Angus studs breakaway

AngusPRO breakaway group ditches Angus NZ, to join the Angus Australia society which is well resourced and forward focused. Tony Leggett reports.

In Livestock15 Minutes

AngusPRO breakaway group ditches Angus NZ, to join the Angus Australia society which is well resourced and forward focused. Tony Leggett reports.

The talking is over, for now.

After two decades of debate within the Angus New Zealand membership, 24 of the country’s studs have left and joined Angus Australia.

Breakaway group spokesman Tim Brittain says it was a relief to finally announce the formation of AngusPRO, which represents the departing studs, and to explain the reasons behind the move.

AngusPRO members own 10,000 registered female cattle, more than 40% of Angus NZ’s total number.

He says the move gathered momentum in April last year when the 24 studs formed their group to begin negotiating directly with Angus Australia.

Brittain, who was president of Angus NZ from 2012-2014, says he accepts it is natural to resist change. But he believes the breed society risks becoming an outdated, under-resourced breed society unable to deliver world-leading services to its members.

AngusPRO representatives met with Angus Australia’s board and executive in late 2019 and early 2020 to discuss the logistical requirements to transfer their data across the Tasman and to consider the suite of technology and resources available to them as members.

Brittain says Angus Australia rolled out the welcome mat, including the required change to its constitution to allow the NZ group to join.

“That was finalised at the start of November last year and passed the 75% majority mark without any difficulties,” he says.

The process to send the data to Australia was finalised a month later, but it will not happen until July because of the volume of the data being shifted and a couple of logistical hold-ups. The delays made it more sensible to hold off until July, after the coming round of two-year bull sales.

Strong international links

Brittain says the group has joined Angus Australia because it is progressive, well resourced and forward focused.

“Angus Australia has scale. It’s got strong linkages with the United States and Canadian Angus associations. It has close ties to Meat and Livestock AU and is partnering with them and other countries on research and development of new technologies,” Brittain says.

“It has 33 staff and the resources to help with education plus a suite of technology tools that are available to members and bull buyers. By comparison, Angus NZ has only one staff member,” he says.

However, Brittain says AngusPRO’s move is more significant than just tapping into a larger, more comprehensive suite of technology, education capability and research by linking with Angus Australia.

“The future of breed societies is already under some threat. You don’t need pedigree animals to develop your own estimated breeding values (EBVs) these days, thanks to the power of genomics.”

“This is about keeping up with the rest of the world.”

AngusPRO members have already seen the scale of the education resources available to Angus Australia members through a series of three webinars specifically provided to the NZ studs as part of a wider induction package.

“Angus Australia has scale. It’s got strong linkages with the United States and Canadian Angus associations.”

“We see our move as a true partnership and several of the AngusPRO stud owners called me after viewing the webinars to say how impressed they were about what’s on offer to us,” he says.

Angus AU chief executive Peter Parnell says the AngusPRO members will likely join one of the new affiliated Angus breeder groups. These were created to recognise the specific needs of groups of breeders, based on more than just their location.

“Each group has its own extension provider and we’ll be looking to employ a fourth full time person to provide this for their group in the near future,” Parnell says.

He and Brittain refute any suggestion the NZ studs will be out of place within the AU organisation, perceived by many to be dominated by a grain-fed, feedlot-based beef industry.

“Only around half the beef produced in Australia is from feedlots, so the rest is grassfed just as we pride ourselves on here in NZ. So, we’ll be well catered for,” Brittain says.

“EBVs are produced in a way that eliminates the influence of the environment anyway. Suggesting our EBVs will be biased because of claims AU’s beef industry is all about feeding grain is a red herring.”

AngusPRO announced its intention to join Angus Australia just after the 2021 Angus NZ annual general meeting at New Plymouth on April 8.

The news was already widely known among the Angus stud world after the Angus NZ board emailed all members of its association in early February to announce that a large group of members were leaving the association.

Angus NZ “disappointed” by exodus

Angus NZ president John Cochrane says he is disappointed by the exit of the studs and says the board had put enormous effort and time into discussing ways to accommodate the group’s ambitions.

“Was it a surprise? No, probably not to me. You will know there have been some politics at play for a while within the NZ Angus, so it was no surprise this group of studs decided to leave.”

Cochrane says it was initially unclear how many studs were involved in the breakaway group and who was representing the group until late last year.

