Ranchers from across the U.S. gather in Salina to learn about the high-demand for wagyu cattle

Alice Mannette
The Hutchinson News

SALINA — Three years ago, Rich and Kariann Dryer went over to a fellow rancher's house to buy some wagyu steaks. The rancher opened his freezer and told the Dryer's to help themselves — for free. 

Within a month, the Dryer's,who own Legacy Farms in Franklin County, Mo., were adding registered wagyu to their cattle ranch, several from that rancher.

"The beef is amazing," Kariann said. "The product sells itself."

The Dryer's were one of the sellers at the Passion for Prime wagyu sale on June 5 at Farmers & Ranchers Livestock in Salina. The event was part of the Midwest Wagyu Association's conference.

The Dryer's brought two of their prize black bulls to sell. They raise more than 50 full-blooded wagyu cows, the same amount of calves as well as percentage wagyu and full-blooded angus.

Mike Kerby of Missouri sells his red wagyu at the Passion for Prime sale on June 5 in Salina.

Mike Kerby, the organizer of this 7-year-old wagyu sale event that moves to a different Midwest state each year, brought several red angus bulls, cows and calves to sell. He said the red wagyu are more rare. Kerby, who runs Buck Mountain Ranch in Warsaw, Mo., has raised wagyu for 13 years. He has noticed both the popularity of the conference and the amount of wagyu cattle in the U.S. continue to grow. 

"It's (wagyu beef) changing the American beef industry," Kerby said. "The percent (of beef) that hit prime has climbed up to 10%. That's because of wagyu."

Sales, like this one, introduce ranchers to the breed, help with education and provide a place to buy and sell the animal. They have helped entice more ranchers to raise this Japanese breed.Along with buyers from adjacent states, ranchers came from California, New York and North Dakota. Others attended virtually from Australia, Canada and Germany.

More:Looking for a new type of beef to raise? Consider Wagyu

"This conference was well attended,"American Wagyu Association executive director Robert Williams, Ph.D. said. "Some are looking at getting in and some that have been in it (selling wagyu) are here."

Williams said the number of registered wagyu cattle in the nation has increased dramatically. Wagyu ranches are in all 50 states, with numbers increasing yearly.

Kenny Landgraf of Landgraf Ranch in Texas bought his first wagyu from the Passion for Prime sale in 2016. He said he enjoys the intimacy of the sale as well as the people. He brought two animals to the sale, but did not plan to head back with any more.

Rich Dryer, an eighth-generation rancher, checks on his bulls at the Passion for Pride sale in Salina.

"My ranch is full," he said, "but I might go home with a bull."

The day before the sale, the ranchers learned about new techniques in breeding and raising this breed, whose meat often registers above prime and marbles well. 

Desi Cicale of Meat Imaging USA introduced MIJ, a new Japanese carcass grading technology. Through this machine, producers can grade their own meat. This machine helps the rancher know what genetics are working best for their program.

"You're using Japanese technology," Landgraf said. "You send it to Japan, and it comes back 30 seconds later."

Many ranchers who raise wagyu visit other ranchers to try and learn more about the animal. They also learn about grazing and rotation.

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The Dryers use rotational pasturing and pasture management for their wagyu. They said this helps the animal remain docile, increasing the forage quality and controlling parasites.

Josh Belcher of Colwich, who raises less than one dozen wagyu in Douglass, came to the sale with his 10-year-old daughter, Kinley. He started buying the breed this past year. Belcher, who has researched the animal, wanted to meet other ranchers and possibly buy an animal or two to understand the market better.

Belcher has noticed the high quality of meat the animal produces and the temperament amongst the wagyu. He said they can be calm, but that is dependent upon how they are raised. 

For Landgraf, raising wagyu has become a way of life.

"I love the meat. I love the animals," he said. "And I love the people (who raise the animals)."

Robert Williams, the executive director of the American Wagyu Association, stands in front of wagyu who are for sale in Kansas.

To learn more about wagyu: https://www.hutchnews.com/news/20200124/kansas-ranchers-raising-top-shelf-wagyu-beef

Mixing Wagyu with Angus: https://www.hutchnews.com/news/20200314/wagyu-beef---small-but-strong-in-kansas

To learn more about the sale: https://www.hutchnews.com/story/news/2021/06/03/wagyu-beef-conference-introduces-new-producers-to-the-animal-salina-kansas/7494152002/