“My family has been ranching on Hawaii island since 1906,” says Duane De Luz of Pa’auilo. “We’ve been committed to 100 percent grass-fed beef since day one.”
The De Luz’s Triple D Ranch manages 600 acres between two locations: O’okala and Honokaia (between Honoka’a and Kukuihaele). An ‘ohana operation, Triple D is run by Duane, and his father, Antone, Jr. The family typically delivers 70 grass-fed steers and heifers to market a year, overseeing up to 180 animals at any one time in their grass-fed finishing program. The De Luz’s also have a cow/calf operation to produce weaned calves for Triple D’s finishing program.
“We raise about 70 cows annually to produce our wean-offs,” shares Duane. “This way we control our own breeding and the cattle’s temperament. We prefer an Angus-Charolais cross. This cross results in an animal that has helped us meet the market’s demands.” By producing its own calves, Triple D also doesn’t have to deal with the fluctuating prices of purchasing wean offs, which “can cut into profits.”
Need Nutritious Grass and Plenty of It
Of the many challenges to operating a grass-fed beef operation, De Luz says first and foremost, it requires having enough acreage with the right type of grass. “We need to have enough pasture so we can rotate our herds into fresh grass for optimal nutrition,” details De Luz. “We also have to manage our pastures to be able to have sufficient feed during times of drought. We use all of the 600 acres to do this.”
Feeding animals with proper forage is key to bringing top-grade, grass-fed cattle to market. De Luz says a balance of different grasses works well for their locations and they farm a mixture of forage: pangola, star and guinea grasses, plus legumes. “Legumes, like clover and plantation or perennial peanut, give the animals protein, which helps them grow better,” continues De Luz. “We don’t feed them corn, alfalfa or anything else; they are raised and finished entirely on grass. We also don’t use antibiotics or hormones.”
Pasture Rotation, Calm Animals Important
Triple D rotates animals in pastures every five to seven days, maintaining three separate herds: steers for market (castrated bulls), heifers for market (non-bred females) and mother cows with their calves. “We call out and whistle to the animals and they come because they know we’re going to lead them to tasty, fresh pasture,” De Luz explains. “We separate the males and females so they both keep their minds on eating.”
De Luz says having calm animals is important in raising quality, grass-fed beef. To do so, they rotate their herds by using an ATV and calling them. When working the animals in the corral, they work them on foot. “When animals are calm and stress free, they are easier to manage and the finished product is meat that is tender, has a nice color and of better quality,” he explains.
Grass-fed Ranchers Wait Longer to Get Paid
Patience is needed when growing grass-fed beef, emphasizes De Luz. “Unlike Hawai’i cow-calf operations that sell wean-offs at six-to-eight months (to be finished on the Mainland), we wait 26 to 29 months to see a profit on our cattle.”
De Luz says ranchers are currently getting up to $1.20 a pound for wean-offs, which average 450 pounds-or $540. “We have to wait more than two years to get paid, about $1.35 a pound for a finished animal that meets the grading,” notes De Luz, who says their finished steers average 900 pounds while their heifers average 750-pounds (carcass weight). “All of our cattle are sold right here in Pa’auilo to Hawaii Beef Producers.”
“Proper age, weight and marbling all affect the price ranchers get for grass-fed and finished beef,” emphasizes De Luz. “These factors affect the taste, tenderness and fat content of the meat.”
Loving the Ranching Lifestyle
De Luz, a fourth-generation rancher, says he loves the lifestyle ranching affords and “can’t wait until I can do it full-time.” His father, 75, a lifetime rancher and former sugar plantation employee, works full-time on the ranch, while Duane has a full-time job elsewhere and puts in about 20 hours a week for the business.
“Raising natural grass-fed beef is what we do and we can’t see doing it any other way. It’s a good life,” De Luz smiles.