At a vast cattle farm sitting amid the green valleys of tea and coffee crops 20km from the Central Highlands city of Bao Loc, a herd of nearly 100 cows are leisurely enjoying their morning treat of grass in the gentle melody of a symphony.
Along with the soothing tunes, the cows will also be treated to beer and receive soothing massages at night to ensure the best quality possible for their meat.
These wagyu, literally translated as Japanese cows, are the first generation of hybrid Kobe cows bred from the DNA of Kobe cows raised in the U.S. and Vietnamese dairy cows that are being meticulously tended to at a farm run by Kobe Cow Vietnam JSC.
These Vietnamese-raised cattle are only “50 percent Kobe cows” — which means they are half Kobe and half Vietnamese in their blood — and it is a long road ahead to produce full-Kobe cows, company director Nguyen Tri Duc Vu admitted.
The first-generation Kobe cows in Vietnam will be bred with the U.S. DNA to produce the second generation, which will have 75 percent Kobe in their blood. The same process will be applied for the second-generation to have the third generation, or the full-Kobe cows.
“We now have five standardized first-generation Kobe cows ready to produce the second generation in the near future,” Vu said.
It too was a tough task to produce these first-generation cows, he added.
“In the first phase, the death rate of the calves was as high as 20 percent,” he said. “But over time we learned how to deal with it.”
Kobe Cow Vietnam was established in 2009, after its two Vietnamese founders, Dang Van Thanh and Nguyen Minh Tuan, had a chance to taste the famed delicacy during a trip to Japan.
Stunned by the delectable meat and its expensive price of US$170 a kg, the two businessmen asked to visit the Kobe cow farm to learn about what they later described as a “complicated breeding process that only the Japanese could have possibly thought of and strictly follow.”
Thanh and Tuan were determined that they must find a way to breed Kobe cows in Vietnam, given an increasing demand for Kobe beef in their home country, they recalled.
“We contacted some of the Kobe cow farms in Japan and proposed our idea,” Thanh said.
“We insisted that we only hope that Vietnam could be able to raise Kobe cows under Japanese standards, rather than making money.”
Two Japanese partners eventually accepted to join the Vietnamese businessmen in setting up Kobe Cow Vietnam, with each of the four holding a 25 percent stake in the company.
A tea-growing hill in the Central Highlands province of Lam Dong was finally chosen as the suitable location for the special farm as it is able to meet the series of strict standards proposed by the Japanese experts.
The Vietnamese company had to use Kobe cow DNA imported from the U.S. as it is a policy in Japan to preserve its precious Kobe breeds.
It was not until mid-2012 when the first-generation Kobe hybrid was produced at the company’s farm, according to the director.
The cows are now 18 months old, but already weigh as much as 500 kilograms, Vu said.
It will take the cattle up to another 14 months to reach their full weight of 800-1,000kg.
While Kobe beef can sell for up to $170 a kg in Japan, Vu said selling the meat for $100 is more than enough in Vietnam.
“That price will bring in nearly VND1 billion ($50,000) per cow as we can use only 500kg of meat from it,” he revealed.