Located on the wet side of Waimea, the University of Hawai‘i’s at Manoa (UHM) Mealani Research Station is where Taste of the Hawaiian Range was founded. A leader in grass-fed beef research, the facility investigates and demonstrates several products for island farmers and ranchers to use.
Current research projects include propagation of healthy food system products—grass-fed beef, blueberries and tea; forage and grasses for grass-finished livestock; growing of alternative crops like tropical varieties of peaches; field education for culinary students and beef cattle artificial insemination/cow breeding for UH animal science or pre-veterinary students.
Year-long pasture trials for grass-fed beef
New, year-long grass-fed beef trials are underway involving three different controlled pasturing systems for 36 animals. According to Mealani Farm Manager Marla Fergerstrom, the goal of the project is to “study stocking density on pasture and its effect on animal performance and carcass quality.” The study determines the rotation of the animals by the measurement of forage available for the animals to consume under the trial’s conditions. The trials began January 2015 with 12 market animals per treatment group. These animals will be slaughtered at the end of the 12-month period and their carcasses analyzed for quality.
“The trial will continue for the next few years so we will have several years of data,” shares Fergerstrom. “Carcasses from the harvested animals will be evaluated. Data collected will include weight, quality grade and at a later date, shear testing, which is a measure of tenderness.
Typically, cattle at Mealani are raised using an intensive grazing technique that involves daily rotation of separate groups of steers (market animals), heifers (young females) and mama cows/calves among paddocks so each group of animal is always digesting the same part of the grass stalk. Steers consume the top of the grass, which has the highest protein content to help the animal put on the most weight, followed by heifers that eat the middle of the stalk and cow/calves that consume the bottom and get the most fiber. Mealani manages a herd of 150 animals on about 145 acres this way, which allows the maximum use of a consistent type of forage for the grazing animals.
In the new trials, there are 36 animals split among three “treatments” that each offer a different controlled pasturing technique. One puts 12 animals in six acres to graze continually only in that acreage. The second treatment puts 12 animals in an acre-and-a-half pen and they’re moved based on the available forage during the grazing period in that area to where forage is available. The third treatment splits six acres into one-acre pens and 12 cattle are rotated in the same manner as the second group. The trial involves steers and heifers.
Cover crop project to control erosion, amend soil
Mealani recently completed a cover crop project to evaluate different plant species that can be used by farmers to prevent erosion and improve soil fertility in our tropical climate. The project involved two trial treatments—till or no till—using the same seed selection of lablab, hairy vetch, rye grass, velvet bean, radish, soybean and cow pea.
“For the till treatment, we mowed the crop and left the plant material to degrade in the plots, including the roots,” details Fergerstrom. “In the no-till treatment, the crop was allowed to continue growing.”
Soil samples were taken prior to the start of the project and at its completion. However, results aren’t yet available.
Mealani continues its research on growing non-dormancy or evergreen blueberries under cover in a hot house. Technicians, under the direction of researchers, are working on refining pruning techniques on 100 plants to better fruit production and reduce the incidence of disease, such as rust. Started in 2005, the goal is to investigate the development of blueberries as an alternative, high value crop for farmers.
For more information on the Mealani Research Station and Hawai‘i agricultural research, visit https://www.tasteofthehawaiianrange.com/about-taste-of-the-hawaiian-range/mealani.html.