What’s not to like about ranching in Hawaii?

Pregnant purebred cows graze in a pasture Jan. 19 on the Parker Ranch near Kamuela, Hawaii.  | Joan Airey photo

Cattle operation traces its roots to 1847 when an American sailor and his Hawaiian wife bought the first two acres

Purebred Charolais and Angus cows were calving in January on the Parker Ranch in Hawaii.

Winter temperatures in the high 20s C contrasted sharply with what was going on back home in Manitoba the day we toured the Hawaii ranch. Family members were calving out cows in -30 C weather, making sure calves were born indoors so they would not be chilled or their ears freeze.

Parker Ranch is owned and operated by the Parker Ranch Foundation Trust, and its beneficiaries include the North Hawaii Community Hospital, Parker School Trust Corp., Hawaii Trust Corp., Hawaii Preparatory Academy and the Hawaii Community Foundation’s Richard Smart Fund. 

The ranch was founded in 1847 by John Palmer Parker, a sailor from Newton, Massachusetts. He married Cheifess Kipikane, the granddaughter of King Kamehameha I, and they bought the first two acres of land for $10. The ranch has been in operation for more than 170 years. 

“Now we run 9,000 cows on the ranch,” said Leon, our tour guide for the day.

“Twelve cowboys look after the herds on Mondays and Fridays and every herd is checked to make sure they are healthy and have a water supply. Each cowboy is responsible for a certain herd. When it comes to branding, weaning a herd, the cowboys all work together. We raise purebred Charolais and Angus bulls to use in our own herds. When the bulls are five years old, we sell them to local ranches, as we prefer to use young bulls. 

The ranch breeds 25 mares each year to American Quarter Horse Association stallions owned by the ranch. Each cowboy has eight horses assigned to him, and they are responsible for the care of their horses.

After the horses have been trained by a professional for 60 days, the cowboys are responsible for work training their own horses. Besides horses, the cowboys have new half tons or crew cabs to get to their pastures.

“The calves are mostly weaned at five to six months when they weigh about 400 pounds and shipped to the United States mainland to be finished. We wean in the spring and fall,” Leon said.

Brian, the ranch’s purebred herd manager, said the Charolais and Angus herds are all artificially inseminated using frozen semen imported from the mainland.

“We breed the cows to bulls that will produce cows suited to do the best for us here on the ranch. We want easy calving cows with good feet and legs, that can survive on our different pastures. Weekly we feed the cows the minerals especially the copper they need,” he said.

Added Leon: “Some of the calves are now grass finished since we partnered with the Ulupono Initiative to study the feasibility of large-scale grass fed beef production. The Paniolo Cattle Company was subsequently formed, and beef from the ranch is available in Safeway stores in Hilo and Kona.”

It takes approximately 300 breeding bulls to service the cows, which are divided into winter and summer calving herds. Besides the dozen cowboys, approximately nine employees in support positions do fencing, welding, truck repair and maintenance to support the cattle operation. 

The year round supply of grass means there is no need to grow feed.

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