Wagyu proves premium beef commands premium price
When Scott and Amy Hay met, both were working in the luxury yacht industry in France. Years later, the couple has swapped boats for beef, and open waters for the open range of British Columbia’s southern interior. Trained as engineers, they’ve put their business acumen and planning skills to work building a farm-direct beef business specializing in purebred Wagyu and Wagyu crosses.
“This has always been Scott’s dream,” Amy says. “We have known each other for 15 years, and he has always talked about owning a beef farm.”
Building the dream of Waikikahei Ranch has been a slow and deliberate journey that started by choosing a piece of common ground. Amy comes from Scotland and Scott from New Zealand, so they decided to make their home halfway between, in Canada. Scott worked at Vancouver’s largest yacht refit and new build group. Amy contracted to a Korean marine satellite company and then a marine glass company.
“We started working at the shipyards in Vancouver – I worked my way up to general manager there – and we saved up enough money to buy six and a half acres in Aldergrove,” Scott explains. “We started buying cows from the auction, and implanting Wagyu embryos.”
The Wagyu premium
Wagyu is a Japanese breed renowned for its tenderness, marbling and flavour. It’s a premium product, commanding anything from $15 per pound for ground beef to upwards of $100 per pound for finer cuts. The premium prices have attracted interest from ranchers around the world.
“It’s a long-term investment to build up a herd,” Scott says. “Wagyu are slow growers. It takes 30 to 36 months to finish out to 1,800 to 2,000 pounds. The slow growth rate is what allows for the marbling.”
In the interest of diversification and having a product to market more quickly, Scott and Amy are crossing Wagyu with other commercial beef breeds, including Angus, belted Galloways, black baldy and Highland cattle.
“We’ve had some fun coming up with names for some of the crosses,” says Amy, listing off the wangus, wagoways, wack waldy and wylands as examples.
“Having our full-blood Wagyu gives us a market that is never going to be truly impacted by the economy. If you can afford to pay $56 for an eight-ounce steak (direct price), it doesn't really matter what the economy is doing,” says Scott. “By mixing Wagyu into our Galloways and other beef breeds, we are able to offer a higher quality product direct to market as well.”
Full-time ranch commitment
After maximizing the production potential of their acreage in the Lower Mainland, the Hays decided to move their family to a community with broader ranching horizons. In April 2018, they bought 500 acres in B.C.’s Boundary region and moved their ranch and three children to the community of Greenwood. By December 2018, Amy had left her engineering position to commit to the ranch full time.
“We worked over four years to establish the business model of our ranch before making the move. We were three years into our five-year plan,” they explain. “We looked at the ranch as a business and structured the decisions from a business aspect to allow our family to live the dream. It’s not a hobby and needs to be able to support the ranch and our family.”
Amy manages much of their marketing, including an active presence on social media. While they are building relationships with restaurants and retailers in their community, most of their business is still direct to market.
“The smallest unit we sell is the apartment box, a 20-pound mix of different cuts. We run a referral program that gives a credit to clients who send us customers, and we do free delivery, so that’s my new job – delivery driver,” she says.
They also sell by the quarter, side and whole cows, and are starting to market to local restaurants and retailers. While Waikikahei Ranch is home to both the commercial and Wagyu operations, they sell their products under different brands.
“Koru Creek Wagyu is our 100 per cent Wagyu brand and will only sell Wagyu. Being from the luxury yacht industry and dealing with some of the world’s one per cent, we learned and appreciate the power of never diluting a brand,” Amy says, emphasizing the need to keep the two programs separate.
Ethical, sustainable beef
Central to the Waikikahei brand is the family’s deep commitment to animal welfare and sustainability. As a former vegetarian, Amy understands the consumer’s desire to know where their meat comes from, and that the animals have been well looked after. She coined the term “happy beef” when explaining it to their children, and the label stuck.
“Our cows have a fantastic life and only one bad day, and that’s freezer camp,” Scott says.
With the new property, their commitment to sustainability has expanded to restoring the fertility of the soil and building up organic matter using techniques like managed intensive grazing in the summer and bale grazing over the winter.
With an eye to the long game, they also incorporated their three children – ages nine, seven and four – into the business.
“The kids all have their own cows. They know the males get eaten, and if their cows have a heifer, they can build up their own herds. As they get older, they’ll take on the marketing side,” says Scott. “We’re building something that they’ll want to take on.”
From an AgriSuccess article (June 2019) by Tamara Leigh.
Follow the Ross family’s cattle through the Canadian cattle supply chain and learn about the global implications along the way. Part 1 of 2
Allen and Heather McWilliam left the hustle and bustle of Victoria, B.C., and bought a farm up-island near Courtenay. This was more than the beginning of their ag career. It was the start of a brand journey.
Learn how Canadian ag businesses are adapting to the digital reality of creating online stores to sell products.