Native Angus® - the blueprint of the breed
In the 1950s and 1960s, as a result of hybrid grains and irrigation techniques, abundant grain harvests in North America suddenly made it possible to feed large numbers of cattle in one location and so, to cut transportation costs, feedlots emerged on a large scale.
To take maximum advantage of these feedlots, the phenotype of North American cattle was radically altered in the 1970s towards much larger framed cattle.
While there is no hard evidence to show that this alteration was achieved other than by genetic selection within breeds, nevertheless there was a concern that infusion with other large-framed breeds such as Simmental, Limousin and Gelbveih was widely practiced.
Of course, breeders must continually adapt to meet their own market and the way they go about that should generally not be constrained. However, the concern for breed societies, charged with maintaining the purity of their breeds, was that registration papers could easily be falsified. As there was no DNA testing at that time, there was room for misrepresentation.
Mr. H.H. Dickenson, Jr., Executive Vice President of the American Hereford Association, wrote in a letter dated August 18, 1993, to a Hereford breeder in the United Kingdom –
“Since 1969, North American breeders have concentrated on increasing frame size. As you might suspect, this single trait selection has been carried too far. Now, the “operative slogan” is optimum production. This means backing off from selection for frame only and trying to get the traits in balance. Perhaps the biggest damage from selecting for larger frame is the corresponding increase in birthweight. This, of course, leads to greater calving problems. And in this country, calving difficulty is the number one culprit in decreasing overall profitability. In 1970, the average U.S. Hereford bull calf birthweight was about 75 pounds. Today, the average is nearly 90 pounds. This means some sires are producing calves with 100+ birthweights. Our customers can’t live with 100 lb. birthweights.”
“Today’s efforts are toward lowering these birthweights to around 80 lbs. for heifer calves and 85 lbs. for bull calves. This requires a significant reduction in mature size for the bigger animals.
“This move back to optimum size has virtually stopped any “infusion” of outside blood in the breed. The only incentive for this was larger frame and that incentive no longer exists.”
In 1973, the Aberdeen Angus Cattle Society made a change to the way registrations were published in the Herd Book. Starting with volume 98 of that year, all imported animals registered with the AACS were given the designation IMP (for Imported) and were listed in a separate appendix.
Figure 1 shows the cumulative number of imports up to 1996, the year in which Mr. Bob Anderson, Secretary of the Aberdeen Angus Cattle Society, carried out a survey of the genetic composition of cattle registered with the Society.
Figure 1. Cumulative Imports to 1996
It must have been hard to imagine in 1970 that early imports would lead to a flood and thence to infusion of the imported bloodlines into 99.5% of the Angus population in the UK by 1996, resulting in a move to preserve what is now called "Native Angus®". But that is what happened…
Mr Bob Anderson, Secretary of the Aberdeen Angus Cattle Society, wrote (in an email dated Wednesday, 12th September 2018) -
“Back in 1996 after 20 years of breeders using bloodlines imported from North America, Australia, NZ etc. I did some research and found that only around 0.5 % of the cow herd had non-imported bloodlines, and many of these were aged. I contacted those owners that had these cows and suggested that it was something that might be worth preserving. Enough were interested and in order to be recognised with the Rare Breeds Survival Trust an appendix to the Herd Book was introduced which identified these animals. The advantage of RBST recognition was that they hold stocks of semen which they could make available to genuine cases, also in the event of a catastrophe such as F&M outbreak these animals have some protection.”
“To the best of my knowledge the appendix is still maintained by the Society and the requirement is that the pedigree does not contain any imported bloodlines.”
Of course, genetic modification occurred in the Australian Angus herd as well, as Australian breeders also sought to obtain larger framed cattle for feedlot beef production. Only a very few breeders, such as the Dockers Plains Pastoral Company “Bontharambo” property, have today retained the original Angus phenotype.