In 1982 I visited Frank Slezina, owner of the Southholm Angus herd, which was at the time the most prominent herd in Canada.

I hadn’t many pedigree cows and my main income was from cross-bred suckled calves. The Angus, despite the fact that nobody much wanted them, was my primary interest and I hoped that I might find a bull that would suit me.

Bigger, but very plain cattle had been coming to Britain from Canada for about a decade, so I knew a little bit about them. The second month of my study tour was to be spent in the USA.

At that time, not only could we not import cattle from US, but we weren’t even able to get cattle with American parents from Canada. As in the UK, British native breeds in North America had been, up to about 1970, very small.

An extreme reaction against them led to breeders seeking bigger framed animals, whatever they looked like and wherever they could be found. Little known herds which had avoided fashionable bloodlines became famous overnight. I knew nothing about them and asked Frank’s advice.

There were four main sources of bigger Angus in North America. Each had its followers. Probably the best known internationally was The Wye Plantation herd, near Washington DC, which was bred from British cattle close up, but with rigorous selection for growth.

Carlton and Murray Corbin developed the Emulous line in Oklahoma. The cattle, from the Prairie States of Western US and Canada, were another distinct type. Last were the Rito cattle bred in South Dakota, whose main breeder was Martin Jorgensen.

In 1978, I had been to the Wye Plantation, where my eyes had been opened to the potential of the Angus breed, so I knew about them and I was also familiar with the cattle from Western Canada. Both the Emulous and the Rito lines had been extensively weighed and recorded, which was unusual then.

They had been bred primarily for commercial excellence and had a strong reputation among the ranchers. The environment in Oklahoma was warmer than in Scotland so, maybe wrongly, I didn’t consider the Emulous cattle.

In contrast, the Rito cattle came from the northern prairies where the climate was much tougher than ours. Frank’s opinion was that they were very good cattle, but lacked eye appeal.

I visited the Jorgensen Ranch a month later and found the cattle as Frank had described them. Martin Jorgensen stands among the greatest breeders I have ever known. Performance took absolute precedence over appearance.

Recording through the American Angus Sire Evaluation Programme was in its infancy and Martin had the most top cattle. No-one else came close. He summed up his breeding programme thus: "We didn’t try to get performance by selecting for height and length. We selected for performance. For 25 years.

"We didn’t try to get fertility by selecting trim heads and necks. We culled all the cows that didn’t calve regularly in a short season. For 25 years.

"We didn’t try by chance to win the Angus Sire Evaluation. We had been doing exactly what sire evaluation is. For 25 years."

The problem for me was their appearance. The British cattle scene was ultra-traditional. I was a new breeder, the cattle looked different and wouldn’t have sold back home.

My next visit was to Howard Pitzer, in Nebraska. The US part of my itinerary had been arranged by the American Angus Association and the Pitzer visit was a break from the world of beef. He bred Quarter horses – the breed used in the Prairies for working cattle.

Although I have studied the breeding techniques of the horse racing fraternity, where the only criterion of success is winning on the track, I have never been much interested in equestrian matters. The Pitzer visit however blew me away.

He had made a fortune from a stallion called Two Eyed Jack. At the time of my visit, the Pitzer ranch had two teams in the road. One was being shown and the other was competing in rodeos. Progeny of Two Eyed Jack were almost unbeatable in both disciplines.

It seemed that performance and show type were combined in the same animal. I wondered if it could be done in cattle or sheep and, if so, how?

On my return home, I tried to buy a bull, sight unseen, from Clayton Canning, owner of the Prairielane herd, in Manitoba, who, almost alone in Canada, had been using bulls from Jorgensen and other performance breeders from USA. Unfortunately, the bull had been vaccinated against brucellosis, so the deal fell through.

Over the next 20 years I noticed that many of the top American breeders had introduced some of the high performance lines into their breeding programmes with considerable success. Among them was Doug Hoff, from the Scotch Cap ranch, in South Dakota, whose bulls were making huge prices and were popular with performance breeders and showmen alike.

We used his cattle through embryo transfer – the only way we could, and they did well.

My son was working in Alberta by then and visited Prairielane. The cattle hadn’t changed in appearance to those I saw at Jorgensen 20 years before and had retained the terrific performance. The herd was of very high genetic merit but, in our opinion, undersold. The cows we bought did exceptionally well, particularly when bred to Hoff bulls.

My journey has been with the Angus, but the principles are similar in every breed or species, each of which has its own pioneers and mavericks. Their genetics sometimes have to be introduced to more conventional lines, even if they have imperfections which have to be bred out.

We are better equipped now than ever before to do that as we have at least a little knowledge of the bovine genome. As yet, we can’t remove the bits we don’t want by genetic engineering so we will have to be patient and drive in the slow lane for a while longer.

Everywhere the search continues for the changer, the one that does everything, the Two Eyed Jack.