First Light Wagyu ticks all the boxes for fifth generation Maniototo farmer James Herlihy.
“We hope to year-in, year-out increase the number of Wagyu calves. We’re in it for the long haul,” he says. He and wife Cate have two dairy farms and a beef finishing/support block at Patearoa near Ranfurly in Central Otago, including about 800ha of crops and cultivars under irrigation. They have 1600 dairy cows plus replacements and Cate rears 400 beef calves every year; the majority of them are Wagyu. Through the use of fresh sexed semen, they hope to put more of the dairy herd to Wagyu to get better quality Wagyu calves earlier.
“If you want to get the higher marbling scores and the value that brings, you have to be prepared to take them to at least 28 months. There is extra value to be had if you’re patient. You can’t make a rough job of it; you can’t cut corners; you have to do them properly. They’re a valuable animal,” says James.
“If you want to do it easy, just run bulls. But if you want to do something that’s more rewarding, consider Wagyu.”
He says it’s satisfying to have a top line of Wagyu behind the wire.
“They’re hilarious; they’re as tame as a cat,” he says, smiling. ““To move them, they’ll follow you or your truck from paddock to paddock. They’re very inquisitive animals.”
James says the dairy business and the First Light model are a good fit; all beef is sourced in house, there are fewer bobby calves and they’re growing a premium product.
“Grass-fed Wagyu beef is an excellent, high-end product. Take your time. Get it right.”