Mealani breeding team leader Mike DuPonte teaching an artificial insemination class to CTAHR Pre-Veterinary Program students.
The steaks are great. So say the cattle breeders at the Mealani Research Station, and if national competitions are any indication, they should know—select members of the Mealani herd have just been rated among the top Angus bulls in the country.
A main concern of producers of beef throughout the state has been an inconsistent product. Cattle need to gain lots of weight and gain it fast before they become too old and tough to please today’s consumers’ discriminating palates. Most cattle are confined in feedlots and given high-calorie feed like corn until they reach 1,200 pounds of luscious, marbled beef, but Hawai‘I ranchers don’t have that option—there’s not enough land to grow all that food just to give to animals. And with the demise of the sugar and pineapple industries, by-product feeds such as silage and bagasse have fallen off as well. Producers had to send their calves to the Mainland for “finishing”—gaining that allimportant weight—and then import the beef back once it had been slaughtered. Not a very efficient method, and less than desirable for the increasing numbers of people looking to eat local.
Hawai‘i—the Big Island, particularly— does have grass, and cattle will thrive on it, but they don’t tend to finish as rapidly. Enter the Mealani breeding team, led by Mike DuPonte, who were determined to find a way to raise plump, juicy cattle on an all-grass diet. They began an intensive breeding program—not genetic engineering, but old-fashioned selective breeding. They also utilized cutting-edge technologies such as ultrasound to assess marbling without slaughtering the animal, and DNA testing to determine each bovine’s potential tenderness, its efficiency in converting forage to beef, and other carcass merit characteristics. Another Mealani strategy is intensive grazing rotation, so the herds only eat the youngest, most calorie-rich grass.
The team has succeeded far beyond their hopes. This past year they sent 10 bulls to Pfizer’s HD 50K genome program, used to evaluate the best Angus bulls in the country—five were rated in the top 5%, and one in the top 1% of bulls nationwide! Among the criteria used by the judges were feed use efficiency, average daily weight gain, tenderness, and ribeye size. But don’t take Pfizer’s word for it—try the savory taste of success and self-sufficiency for yourself!