THE genetic direction of Australia's beef industry has changed many times as different grassfed and grainfed markets have emerged and evolved.
Beef industry stalwart Graham Day, Bordertown, has seen many of them in six decades as a Poll Hereford breeder, from cattle short and dumpy in stature to tall and lean.
The former stud principal of Allendale - SA's oldest registered Poll Hereford stud - says the focus on moderate-framed cattle with natural thickness and doing ability is working well for the market.
"It is not about how big an animal can grow after 18 months to two years but trying to breed cattle with quick and early growth, shape and muscle and as more efficient converters of grass," Graham said.
There has also been pressure on studs to raise the bar for fertility.
The Allendale stud was established by Graham's father Allen in 1949 at Alma, north of Adelaide. In 1960, the family moved to the SE. It was run for many years by Graham and his late brother Cam before the partnership was dissolved in 1989.
Allendale is now in the hands of Graham and Prue's two sons and their families.
About four years ago, the business was restructured. The land, cattle and three terminal sheep studs were divided up, with Alistair and Jayne taking the Allendale prefix and Lachy and Lou creating Days Whiteface stud.
Graham says the first big milestone he remembers when they began breeding was Polled cattle, which have been become increasingly important for animal welfare and safety.
He says the popularity of certain breeds has ebbed and flowed over the years but says it is a credit to Australian breeders for being able to create new breeds such as the Droughtmaster and ensure British and European breeds suit Australian conditions.
The infusion of North American genetics in the 1970s and 80s brought about major change, breeding larger-framed, later-maturing cattle.
It had a lot of pluses but there was some downside for breeds that chased extreme growth.
"Some jumped two or three-frame scores and became too big, losing a lot of fat so they were too lean to finish," Graham said.
"There were also issues with fertility of later-maturing heifers."
He says the family personally erred on the side of caution, using mainly Australian-bred descendants of US bulls.
European breeds such as Charolais, Simmentals and Limousins have also had a massive impact on the beef industry, introducing crossbreeding which is widely used today.
Graham sees the use of artificial insemination and embryo transfer as having had a major impact, giving more stud breeders access to the best genetics from across Australia and overseas.
"The best cows in a breed have always had a big influence but now with ET, they are just as important as the good bulls you breed," he said.
* Full report in Stock Journal, March 27, 2014 issue.