I remember the winter of 1977-78 well. I was travelling east on Highway 3 from Vancouver, B.C., and I’d never seen so much snow in my life. I was on my way to Vulcan in southern Alberta to spend a few months on my friend Ted’s grain and livestock farm. Being January, only the livestock side was operational. But there was plenty to do, tending to several hundred hogs and feeding Ted’s Hereford cattle.
Ted introduced me to the local community and I have fond memories of the friendliness of the townsfolk of Vulcan. In the months I spent there, I watched two level feet of snow slowly melt (it finally disappeared in late April) and was in awe of both Nature and people’s ability to adapt to the elements.
I also helped Ted prepare his cattle for the spring bull sales in Calgary. I was delighted to help because Herefords had always been my favourite cattle. On the dairy/beef/sheep farm I grew up on in New Zealand, my family had a purebred Friesian milking herd. As part of our beef enterprise, my Dad mated the best Hereford bulls he could find with some of our dairy heifers.
The result was some of the finest cattle I have ever seen. They were docile and handsome creatures. A bonus was that because of the genetic mix, some looked like pure Herefords, some looked like black and whites while others looked like black baldies. Raised year-round on lush grass pasture, these cattle went to slaughter at about 30 months of age. And their beef sure tasted mighty good.
I still love Herefords and always will. But I have also gained a great respect for Angus cattle and what the breed has done for the U.S., Canadian and global beef industry. The breed’s renaissance began in the 1980s after the American Angus Association launched its Certified Angus Beef program. It’s worth remembering that one of the program’s founders was an Angus producer who got a tough steak in a restaurant serving Angus beef. The Angus fraternity, before the rest of the industry, realized that beef had a consistency problem that was hurting consumer demand.
The growth of the Angus breed and CAB has been well documented. But the latest facts are worth repeating, to put the Angus breed’s influence in perspective. About 30,000 Angus breeders supply seedstock to the cow-calf sector. Nearly two-thirds of all U.S. cattle are now Angus-influenced. The CAB program has 60-70 licensed feedlots and hundreds of others that deliver CAB cattle to 30 licensed slaughter plants. The CAB program in fiscal 2010 (to Sept. 30) identified nearly 15 million head and certified 3.5 million head. This was a 24 per cent increase over the previous year. In addition, the 23 per cent acceptance rate pushed a five-year trend of increases to new levels. This proves that quality-minded ranchers are setting the bar higher and meeting it, says CAB.
Packers in turn sell CAB products on to retailers and foodservice operators in the U.S. and all over the world. CAB has 13,600 licensed users in 42 countries. Remarkably for a 32-year-old program, CAB’s sales volume increased 17.2 per cent in 2010 from 2009. Volume topped 777 million pounds, up 114 million pounds from the prior year.
As CAB has noted, its growth defied the conventional wisdom that premium brands struggle during a recession. That’s because consumers highly value consistency and programs like CAB give them an assurance of consistency. The Angus breed’s greatest contribution to the industry is that it led the charge to making all beef more consistent, thus arresting the decline in demand and then improving it.
The CAB program in fiscal 2010 (to Sept. 30) identified nearly 15 million head and certified 3.5 million head