Angus breeders need to broaden their selection beyond the current heavy focus on increasing animal size and carcase weight, according to one of the world's leading animal geneticists.
Professor Dorian Garrick, from New Zealand's Massey University, said the industry's concentration on improving a few key income traits had produced tremendous results in the past 40 years but not necessarily for the breeders of young slaughter cattle.
He told last week's "Angus through the Ages" national conference in Albury that the time had come for bull selection to be based on a total merit index rather than the current narrow number of estimated breeding values (EBVs) based largely around improving growth and some of the traits that influence eating quality.
These larger cattle were producing offspring that were more beneficial to feedlots, processors and consumers than the cow-calf operators who were breeding them, he said.
Professor Garrick likened the total variation in a cattle breed as genetic "cloud" which could be pushed in any direction the industry wanted.
Right now the Angus cloud had been pushed too far towards terminal traits at the cost of maternal and other traits that were becoming increasingly critical to the beef sector's future such as reducing the industry's environmental hoof print and improving animal welfare and feed and protein efficiency.
Professor Garrick returned to NZ two years ago after working in the US and used the example of the American Hereford and Angus Associations to demonstrate the impact of moving the genetic "cloud" in different directions.
Long-term data from the American Hereford Association revealed breeders had used the advent of ultrasound around 1990 to reduce the selection focus on growth in favour of carcase characteristics.
In contrast, data from the American Angus Association showed a continued focus on growth and as a result more Hereford bulls were now being joined to Angus cow herds in the US, he said.
The view among many US cow-calf operators was that Angus breeders hadn't put enough emphasis on maternal traits.
The US Angus breed society had also put a dollar value on animals along the production chain which revealed the profitability of feedlot steers had jumped significantly but the feed cost to cow-calf operators of running the larger females had also climbed considerably
He estimated that mature cow weights had risen by between 100 to 150 kilograms since he was a student in the late 1970s while they were also producing more milk which increased maintenance costs even when they weren't lactating.
Professor Garrick said the industry was measuring easy things like calving ease, birthweight and weaning weight but largely ignoring hard-to-measure traits such as cow weights, the condition score of mature cows, age of puberty, longevity and feed intake.
Any breeding program should start with the answer to the question - what's your breeding goal?
"You should as a nation, as a breed association and as a bull breeder have a breeding goal," he said.
The next step was to identify the list of traits and the amount of emphasis on each needed to achieve that goal.
And then the industry needed to decide who was going to collect the measurements to produce EBVs for all the desired traits along with a cost benefit study.
The big problem globally was that too many cattle were being measured and not enough traits were being recorded, he said.
The nucleus herds and flocks providing the germplasm for the world's pig and poultry industries numbered only a few thousand individuals, he said.
"We need to improve the efficiency of beef production and we need to be seen to be trying to improve the efficiency," he said.
"If the Angus association was run by the pig or poultry industries they would probably have something like 10 lines of cattle and each line would never be bred to cattle from any other line.
"It would be like have 10 different breeds and each line would be moving the (genetic) cloud in a different direction, so one might be focused on terminal traits, one might be focused on maternal traits and one on disease aspects."
Individuals would be crossed with other lines to generate commercial individuals.
The commercial chicken or eggs that people consumed were the result of a four-way cross with the grandparents coming from four different breeding lines, he said.