By JAROSLAV VALENTA
PRAGUE — The Czech Republic is a small country in the middle of Europe, the land area similar to the state of Indiana. The current level of agriculture is significantly under the influence of the European Union, its regulations and subsidies.
Historically, cattle breeding has undergone considerable changes over the past 30 years. The revolution of November 1989 started macroeconomic reform, and the process of transformation from a centrally planned to a market economy began. One of the most significant impacts in the 1990s was a decline in the number of cattle reared.
Before 1989, the number of cattle reached more than 3.4 million head; presently, there are just over 1.4 million. The nation’s industry structure favors dairy cattle, with approximately 365,000 head.
The situation of beef cattle breeding is improving, with more than 221,000 animals. In most cases, beef for sale in shops is represented by meat from fattened bulls to two years of age and from discarded cows. Very often, beef is slaughtered from dairy cattle, which predominantly consist of two breeds in the Czech Republic: Holstein and Czech Fleckvieh.
Unfortunately, the processing industry for meat is not willing to pay for quality and so a large amount of beef is exported to other countries. The meat from beef cattle breeds is a scarce commodity here.
Fortunately, there is a change occurring in consumer preferences and people are looking for meat that is of high quality and easily identifiable origin. Consumers must look for quality beef in a restaurant or directly from the cattle breeder.
The Czech Republic is gradually increasing its breeders of beef cattle, at present working with about 23 breeds. The most widespread are Charolais, Aberdeen Angus, Limousin and Hereford, along with other breeds in relatively minor quantities.
The first breeding of Wagyu cattle in the Czech Republic began in 2006, when agronomist Josef Müller and his family decided to work with an exotic beef breed. His professional knowledge of reproductive biotechnology enabled him to embark on embryo transfer.
The embryos purchased in the Netherlands were placed in suitable recipients of the Czech Fleckvieh breed and in 2007, the heifer Wagina and the bull Wagus WAG001 – the first breeding bull in the Czech Republic – were born.
Wagus was genetically tested by the IGENITY test system and used in the insemination station even in natural breeding; insemination doses are used in the Czech Republic and in Europe as well. Wagina became the basis for herd expansion, and after first calving at 28 months of age was used several times for embryo-flushing.
Flushing is part of the process of embryo transfer. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, the main use of transfer in cattle has been to amplify reproductive rates of valuable females. Because of low reproductive rates and long generation intervals, embryo transfer is especially useful in this species.
The embryos were used in both fresh and frozen conditions. When the herd grew larger and the number of full-blooded animals increased, the heifers were inseminated by imported insemination doses and, after calving, were used as embryo donors. The full-blood bulls were offered for sale.
Breeding is now practiced as natural breeding, insemination and embryo transfer. Over a decade, several full-blooded and crossbred cows and bulls have been raised. Müller’s current herd of about 74 animals is composed of approximately 20 full-blooded Wagyu and others mainly from a large number of different types of crossbreds.
Wagyu crossbreds such as with Aberdeen Angus, Aubrac and other breeds are primarily for fattening and meat production. Müller tries several times a year to sell beef from his own breeding efforts, with the vast majority of clients being direct consumers and a smaller part of his beef going to select restaurants.
In 2017, 10 slaughterings were carried out and in 2018 at the beginning of November there were 14 animals (four cross heifers and cows, two oxen and eight cross bulls). The marketing priority is direct sale to the consumer, and the processing is done at nearby slaughterhouses with the sale of meat at a farm in the village of Mnetice.
Both crossbred and full-blooded animals are slaughtered. The beef’s dry-aging process takes place over 3-4 weeks; wet-aging is used as well. The breeder has a background for meat sales, and he approaches the clients individually to recommend culinary preparations.
Müller farmed for about 42 acres in a quiet area near the city of Pardubice. The limited pasture leads to year-round hay feeding, and cereals are used minimally in the cattle’s feed. Heifers are bred on grazing land and essentially without the cereals, while market bulls are fattened in 12-24 months by feeding ad libitum and cereals are added to the final fattening stage.
Muesli is fed to calves, administered from the first week of age until weaning, and managed by Müller himself. Generally he uses pressed barley and oats, cornflakes, malt flower and dried sugar beet pulp in this feed mix.
A decade ago, the Wagyu breed was not well known here and the information available about Wagyu breeding was fairly modest; a herd book was not established until 2011. In recent years, Czech Republic residents have displayed a growing interest in consuming high-quality products, for which they are willing to pay extra, such as well-marbled beef. Building a sales base of such a specific meat is important to the nation’s farming economy.
Müller’s is a reflection of a classic, family-friendly farm that is operated at a “hobby” level. Most of the profit is placed in investments related to the development of the farm. The purpose of breeding, besides the creation of a full-blooded herd with a corresponding exterior, is also to improve the milkiness and to fix the high intensity of marbling of meat available year-round.
At present in the Czech Republic there are five Wagyu breeders with 15 full-blooded cows and 20 heifers whose pedigrees descend directly from Müller’s herd. Thanks to the Ministry of Agriculture and its records we know that there are 65 full-blooded Wagyu of all ages in the country, though the number of Wagyu crossbreds is not known.
Jaroslav Valenta is a dairy farm animal husbandry manager as well as a Ph.D. student at the Czech University of Life Sciences in Prague, Czech Republic, with a focus on the study of meat quality.