“We were trying to build a bridge with them but most of the studs wanted to remain anonymous so that was challenging. When it did become clear that Tim (Brittain) was a spokesperson for the group, we tried to meet but couldn’t line up times that suited both the board and Tim.”

He feels the rising success of the Angus Pure brand in NZ may have contributed to the decision by the studs to leave, thinking they could pursue greater emphasis on eating quality traits evident across the Tasman.

“Angus NZ has to accommodate everyone in the membership. It is not there to tell anyone how to breed cattle or sell their bulls. Angus NZ is there to serve the needs of all members, not just a group within the membership,” Cochrane says.

“That said, Angus NZ has been in very regular contact with Angus Australia and we will continue to collaborate and build on our strong relationships,” he says.

Angus NZ will soon release a new long term strategy which Cochrane says will show members what’s ahead in terms of services and marketing.

Another new feature about to be released ahead of bull sales season is a set of trait ‘scores’ for bull buyers which provide a score of 1-10 on several key traits to make it simpler to incorporate data into their selections.

Cochrane confirmed Angus NZ would take a massive financial hit from the loss of 24 member studs and more than 10,000 registered female cattle.

“We’re fortunate that Angus NZ is in a very strong (financial) position now and we’ll be okay for the foreseeable future. However, we will need to continually look for new revenue streams in the future and that will mean we have to be very smart with decisions made with members about their herd data.”

He also refutes the suggestion from AngusPRO that Angus NZ is under-resourced with staff. Although it employs just one staff member, it contracts all its registry, financial, membership management and media relations out to external contractors.

He says he is unaware of any other studs contemplating joining the breakaway group.

Brittain says he’s had a few conversations since AngusPRO announced its move to Australia and is expecting a second wave of studs to join the 24 already there.

From the North Island, the studs in AngusPRO are Focus Genetics, Kauri Downs, Lake Farm Genetics, Ngaputahi, Puketi, Ranui, Ranui W, Rimanui Farms, Rissington, Seven Hills, Stokman, Storth Oaks, Takapoto, Totaranui, Twin Oaks, Wairere, Waitangi, Waiwhero and Whangara. The South Island member studs are Cleardale, Kakahu, Mount Linton, Te Mania and The Sisters.

Benefits from the move

Joining Angus Australia will deliver massive benefits to commercial bull buyers here in New Zealand, says AngusPRO spokesperson Tim Brittain.

Bull buyers at AngusPRO sales will see the same information offered on each lot at this year’s sales, after the call was made to delay the transfer of performance and pedigree data to Angus Australia until July this year.

Each bull’s estimated breeding values for various traits are already derived from the Trans-Tasman Angus Cattle Evaluation (TACE), so these will remain consistent in the future.

However, Angus Australia offers additional estimated breeding values (EBVs) to the NZ breed society plus a different set of EBV indexes, built on multiple EBVs which are tailored to specific beef production systems.

Three examples of the extra EBVs available are net feed efficiency and foot score which incorporates both claw set and foot angle.

Brittain says the net feed efficiency EBV is critical for NZ commercial beef producers to incorporate into their bull buying. Selecting bulls known to produce progeny that are more efficient at converting feed into beef will play a big role in reducing each farm’s greenhouse gas emission profile.

“Angus NZ can’t offer its members that EBV at present. It’s symbolic of where we as a group want to take our animals in the future.”

Another example of the progressive nature that Angus Australia has is its long term involvement in a trial to confirm the commercial beef production value of using growth EBVs. The trial is ending in the United States and the early results will be reported in July this year.

“New Zealand was involved initially. However, it has since been left out of it.”

Many in the AngusPRO group feel that Australia is much further ahead of its NZ counterpart on meat eating quality. He credits Meat Standards Australia (MSA) which has developed a grading system for meat processors to apply to improve the supply of consistently high quality meat, for putting Australia ahead.

“Angus Australia is up to cohort 11 of bulls in its progeny test which is focused on advancing meat eating quality. They are collecting real carcase data on 40 sires each time and feeding that into the EBVs for carcase quality to improve the accuracy of them all the time.”

Brittain says getting access to that extra depth of carcase information is very attractive to the AngusPRO group because improving eating quality is its primary focus so beef producers can support new and existing branded beef programmes like AngusPure, Silver Fern Farms EQ and Alliance Group’s Hand-picked Beef.