When you think beef cattle production, do you think Hawaii? I will assume you don’t. I hadn’t given the topic much thought until I meet Dale Sandlin, managing director, Hawaii Cattlemen’s Council (HCC), during the 2016 Cattle Industry Convention and National Cattlemen’s Beef Association Trade Show. HCC represents 145 members and the majority of those operations run less than 100 head of cattle. But two of the top 25 ranches in the nation call Hawaii home.
“We have producers who deal with very different climates. Some areas get as much as 30 inches of rainfall on one portion of their property and 3 inches in a lower portion. It is a very diverse eco-system that producers have to manage.”
The climate is only one difference Hawaiian ranchers encounter. How do the cattle make it to finishing ground located on the mainland United States? Dale said there are two ways cattle are shipped from Hawaii. The most conventional way is over the ocean. A stocktender travels with the animals and they are shipped in cowtainers equipped with on-demand feed and water. They ship 3-5 weight cattle because there is a lack of pasture in Hawaii. It takes about a week and a half for cattle to travel from the islands to the mainland. A maximum of 30 cowtainers are shipped at a time with about 60-80 head per cowtainer.
Air is the other way cattle are shipped. A modified 747 is used allowing cattle to be loaded into pods. A stocktender accompanies them, but the trip only takes five hours. When they land in Los Angeles, the cattle are transported by semi to their finishing location.
“There are many challenges we have to face, but we understand the transportation component is a fixed cost that we can’t get out of. It is factored in to our bottom line. We have to get that much more for our cattle.”
Other challenges ranchers in Hawaii face is the lack of an auction market. Everything is sold through private treaty or they have to go to the packing plant. Terrain is another limiting factor. Transporting cattle on very crowded, narrow and winding roads is always an obstacle.
“While the world is very volatile and things on the mainland are much simpler, I have to give my producers so much credit. They have been doing this for over a hundred years. They understand the challenges, they know what works and what doesn’t. We are constantly looking for ways to improve.”
Dale and I discuss many other details to raising cattle in the tropics of Hawaii. Listen to those in my complete interview here: Interview with Dale Sandlin, Hawaii Cattlemen's Council
Photos from the Convention: 2016 Cattle Industry Convention Photo Album