What Do Wagyu Cows Eat? 15+ Foods They Consume

Wagyu Cow
© Filmbildfabrik/Shutterstock.com

Written by Kyle Glatz

Updated: October 26, 2023

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Wagyu cows are some of the most prized cattle in the modern day. These cattle produce high-quality meat with unique, intensive marbling and distinct flavors. The cuts of beef are beloved for their uniformity, texture, and juiciness which stems from the incredibly high standards that make this Japanese product so special. How do they produce such amazing meat, though? What do wagyu cows eat?

Today, we’re going to take a close look at these cattle and show you what they’re about and what they consume to produce the famous meat.  

What Are Wagyu Cows?

Wagyu Cattle

Wagyu cows produce high-quality meat with unique marbling.

©Filmbildfabrik/Shutterstock.com

Before we look at what they eat, we have to know what wagyu cows are in the first place. Wagyu cows are four different breeds of Japanese cattle that collectively produce wagyu beef.

The four breeds of wagyu cows are the Japanese black, Japanese brown, Japanese shorthorn, and Japanese polled. The Japanese black is the most common wagyu cow raised in Japan.

Other countries have started to raise Wagyu cattle in an attempt to gain more wagyu beef. Sometimes, the true wagyu cattle are crossbred with other breeds.

One thing that separates wagyu cows from other breeds is that they live longer before slaughter. Most beef cattle are aged about 15 to 18 months before they are slaughtered. However, wagyu cows are raised and fattened for about two or three years to help them reach weights between 1,000 to 1,500 pounds with a lot of their weight coming directly from fat. This aging process is slow because it’s more natural than in typical beef cattle farms, and the characteristic marbling takes a long time to develop.  

What Foods Do Wagyu Cows Consume?

Kentucky Bluegrass Blades Green Lawn

Among the foods that wagyu cows eat are grasses such as bluegrass.

©Joshua Boman/Shutterstock.com

Wagyu cows eat various types of grass, grains, vegetables, legumes, and more. The diet of wagyu cows can vary quite a bit based on whether they are living wild or, more commonly, raised on farms.

For example, the wild cattle that live on Kuchinoshima Island graze on local plants, but the controlled populations of farmed wagyu cows are fed a specialized diet that varies between farms. For example, some cattle are served a grain-rich diet for several months to sharply increase their weight. Other operations use a unique twist on feeding by adding items like red wine to the cows’ diet.

Wagyu cows are often fed three times a day. They gain about 1 to 2 pounds or more per day while they’re in the feedlots.  

A Complete List of What Wagyu Cows Eat

Now that we’ve gone over some of the foods that cows have eaten and how much they consume, it’s time to look at more specific foods that they eat.

Here is a more thorough list of foods that wagyu cows eat:

  • Rice straw
  • Alfalfa grass
  • Timothy hay
  • Bluegrass
  • Ryegrass
  • Corn
  • Barley
  • Soybeans
  • Grains
  • Oats
  • Potatoes
  • Oranges
  • Bananas
  • Apples
  • Olives
  • Chocolate
  • Cookies
  • Wine
  • Beer
  • Candy.

To be clear, most cows are fed grains, hay, and other staple foods like legumes. The other items on this list are offered sparingly for nutrition or to help with health issues such as constipation. Some of the foods, including chocolate and wine, are used to generate unique types of beef. They are not typically fed to the cows. Some farmers believe that giving their wagyu cows the equivalent of junk food is a way of distinguishing their brand and making their cows happier than others.

Conversely, some farmers insist on feeding their wagyu cows a strict grass-fed diet. They feed them grass because the beef has more omega fatty acids, more antioxidants, and arguably a better flavor. Furthermore, it’s healthier for cattle to eat grass than grains.

What Do Wagyu Cows Eat in Winter?

Wagyu cows have carefully monitored diets, so they mostly eat the same foods throughout the entire year. These cattle are significant investments. The individuals raising them spend time and money gathering the foods that will serve them best.

All in all, wagyu cows can eat a lot of different foods. Some of them have very specific diets, though. A lot of the foods they consume greatly depend upon the individual farmers that are raising them.

How Do Wagyu Cows Find Food?

portrait of a wagyu cow of Japanese origin

Wagyu cows are raised on farms and have carefully monitored diets.

©Perpis/Shutterstock.com

Wagyu cows, at least the four breeds of them previously mentioned, are all raised on farms. Thus, they do not have to search for their food. They graze for their food in pastures where they live very natural lives compared to other beef cattle.

How Do Wagyu Cows Consume Food?

Wagyu cows are ruminants like other cattle. They obtain food, chew it up, swallow it, then regurgitate the cud and chew it again before its swallowed and sent through their digestive system. Their mouths are filled with teeth designed to aid in a side-to-side chewing motion that grinds and shreds their food into small pieces.

What Do Baby Wagyu Cows Eat?

Most baby wagyu cows feed from their mother for the first six months after they are born. The goal is to maintain the natural rearing processes as much as possible.

Once they are about 4 or 5 months old, many wagyu cows are fed specialized food mixes like corn, soy pellets, and oats for supplemental meals in addition to their mother’s milk. After they are ready to be weaned, calves move into a separate enclosure where they will continue to be raised.

What Is the Lifespan of Wagyu Cows?

Wagyu cows typically live for 28 to 30 months before slaughter. However, it is possible for them to live up to 15-20 years or more if not killed for their meat.

How Much Do Wagyu Cows Cost?

A5 Japanese Wagyu Beef Yakiniku Steak

The highest grade of wagyu beef is A5, which is rare and sold as a luxury item.

©DannyGan/Shutterstock.com

Due to the higher quality of meat, a wagyu cow will cost much more than a standard American Angus cow. While price at auction can vary depending on factors such as age, genetics, grade, and demand a certified wagyu cow can cost as much as $30,000. This is around 10 times more expensive than black Angus cattle, which typically sell for $3,000 on average.

However, the most prized cows with the tenderest meat can fetch much higher prices. One Matsusaka cow was sold for 50 million yen, or around $400,000, in 2002.

Wagyu beef is graded based on factors including its color, texture, and marbling. The highest grade is A5, which is rarely given and can cost up to $200 per pound.

Are Wagyu Cows Dangerous to Humans?

Wagyu cattle are known to be very docile creatures. They’re known to be easy to handle and are often described as friendly. They have the potential to be dangerous to humans based on their size, though.

Cows could hypothetically kick, crush, or otherwise harm people that work on the farms. The chances of this happening are rare in the experienced, careful operations that tend to raise wagyu cows.  


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About the Author

Kyle Glatz is a writer at A-Z-Animals where his primary focus is on geography and mammals. Kyle has been writing for researching and writing about animals and numerous other topics for 10 years, and he holds a Bachelor's Degree in English and Education from Rowan University. A resident of New Jersey, Kyle enjoys reading, writing, and playing video games.

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