Ohta farm has nine cowsheds on the nature-rich mountains of Hyogo Prefecture’s Yabu City, the home of Tajima cows. The farm boasts one of the largest production capacity in the prefecture, supplying as much as 50 Tajima cows to the market every month. It’s hard to believe that the farm only had about 100 cows when Katsunori Ohta began helping the family business at the age of 18. The farm has steadily increased the number of cows for fattening. But that’s not all. In the past five years, calf prices have surged as the growing popularity of wagyu beef push up demand while the number of calves traded on the market has gone down. This has prompted Katsunori to bring in 120 female breeding cows and specialized breeding staff to his farm. He is shifting towards integrated operations that cover breeding, fattening, and marketing. Katsunori says, “I need to get a virtuous cycle going and show how I can make money from cattle, make a good living, buy more cattle, and be freshly motivated to keep going. Otherwise, I can’t tell young folks to take up farming.” His words reveal a determination to run a farm that offers inspiration to the young generation.
A cattle farmer must observe and learn
Youngest of the farm’s nine-member staff is Katsunori’s son, Kaisei, aged 17. He has begun his career as a cattle farmer, following in his father’s footsteps. “I’ve been helping at the farm from when I was little. I love cows. I haven’t once thought of going to the city to be a salaried worker or anything else.” Alongside the work at his father’s farm, Kaisei visits other farms in and outside the prefecture to trim cows’ hooves. His father did the same when he was young, going around farms and seeing all kinds of fattening techniques. That’s how he honed his skills and developed a sharp eye for cattle farming. Katsunori advised his son to join a hoof trimmers’ association for a reason. He says, “Cattle farming isn’t something you learn through words. You learn by watching other farmers at work.”
When asked what kind of quality is needed to stay in the business, Katsunori answers, “I suppose it all comes down to whether you have the right instincts. It’s not something that words can describe. It’s an ability to sense things for yourself.”
Pride of a cattle farmer is passed on to the next generation
At Ohta Farm, staff take turns in keeping an eye on the cattle around the clock. They are prepared to quickly respond to the slightest sign of ill health in a cow. Even young staff will be put in charge of a cowshed once they acquire enough experience. Takashi Ohta, aged 30, has been working at the farm for seven years. He says, “Tajima cows are sensitive compared to cattle raised in other prefectures. So, what I fear the most is the cows to fall ill and have complications. Our boss doesn’t interfere much and lets us do our own work. But sometimes, he points out little things that I’ve overlooked. I’m a long way from being perfect.” Takashi tells us that he admires his boss Katsunori not only for his cattle-farming skills but also for his grit in expanding the farm to where it is now.
When asked of his dream for the future, Katsunori’s son Kaisei says, “I want to own and raise a cow on my own by the time I’m 20. I want to handle everything, from when the cow is born to when its put on the market.” It may not be long before we see father and son compete for the Distinction Award at the Kyorei Kai cattle show.
At Ohta Farm, nine staff in their teens to their 40s take care of the cows day and night in a two-shift system.
Kaisei says, “I was surrounded by cows from when I was born. So I naturally learned how to look after them.”