Bowman Farms LLC in Roaring River is producing fullblood Wagyu cattle, the top classification of the priciest and what many say is the best tasting beef.
Phillip and Beth Bowman, owners of the new farm, were seeking 20-30 acres as a getaway for themselves and their daughters, Ella, Brooke and Katie, when they came upon 500 acres for sale between Old Highway 60 East and the Yadkin River.
They bought the forested property, formerly belonging to the Benton family and earlier the Foote family, in 2012. The Bowmans sold about 100 acres to a nearby farmer and sold the timber on nearly 275 acres of the rest.
“We were trying to find a way to make the farm viable,” said Bowman, president and owner of an independent firm that sells and distributes orthopedic medical devices produced by one of the top orthopedic medical device manufacturers in the industry.
Bowman said his company has 70 highly trained and skilled sales reps and/or technology consultants and specialists covering South Carolina and western North Carolina, with about $50 million in sales annually.
“I always said if I could afford to be a farmer I would, because if you’re not born into farming, it is extremely hard to get started from the ground up,” said Bowman.
The Bowman family lives on the farm in a renovated horse barn, but there are plans to build a new home on the property in 2019.
Bowman said he developed a passion and respect for farming while growing up in rural Orangeburg County, S.C. He worked on a hog and row crop farm starting at age 12 and ran summer operations for a large hay farm there through his teen years until he left for college.
After meeting Wilkes Cooperative Extension Director John Cothren and cattleman Seth Church of Hays, Bowman decided to raise commercial Angus cattle on the newly-acquired property.
With hired help, the Bowmans began establishing pasture, putting up fencing and building feeding facilities. He soon transitioned from commercial to registered Angus with the purchase of a registered Angus bull and cows.
“We happened to buy cattle when prices were at a low point and we made an initial profit on our first commercial herd, but soon found out that it takes many years in the industry and more experience than we had to develop a consistently profitable and competitive end product in the larger registered breeds,” Bowman said.
The game plan changed when Bowman tasted a Wagyu steak at a Japanese restaurant on a business trip to Las Vegas in 2013. “I had never had anything like it. It was so good. I thought it would be a product that would sell itself.”
Bowman researched the breed and became committed to raising “fullblood” Wagyu cattle, which have genetically proven Wagyu lineage from Japan and no crossbreeding.
He said he is striving for excellence in the cattle operation similar to the way he developed his business in the medical device industry. This includes having cattle with excellent genetics, using best practices in day to day care and dietary programs and tracking data to build on specific desirable traits.
“The most important aspect is hiring a quality team of people who believe in our mission, working closely with industry experts.” Dr. Jimmy Horner and Dr. Sam Galphin serve as consultants, Cory Williams is senior herdsman and Michael Williams is assistant herdsman.
Beth Bowman runs the day to day coordination of animal registration, finances, tracking data and continually updating the farm’s website.
Bowman Farms already has many of the top selling registered fullblood Wagyu females and bulls in the nation, purchased for $7,000 to $59,000 apiece. The farm has a total of 173 fullblood Wagyu bulls and cows.
What is it about Wagyu?
Wagyu cattle and meat cuts are so expensive (around $30 an ounce in most restaurants) because of their rarity, quality flavor and the knowledge required to proficiently raise the breed. They’ve been called the caviar of beef.
To put it in perspective, Bowman said about 300,000 head of Black Angus cattle and only about 2,000 Wagyu are registered annually in the United States.
It takes longer to produce Wagyu cattle that are ready for market because they’re slow growers—about 30 months for Wagyu and about 16-18 months for Angus.
Wagyu cattle are also known for their good disposition, hardiness, intelligence, efficient feed utilization, comparatively few birthing problems (because of the small size of their calves) and excellent maternal instincts.
Wagyu, which means “Japanese cattle,” were developed in Japan by the 1860s when cattle from that country’s Kobe region were cross-bred with European and other Asian breeds for use as draft animals in agriculture.
The result was beef with deep red coloring and rich marbling (fat) that weaves through the muscle, making the meat especially juicy and richly-flavored when cooked. Wagyu marbling is said to be healthier than marbling in traditional American cattle breeds, particularly because of its high level of monounsaturated fats compared to saturated fats.
The Japanese declared the Wagyu breed a national treasure and banned their export, but about 170 Black Wagyu were imported to the U.S through 1997 to breed with cattle here—the first step toward establishing a “purebred” line in this country.
“Purebred” Wagyu, a classification notch below registered fullblood, results from breeding fullblood Wagyu with another breed to create 50/50 hybrids and then breeding 50/50 female hybrids with different fullblood Wagyu bulls to create 75 percent Wagyu calves. Cross-breeding continues for two more generations to produce purebred (actually 93.75 percent) Wagyu.
The Bowmans bought their first registered fullblood Wagyu—four cows and a young bull—from the Diamond T Ranch in East Texas nearly three years ago.
Since then, they have been aggressively growing the herd through animal acquisition, embryo implantation, artificial insemination and natural breeding.
They also have an agreement to lease a portion of Cothren’s Angus cattle to implant fullblood Wagyu embryos in them in December to speed up growth of his herd.
In addition to beef from Wagyu steers, Bowman Farms is selling Wagyu bulls, cows, heifers, calves and embryo development options to other cattlemen. It offers customized genetic breeding to meet specific customer needs.
Bowman cited the fast-growing trend of utilizing fullblood Wagyu bulls in larger herds of breeds other than Wagyu to produce a higher calving success rate and meat that could consistently grade above prime.
In addition to beef from Wagyu steers, Bowman Farms is selling Wagyu bulls, cows, heifers, calves and embryo development options to other cattlemen. It offers customized genetic breeding to meet specific customer needs
U.S. Department of Agriculture on-site grading, lipid testing and meat grading against the Japanese scale is conducted on the farm, said Bowman, explaining that the Japanese scale demands quality that is two to three times above U.S. prime.
He said he wants to continually improve the herd to produce registered fullblood Wagyu with some of the best genetics and traits in the U.S. and, ultimately, Wagyu herd genetics and beef quality rivaling that of the Japanese.
Bowman said interested people are welcome to reach out to Bowman Farms to learn more about Wagyu cattle and options with the breed. The farm’s website is at https://www.bowmanfarmsllc.com.