Designated Producers

2017 Kyorei Kai Kobe Meat Cattle Show[Ohta Farm]Katsunori Ohta

Double award winner and most awarded farm

At the 2017 “Kyorei Kai” Kobe Meat Cattle Show, Ohta Farm not only won the Distinction Award but also received the top prize in the cow category. The farm has now won the Distinction Award for the record fourth time and continues to constantly produce Kobe Beef of the highest A5-12 grade. We visited the farm nestled in the mountains of the Tajima district for the first time in two years to find out the secret to continuously producing high-quality beef cattle.
The farm now has 13 cowsheds, three more than when it previously received the Distinction Award two years ago. To create a stress-free environment for the cows, the ceilings of the sheds are higher than what you find in other farms and are equipped with large fans. The farm’s president Katsunori Ohta says, “All farms have fans now, but we had them from when I began working as a cowhand, which must be around 30 years ago. Tajima cows have a high tolerance for cold weather, but are vulnerable to heat. So the fans allow the cows to spend the summer in comfort and also keep the floor dry.” When Ohta began helping the family business at the age of 18, the farm only had about 100 cows. But with Ohta’s skills as a cattle farmer, the farm has expanded and it now has 1,600 cows.
Now that the number of staff at the farm has also increased to ten, we thought the president might be taking things easy. But Ohta says, “Nothing’s changed. I check on the cows at seven in the morning with everyone. I feed the cows and clean the sheds.” He also says, “I take my son to calf auctions, but I can’t entrust him with the job yet,” and casts a benevolent gaze to the cows he carefully selected and purchased.

Sense of mission to protect the Tajima bloodline

Asked what he thinks led to the double award feat, Ohta answers, “I don’t know. But we’ve been working hard on breeding over the past few years.” He then takes us to a cowshed where 50 pregnant cows are single-mindedly munching on their feed.
The farm used to breed cows on a small scale from when Ohta’s parents were running it. Now, there’s always about 150 pregnant cows waiting to calve. A cow is pregnant for about 285 days. Farmers must find the right timing for insemination in the remaining 80 days of the year. In the next shed, cows close to their due dates were relaxing together with post-calving cows and their calves.
Asked why he is putting efforts into breeding, Ohta says, “It’s because of a concern I think all cattle farmers share.” He continues, “Fattening is easy. But we need to focus more on protecting Tajima cows as ‘motoushi’ or purebred seed-stock cattle. With the number of Tajima cows declining, it’s important for fattening farmers to also work on breeding to protect the lineage of Tajima cattle.”
Ohta says, “Kobe Beef is now popular around the world and the Tokyo Olympics will be held in two years’ time. I want to provide beef that gives pleasure to foreigners who will be visiting Japan for the occasion. People pay a lot of money to eat Kobe Beef, so we need to make sure everyone is satisfied with what they’re served. We can’t be serving meat that’s Kobe Beef in name only.” The double award feat certainly hasn’t made Ohta complacent.

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Passing on the tradition of cattle farming

At a cowshed housing calves, we found Ohta’s son, Kaisei. Kaisei began to work in earnest as a cattle farmer four years ago at the age of 15. When we spoke with him two years ago, Kaisei told us he was learning a lot by visiting other farms as a hoof trimmer at the advice of his father.
This time, he was taking care of a sick calf with a veterinarian. A cow’s normal body temperature is between 38.5 to 39.0 degrees Celsius. But the calf is a little feverish with a temperature of 39.6 degrees. The mother cow looks on anxiously as the two attend to the calf. “Calves are prone to getting ill when it gets cold. Six vets, including the doctor here today, work at the livestock veterinary clinic in Toyooka. They will come immediately when something’s wrong, even at night. We’re really grateful to them.” We asked whether vets also assist in the calving. Kaisei sounded dependable as he explained. “We take care of the deliveries ourselves. I can watch over the calving on my own. Sometimes, when a cow is calving for the first time, she is unable to calve herself. Then, I assist by pulling the calf’s legs.” Kaisei says he can now tell when a cow is about to give birth.
Although the breeding is now going well, the farm struggled with many difficult births until last year. It was Kaisei who solved the problem. When he talked about the situation to a breeding farmer whom he visited for hoof trimming, he was told that the cows were probably overfed and overweight. The farmer explained that when a cow puts on fat in the birth canal, it leads to a difficult calving. Cows began having smooth deliveries after Kaisei changed the content of the feed and reduced the amount. Kaisei smiles and says, “I’m still no match for my father, but I can now almost always correctly predict which calves my father is going to purchase at an auction.” Katsunori previously told us a cattle farmer must observe and learn. It seems Kaisei is doing just that.