Beef Farming: Japanese Wagyu

I’m no expert in beef farming, or dairy farming for that matter. I’m almost embarrassed to say I visited dairy farms in China, Japan, Vietnam, South Korea, and camel dairies in United Arab Emirates before I toured my first American dairy farm (compliments of Van Beek Dairy with my then second grader). It’s funny really – when one farms, non-farmers kind of expect us to know all about ALL farming. When I was on a radio interview once the year I was Farm Mom, the host kept asking me about chickens. I didn’t know the answers and he couldn’t figure out why I didn’t know! I said we farmed grass seed, not chickens, and he just shook his head. So while I don’t know a lot about how beef is raised, I sure am thankful for those ranchers and farmers who do. 

Ever heard of Kobe Beef? You probably have, and you probably know it’s also very expensive in America. Kobe is a “brand” of Wagyu beef from the Kobe area of Japan. Wagyu cattle is the breed of beef cow – like Angus or Hereford. 


I was able to visit a 3rd generation beef farmer, which was exciting because I’m a 3rd generation grass seed farmer. His grandpa started the farm, his dad didn’t want it, so now he is the 34-year-old CEO of the 1000-head Wagyu beef operation. 


You might be asking why we are selling them grass straw from Oregon. The short answer is Japan is an island with a large population where there isn’t a lot of land for pasture for their animals. What isn’t cities in Japan, is mainly mountains. In fact, the farm that I visited was on multiple levels – basically built on the side of a mountain, because the flat ground is needed for rice fields or houses. Because the cattle can’t graze on pasture land, they have to import their feed. Because Oregon’s grass seed farmers can’t burn their fields anymore, many choose to have the straw baled. So, basically we are able to export an un-needed product out of Oregon to Japan where it is needed. And, one of my dad’s favorite lines: We turn Japanese Yen into American Dollars. Boom! 

They also use their domestic rice straw, pictured below, as a fiber source in their diets. It’s so interesting to see different ways farmers bale their feed. The “bale type” is totally based on what it’s being used for, the transportation needed to get to its final location, and the equipment that is available. As you can see here with this bale, it’s loosely baled, which means it came from a local farm with a cost-effective piece of equipment. The weight packed into the bale doesn’t really matter if it’s close by and you don’t have to worry about transportation cost, and warehousing space doesn’t need to be maximized. A lot to think about when talking about food and how it’s produced. 

Japanese rice straw in small, round bales


And if anyone is interested, here is a rice straw field that is ready for harvest. They are waiting for the field to dry out so they can harvest the crop. Sounds like Oregon this summer!

Japanese rice field

  Farming around the world is pretty amazing. And while there will always be similarities among the way different farmers in different countries farm, we all make decisions based on the resources or constraints we deal with. So basically, whether I’m in America or in Japan, whether it’s Angus or Wagyu… BEEF, its what’s for dinner.

Hiking Boots and Cowboy Boots – Owyhee Canyon hearing

Something was different Monday morning at the Oregon State Capitol. Cowboy boots and hiking boots outnumbered heels and dress shoes. I’ve always thought: “I may wear cowboy boots and you may wear heels, but we’re both moms” when I talk about wanting similar things in life – we want to be good moms. I noticed the same idea here – whether you were wearing hiking boots or cowboy boots, we all agreed on one thing: the Owyhee Canyonlands are beautiful.

Spoiler alert, the entire theme to this blog post is this: the Owyhee Canyonlands are beautiful because of the residents and the ranchers and the farmers who live there. Why change this? Why disrupt the ecosystem that is working? Why?

Owyhee 2

Existing layers of protection

If you’re answer is “it needs to be protected”, then please look at this slide from Representative Cliff Bentz showing existing layers of “protection”.

Some points to take away from our state legislators that oppose the monument designation:

“If we’re going to protect this land, let’s do this right.” – Representative Cliff Bentz

“This proposal for an executive order is a great public relations ploy, it is guaranteed to polarize Oregonians, it pits urban against rural, it’s a cheap environmental vote. Our challenge today as legislators for the state is to figure out how rural communities can become more sustainable, and if you think creating destinations by making a circle on a map will help, I would ask you to look at all the timber-dependent communities that were told that tourism and recreation would completely replace the forest products and manufacturing jobs that used to be prevalent. It never happened.” – Senator Ted Ferrioli

“What are we protecting that is not protected and why do we want it protected? And protect it from what? I’m not seeing a spot on the map that is either not protected or is not governed by an agency with protections? What are we protecting against?” – Representative Sherrie Sprenger

Many traveled hundreds of miles from Malheur County to speak. Some points to note:

“We have an online petition on our website: Our Land Our Voice, urging Governor Brown and Senators Wyden and Merkley to urge the White House to not designate this area as a national monument.” – Jordan Valley Rancher Elias Eiguren

