-cross heifer, you are not going to get a calf worth very much from it; usually it will be the lowest grade weight,” he says.
Ruegger is said to have decided that using Firstlight Wagyu bulls met his requirement for value add, easy calving and secure purchase contracts once the calves have reached four days old.
“Our options for mating are relatively limited. We can’t go down there to do AI on the heifers, so the Wagyu arrangement has provided a way to earn more from those calves without compromising our in-calf rate or having any calving difficulties you sometimes get from beef breeds.”
He has achieved 85-90% calving rates within three weeks in the 60-65 heifers he puts to the Wagyu bulls every year and calving issues have only been typical of those with Jersey bulls.
Ruegger’s wife Esther rears the calves every year from their 310 head herd, and she has not experienced any issues with the Wagyu-cross calves, and appreciates the regular collection at 4-6 days that is part of the contract with Firstlight Wagyu.
“They learn to drink quickly and like any calf need that colostrum at the start to get going well.”
Typically the premium on the four day calves is up to three times what they would get as bobby calves, and this has been underpinned by the strong demand for Wagyu beef in Firstlight’s overseas markets.
Firstlight director Gerard Hickey says market demand for grass fed Wagyu is gaining momentum every year for a brand that has been establishing itself for ten years. “We now have sales… staff in the United Arab Emirates, California and the UK.”
Firstlight Wagyu quality, antibiotic free and grass fed has a following among high income earners in the US. Premium Bristol Farms supermarkets throughout the Los Angeles county are enjoying strong demand for the beef.
“Not a week goes by when we don’t have buyers or consumers tell us that this is the best beef they have ever tasted. It is easy to market a product that is as good as this,” Hickey says.
He seeks more dairy farmers to add to the supply chain by making Wagyu an option for their non-replacement calves. “We are keen to talk to dairy farmers of spring and autumn calving herds who want to generate more cashflow this season.”
Typically payments will be up to three times what is paid for Kiwi-cross bobbie calves, with guaranteed collection at four days and payment at 21 days.