Medjimurje to Zumberak: Transporting Croatia's 1st Free-Range Wagyu Cows

By 5 July 2020

July 5, 2020 - The first free-range Japanese Wagyu cows arrived in 200,000 m2 of idyllic natural heaven in Zumberak Nature Park this week. It was quite a journey to get them there. 

The corona lockdown was a time like no other, as we were all forced to confront and adapt to a new reality. New friendships were made, many of them virtual given the restricted movement, and innovative business ideas came to the fore.  

wagyu-cows-djurina-hiza (2).jpg

None more so than Nikola Bozic, the visionary owner of top meat restaurant, Djurina Hiza in Varazdinske Toplice, one of the few restaurants that many people from Zagreb get into the car to enjoy (it is about 45 minutes from the capital). And with succulent servings like this, it is not hard to understand why. 

Rather than staying idle and putting his staff on gardening leave, Nikola was perhaps the only restaurant in Croatia which not only did not lay off any staff, but actually hired more people during the lockdown. While other restaurant owners were catching up on Netflix movies, Nikola started a national steak delivery service, while also offering his burgers (he won gold at the 2019 Zagreb Burger Festival), high-quality wines, olive and pumpkin oils and other top quality products. There were more than a few frustrated expats holed up in their apartments who welcomed Nikola after TCN publicised the service in Need a Steak Delivery? Top Croatian Restaurant Starts National Delivery Service

wagyu-cows-djurina-hiza (1).jpg

I didn't know Nikola that well before the lockdown, but we have become good friends during and since, and I accompanied him to Munich, Luxemburg and Brussels on his first international trip to expand his delivery service (full story on TCN soon). And I am delighted that he has decided to join our CROMADS initiative. 

We were introduced over dinner a few years ago, and I visited Djurina Hiza soon after for the first time. Apart from trolling each other on Facebook, that is as far as it went until the legend that is Ribafish suggested we meet for dinner in Varazdinske Toplice back in February to check out the dry-aged meat Nikola was bringing to the market. 

It was only on that evening that I really saw what Djurina Hiza was all about. A total focus on quality, with no compromise. The highest quality local produce, with the plan to start rearing his own meat supply. 

On the drive to Brussels, he told me that he had bought four Wagyu cows, the Japanese beef that is among the most expensive in the world. Although there have been a few Wagyu cows in Croatia, he believed that his would be the first to be free-range, as he has organised an initial 200,000 m2 of pristine nature in Zumberak Nature Park. The plan was to give each of the cows 1.5 hectares of land to themselves, according to the Swiss model, and in Zumberak they have much more than that. He invited me to join him on the trip to Medjimurje and then the transportation to Zumberak and the small eco-village 770 m2 above sea level miles from anywhere. 

wagyu-beef (2).jpg

200,000 m2 for four Wagyu cows seemed a fantasy when we arrived at the village in Medjimurje where the cows were currently being held.

In total, there are 43 cows at this facility. 

They include a variety of international species, including Belgian Blue.  

Persuading the cows that they were going to a much better place was not easy, but after an hour, we were on our way. 

The first port of call was the Veterinary station in Jastrebarkso to register the animals. 

And then the real journey began. 

What already felt remote suddenly got even remoter, as we left the paved roads for a 9 km journey on a rougher road. 

For the last kilometre, we drove very slowly, as we were stuck behind a tractor with trailer which was carrying large containers of water. 

It just so happened that this water was being transported just for the four new Wagyu cows, who were soon to arrive. 

Getting the water delivered was not without its problems. 

The team at the eco-village made sure the drinking trough was in place, with ample space for all. These cows apparently need up to 100 litres a day each.

And then the moment of magic. Releasing the cows into the field must have been a confusing moment. All collars were removed from the three female cows - Ermintrude, Florence and Zebedee (named in honour of the cult children's TV show, The Magic Roundabout, in the UK in the 1970's) - while Dougal the male was initially tied to a tree in the shade with plentiful grass until he was calm enough to be released. 

As you can see above, Ermintrude was a little confused with her first steps of freedom, but it did not take her long to start skipping along. I must confess I have never seen a cow skip before. 

The eco-village is the brainchild of serial entrepreneur Davorin Stetner, who is from the area. The village used to have 70 inhabitants. Today it has none. And the four new black Japanese residents are the first cows in the area for 40 years. Nikola (in Croatian) and Davorin (in English) told us more about the project in the video above (this interview will soon be on YouTube with English subtitles and I will post it here).

It was time to set Dougal free. Davorin invited me to assist freeing the bull. Call me a coward perhaps, but I suggested I would be more use the other side of the fence documenting the whole thing. Being alone in a field with a confused bull with just Davorin for protection did not fill me with enthusiasm. 

In he went, and it took three attempts before he managed to succeed. In the first above, he emerged with a cut finger as Dougal resisted his efforts. 

He returned with a peace offering of water, but still did not succeed. Success was just around the corner, however, and soon Dougal was also free. It was not too long before he was also enjoying the attention of the three ladies, apparently. 

And that is how the first free-range Wagyu cows came to find a slice of pristine nature in Croatia, in pristine fields with abundant water and grass, some 770 metres above sea-level.  A far cry from how they started the day in Medjimurje. 


We will write more on the eco-village shortly, and I am delighted that Davorin has also agreed to join our CROMADS team. There are so many outstanding and authentic experiences in Croatia which most people do not know about. While we may keep some of the hidden gems secret, CROMADS will start connecting some of these magical places soon after we launch. 

A great project and a great day - and another random one in this fabulous country. 

Read more - How Djurina Hiza Owner Overcame Corona Crisis and Created A New Brand