Malloy Farms is developing wagyu beef for northern Minnesota and beyond
The family is growing their commercial black Angus operation to include the exciting genetics that wagyu fans are hungry for.
BRAINERD, Minn. — The fourth generation of Malloy Farms in central Minnesota, though still in grade school, are a part of building a brand of beef they say competes with the best.
While still a small part of their overall operation, the farm family branched into the exciting field of raising wagyu beef in 2019. Wagyu is a type of beef with genetics from Japanese cattle, which is known to have high marbling and a defining flavor, or as the Malloy family slogan goes, it’s “beef beyond belief.”
Of the family of Malloys, Travis Malloy, 39, specifically jumped on this new venture. Why?
“I like cows,” he says plainly.
As Travis recalls it, he was seated with some co-workers looking over a menu in a California restaurant when someone said he should try the wagyu.
“Probably because I always order beef,” Travis said.
A Black Angus producer at home, Travis tends to support the beef industry by ordering a steak. But he had not yet heard of wagyu, much less that it was known as a rare and delicious type of beef. All it took was a taste to peak his appetite for learning all he could about the breed.
He’s consumed a large slice of wagyu education as he looks to build the unique business that the whole family takes part in south of Brainerd. The decision was pushed forward because of conversations he and his wife, Amanda, were having about being at the mercy of commodity markets. If they could market their own unique product, perhaps they could have more control over their profits.
Eventually wagyu won out.
- American Purebred: A bovine containing a minimum of 93.75% wagyu. It is usually the fourth cross between a pure wagyu and F3. Wagyu content in an American Purebred Wagyu is in the range of 93.75% to 99.99%. The term is derived from grading up with other breeds and is a often used to differentiate it from "Fullblood" and "pure" wagyu which are 100% Wagyu.
- F1: A bovine containing at least 50% wagyu. It is commonly the first cross between pure wagyu and any other cattle breed. A purebred (93.75% Wagyu or above) crossed with any other breed does not qualify as F1 in Australia.
- F2: A bovine containing at least 75% Wagyu. It is commonly the second cross between pure Wagyu and F1.
- F3:A bovine containing at least 87.5% Wagyu. It is commonly the third cross between pure wagyu and F2.
- Fullblood: A bovine with 100% wagyu content.
Starting the herd
In 2019, Travis, his wife, and four boys, Carson, Mason, Weston and Thomas, hit the road for a family trip to Nebraska, where they bought their first three wagyu cows. The next year they bought another three in Iowa. They now have a small herd of bulls, cows and feeders. There are some being raised for seedstock, or selling to other producers who want to raise wagyu, and there is a small pen where they are finishing both full blood wagyu and half blood — wagyu mixed with black Angus (sometimes called Wangus) — for hungry consumers looking for a variety of meats and price points.
At about 1,400 pounds, the finished animals are taken about 75 miles west to Lakes Area Cooperative in Perham for processing. The meat is then marketed to an increasing number of wagyu aficionados. Steaks move like wildfire as they tend to be the most desired among those eager to try out the difference, Travis said.
The future of the Malloy business is working towards a polled wagyu. The wagyu breed grows some decent horns capable of easily pushing each other around in the corrals and causing grief for those working with the cattle. Travis said they use a variety of methods, all time consuming, that should soon deliver them polled wagyu calves.
“As a commercial cattle producer, you don’t want to deal with anything extra, and horns are a pain in the butt,” Travis said from experience.
“As a meat, animal-wise, there’s not going to be much of a difference,” Travis added. But that's a matter of taste.
Wagyu cattle's genetic predisposition yields a beef that contains a higher percentage of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids than typical beef, according to the American Wagyu Association. That fat and meat combination stands out among wagyu, but is also marketed among the Angus cattle.
In marketing, there is a difference for top dollar, but the Malloys agree that even a half-blood wagyu is great on the plate.
The Malloys appear to be in a field of their own when it comes to breeding wagyu in central Minnesota. In other parts of the country, like Texas, wagyu is far more well known and accessible.
“You can find animals, you just have to be willing to travel,” Travis said. It’s that rarity that continues to add to the mystique of the wagyu breed.
The move to wagyu
You’ll still find the ever-popular Black Angus on the Malloy home farm, where Travis’ parents Jeff and Brenda live. Jeff recalls his start in business when he went to the bank as a teenager to take out a loan to buy some cows.
“I started out when I was 15, when to the bank, borrowed some money … one thing led to another and here we’re at now,” Jeff said.
It’s the same way Travis got started. The patriarch, now 86-year-old Tom Malloy, got started there, south of Brainerd, with milk cows. The family sold off the milk cows in 1997 and got into beef cattle in 1998. They mainly raise corn, soybeans, oats and hay for forage and some crop sales on about 900 acres. Working as a family, they are able to share chores, sales and marketing duties.
So why go wagyu? It’s not like they needed more work to do. Travis is an electrician by trade, working for Sheridan Printing in Brainerd. His wife, Amanda, raises their four boys, who keep the whole family on the move, and does part-time tax work. Brenda transcribes for Essentia Health and Jeff does operator work for an electrical company. They all help out with current farm operations.
And it’s not cheap getting into the wagyu industry. Wagyu cows were expensive when they started buying — about $4,500 a head. A couple years later, some wagyu cows are now selling for over $10,000 a head or better.
It’s still a volatile area, but for those that are willing to do their homework and slowly grow a herd, the hope is their work will be rewarded.
“It’s like a five-year deal to get a return on them,” Travis explained, considering the high initial cost of buying full-blood cattle.
“They take a longer time to mature,” Jeff added. Part of the breed characteristics is that they are fed in such a way to grow the marbled meat more slowly. Slower is better in this case.
With about 25 registered full blood wagyu, the Malloys say they are small but are working to grow their herd and brand at a pace they can handle.
“I think we got an opportunity in northern Minnesota, the northern part of the country, to be able to build a good seedstock operation and have the ability to sell and be a hub for some of that stuff,” Travis said. “But for the ups and the downs, we want to have the meat production too, because essentially that’s what the wagyu breed was founded on, was that unique taste of the meat.”
The family said with some hard work, faith and family helping out, their operation looks like it’s headed in the right direction.
Interested in experiencing wagyu steaks or having your own full-blood wagyu cattle? Check out http://www.malloyfarms.com.
What: They raise wagyu, Black Angus, horses, rabbits and crops that include corn, soybeans, oats and hay.
Where: 11306 County Road 44, Brainerd, Minnesota
Family's favorite cut of meat: Wagyu ribeye