Hawaii Is Beefing Up Its Potential To Produce More Meat Locally
A billionaire’s investment in the state’s biggest slaughterhouses and a shift to more grass-fed operations could help ranchers keep their cattle in the islands after years of sending them to the mainland.
By Thomas Heaton and Claire Caulfield, Honolulu Civil Beat
Jan 6, 2022
McCandless Ranch on the Big Island has faced plenty of change in its more than 100 years of operation. Its 66,000 acres have been divided up, its cattle herded from the hills to the coast and its animals — once born, grown and slaughtered in Hawaii — have become part of a cow-calf operation.
Such cow-calf operations became the norm in Hawaii as ranchers responded to a dearth of slaughterhouses and absence of feed mills to sustain their animals. In such operations, herds are kept at a relatively fixed number of cows to produce calves that are sold to mainland operations when the animals are about 10 months old.
Cattle are Hawaii’s third most valuable agricultural commodity, worth about $44.8 million, though a history of working at the whim of greater market forces has seen ranchers constantly adapt to new changes in the supply chain. And for the past 30 years, cow-calf operations have been the best way for ranchers to make a living.
But recent private investments and potential government funding have led to an increasing number of farmers looking to fill a comparatively niche, premium market for grass-fed beef.
McCandless Ranch, in Captain Cook on Big Island, is one of those ranches. Owner Keith Unger has 200 cows whose calves end up on the mainland before entering the beef market. But in 2020, he sold 20 grass-fed animals to another grass-fed operation on Big Island, which are eventually harvested in Hawaii. He is currently raising 15 more.
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