“This is bad for Oregon, this is bad for the land, this is bad for the people who live there.” – Jordan Valley Rancher Elias Eiguren

“What’s wrong with the status quo? Let’s not fix what’s not broken.” – Steve Boren, Steve Boren Rafting

“Don’t mess with an economy that works. Don’t mess with an ecosystem that works.” – Steve Boren, Steve Boren Rafting

“Maybe if you’re a footwear company in Portland or an activist in Bend, this sounds quite trivial. Maybe you shrug it off, but for an entire region of this state, it has been all too real and all too painful… If a monument is declared in Malheur County, I am concerned about public safety. I am concerned about the people from outside the area who will come to our county with their own agendas. We will not be successful in dealing with these folks. I fear they will not be reasonable. What we need now are not actions that divide or pit one group against another… What we need now is healing. That’s why I ask you, our state elected officials, to stand with us in sending a clear message to President Obama that the time and place for the nation’s next national monument is not Malheur County and certainly not now. As a sheriff from Malheur County, my job is to restore and maintain peace. That is what we need now, more than ever, is peace.” – Malheur County Sheriff Brian Wolfe

“You may have heard this designation is not about grazing rights and that no existing grazing rights will be affected. Even if it’s not the legal effect to start, it has been the practical effect over the long term in other areas. Costing families the ability to feed and raise cattle and make a living.” – Jerome Rosa, Oregon Cattlemen’s Association

“This whole conversation frankly is fascinating… One of the things that come to mind is this is a beautiful area… I say to you the reason that is, is the people that live there – the ranchers, the farmers, the local communities and the businesses… have made it what it is.”- Barry Bushue, President Oregon Farm Bureau

“You got another group that talks about wanting to sell tents and shoes and sporting goods. Awesome! I buy those things. But at what expense? Are we going to support their economy? Are we going to support their business model at the expense of ranchers like Elias who have 4 generations in to developing a livelihood for not only him, but a core of the economy and the state and that region. I’m sorry… I find it incredulous that people would put the value of their business selling products at the expense of the people who made the property what it is today. I’m floundering here to understand why people would not want to engage in a congressional discussion; would not want to engage on an opportunity to look at what this is, how it got there, and give the people that got it there the credit they so richly deserve.” – Barry Bushue, President Oregon Farm Bureau

I was honored to speak at the press conference following the committee hearing. You might ask why I would considering I’ve never been to the Owyhee Canyonlands? Because this affects ALL Oregonians. It’s not rural vs. urban Oregonians. It’s not Eastern Oregon and Willamette Valley Oregon. It’s Oregon, and I’m an Oregonian. And that’s why I joined the coalition – you should to. I’d like to share what I said at the press conference.

My family is deeply rooted in this state. We have been farming in the Willamette Valley since the 1950s. We grow grass seed, wheat and hazelnuts in the Mid-Willamette Valley. I have joined the Owyhee Basin Stewardship Coalition because I believe all Oregonians deserve a voice in our public lands, not just the special interests and outdoor companies with slick marketing campaigns. The true Oregonians have spoken. We don’t want and don’t need more government regulation in the Owyhee Canyonlands. More than 70 percent of Oregon voters oppose the monument without a vote of Congress. Most importantly, 90 percent of those who voted locally in Malheur County voted against the monument. To Gov. Brown and Senators Wyden and Merkley, please join us in opposing this monument without a vote of Congress. We need your support. I came here today to represent the voices of so many Malheur County residents who strongly oppose the monument but can’t make the 14-hour round trip to the Capitol to voice their opposition in person. I’d like to share the words of Adrian High School student Sundee Speelmon. As an FFA student, Sundee studied the Owyhee proposal with her classmates and shared her opposition in a letter to Governor Brown. She closed with this: “All I ask is that our opinion on this proposal is highly valued and taken note of. We want to be heard! Please ponder the matter with the residents of Malheur County opinions in mind.” I care deeply about this state, and as a mom and a farmer, I truly hope we listen to all people – not just adults, but those just learning to find their voices. Not just those from the west side of the state, not just Salem and Portland, but all of the state. I thank Sundee and her classmates for speaking up and let’s show her that Salem and Washington DC is listening.

Owyhee 3

All Oregonians should be proud of the Owyhee Canyonlands in Malheur County and thankful to the residents and ranchers that have made it that way. There is absolutely no reason for it to be designated a monument by President Obama. Go to www.OurLandOurVoice.com to join the coalition to tell Governor Brown we don’t need another layer of government in our state!

For more information, please see the below links:

Our Land, Our Voice – press conference

House Interim Committee on Rural Communities hearing

Seek Consensus on Owhyee – Register Guard

Oregonians want Secretary Jewell to oppose national monument in Owyhee Canyonlands