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European Angus members and guests hear from Wagyu specialists at AGM

25th April 2015

The purchase of a couple of steaks which disappointed at the dinner table are what led to the setting up of an ambitious Wagyu breeding programme at Blackford Farm in Perthshire which has led to the establishment of one of the biggest Wagyu herds in the United Kingdom.

Mohsin Al Tajir, a director at Blackford Farm, provided this astonishing insight whilst giving the lecture at this year’s European Angus Cattle Society AGM, held at the Ballinderry Inn in Moira.

“Our disappointment at the dinner table got my wife, Martine and myself thinking that maybe we should look at producing some quality beef ourselves,” explained Mohsin.
And that’s exactly what they did! 

“We took the decision to look at Wagyu cattle and paid a visit to a Wagyu breeder in Australia and purchased seven heifers in calve, some bulls and some embryos,” explained Mohsin. “Slowly but surely we started building numbers but we soon realised we needed some sort of critical mass to make money and the only way to increase numbers without females was to buy surrogates.”

This led to the purchase of pedigree Angus and pedigree Shorthorns and as Mohsin puts it “500 females later we started a herd”.

This all got underway back in 2011 and following on from that the husband and wife team then went on to purchase a full 300 strong herd of Wagyu cattle from David Ismail in  Perth, Scotland. David had bought his genetics from the same breeder that Mohsin and Martine had dealt with in Australia.

Today Mohsin Al Tajir and Martine Chapman have more than 60 Michelin-starred chefs on their customer list. High profile names like Tom Kerridge, Tom Kitchin in Edinburgh and our very own Clare Smyth MBE, the Northern Irish Chef who is Chef Patron at Restaurant Gordon Ramsay in London.
There has also been considerable interest shown in Highland Wagyu from outside of the UK from Italy, Paris, Hong Kong and even Japan!

“This is where we have positioned ourselves in the marketplace,” continued Mohsin.
“To begin with we didn’t know where to place our prices but we knew that if we were going to compare ourselves to Angus prices in the market it wasn’t going to work because with Wagyu we are feeding these animals for a full 36 months.”

Under their Highland Wagyu brand Mohsin and Martine can command prices of £7,500 plus for a full blood Wagyu carcase.

The Farm has also entered into a cross breeding programme featuring both Angus and Shorthorns.

“As yet, we haven’t taken any Shorthorn crosses to market but our Wagyu Cross Angus product at 30 months old is of excellent quality and not far from our full blood Wagyu,” said Mohsin. “What we have discovered is the importance of genetics.
It is not what they look like but the genetics they are breeding into.
“It is what you are using that gets results and if you don’t have decent bulls and decent genetics then you are starting the wrong way.”

Patience is something else that is very much required when breeding Wagyu.
“Of course it’s excellent beef but the reason why Wagyu is so expensive is because of the need to spend more money on producing it,” said Mohsin. “It is almost a four year process – the use of embryos, waiting for heifers to calve, hoping that these calves will stand up and run, hoping that these calves will live through their first three days because you can get a high mortality rate working with embryos and that is just the start of the costings.
“A calf can cost around £1,600 to produce and then the feeding starts.
“It is a long process but I think what we are producing today is probably the best meat in the country.”

According to Mohsin and Martine it is a continuous learning curve.

“The embryos that come out of our Shorthorns and Angus are a lot better than the ones that come out of their natural mothers because the Angus and Shorthorns have so much more milk,” confirmed Mohsin. “We have also just started double crossing the Wagyu. On the ground now we have got the F2, which is the ¾ one.
“This is for another level of Wagyu, maybe something that requires a little less intense feeding whilst allowing us to maintain the quality.

Experimentation is also very much to the fore at Blackford Farm.
“Apart from Shorthorn and Angus we have crossed  our Wagyu with Highlanders, we have crossed with Luing and we have crossed with Dexters,” said Mohsin.

“With our crosses today we are up on 10 carcases a month,” continued Mohsin. “The full blood Wagyu – two a month.”

Highland Wagyu is presently sitting on 1300 animals but the aim is to grow that number to 5000 head of cattle over the next five to six years.

There are also plans to considerably grow the Angus and Shorthorn herds.

“We want to bring the Angus back to Scottish ownership where we are in a position to sell Angus genetics to the rest of the world,” said Mohsin. “We want to reverse the trend of the whole of Europe and the rest of the world going to North America and Canada for Angus genetics which are then exported back to us.
“This is a British breed, it is not from America, it is not Australian… it is from here!”

“Today there is no real premium for the Angus and that needs to be looked at as well,” he continued. “This is not a hobby, we are not hobby farmers, we are beef breeders.”

Mohsin also emphasised the importance of Scottish branding.

“We know from other business interests that by having Scotland on packaging and as part of your brand you are immediately benefitting from a healthy, clean image,” said Mohsin. “There is a premium associated with that and I know the same applies here in Northern Ireland and Ireland.”

Mohsin and Martine are extremely passionate about what they do and it very much shows.

As well as having an active role in the running of Highland Wagyu Martine has played a leading role in the setting up of the newly formed Wagyu Breeders Association and she is one of five directors on the Board.

Commenting on the lecture, European Angus Cattle Society secretary, Harry McGaffin said: “It has been an absolute pleasure having Mohsin and Martine from Highland Wagyu with us.
“The lecture given by Mohsin has been very informative and I believe there are lessons that we can all learn from their expertise.
“On behalf of the European Angus Cattle Society I would like to thank them both for taking the time out of their busy schedule to be with us at our AGM.”

Harry McGaffin, Secretary of the European Angus Cattle Society (centre) makes a presentation of Waterford Crystal glasses to Mohsin Al Tajir and Martine Chapman as a token of appreciation following the European Angus Cattle Society AGM and lecture held at the Ballinderry Inn, Moira.

Pictured with Mohsin Al Tajir and Martine Chapman at the European Angus lecture are, from left, Tom Drumgoole, Bangor, Damian Gilmore, Portaferry and Charles Drumgoole, Bangor. Charles and Damian along with Charles Quinn from Portaferry have recently established the Tieveshilly Highland Herd having purchased the first and third placed four year old heifers in calf at the Oban Show back in February. They are about to enter into a Highland Cattle Conservation breeding programme with the National Trust in County Down.

Pictured at the European Angus AGM and lecture are, from left Hugh Dickson, Moneyreagh, Martine Chapman, Highland Wagyu, Robbie Mulligan, Brague, Banbridge, Mohsin Al Tajir and Timothy Scott, Newtownards.

In conversation: Guest speaker, Mohsin Al Tajir from Blackford Farm and Highland Wagyu and Ian Rea, Seven Mile Straight, Crumlin. Ian is a stockman with James Porter, Ballinderry.

Martine Chapman from Highland Wagyu in conversation with Brian Bryson, Banbridge (left) and James Hanna, Hillsborough at the European Angus AGM and Lecture held in the Ballinderry Inn, Moira.

Full Blood Wagyu on Blackford Farm.

Wagyu Cross Aberdeen Angus Feather Blade from Highland Wagyu.


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