Mealani Research Station on the Big Island is the perfect living lab for researching cattle production in the tropics and subtropics. In this field, genetics is key, and now the college is researching how to match cattle qualities with the areas where they’ll be raised, including fitness for the amount of rain and sun, the temperature and humidity, and the types of forage growing there. In areas with high humidity, cows with smooth hair do better than those with thick, coarse coats. Cattle with high growth potential should be matched with areas with ample nutritious forage material, while those that will grow to be smaller can graze in places with lower-quality feedstuffs.
Such genetic matching is particularly important in Hawai‘i because of the Islands’ diverse and distinct microclimates—even individual ranchers ideally may have a “makai herd” and a “mauka herd” with different varieties. Also, because the potential rangelands here are relatively small, it’s crucial to maximize efficiency to compete in the market.
Mealani uses two modes of breeding, artificial insemination (AI) and “natural service.” For AI, the semen is chosen based on desired genetic traits and shipped frozen to the Station. Mealani typically holds AI School once a year, when UH students and local ranchers come to gain the physical prowess complementing the cutting-edge research. Immobilizing the cow in the “squeeze chute” takes perfect timing and tremendous physical strength, while inserting the long, narrow syringe requires delicate manipulation. At a recent breeding day Animal Sciences major Keala Cowell, interning with Extension agent Michael DuPonte, got hands-on instruction in the process and agreed it’s harder than it looks.
Read more in the Hawai‘i Tribune Herald.
Mealani's breeding program is thriving. Its bulls rank among the top 5% and even 1% of Angus in the country.
There’s technique involved in the natural service breeding too. Before being loosed into the field with the cows, the specially chosen bulls are fitted with cone-shaped metal muzzles daubed with paint. This device makes ingenious use of bulls’ observed behavior: when mating they touch their noses to the cows’ backs. The paint on the muzzle marks the cows, keeping track of those that have been serviced.
The breeding program is thriving. Recent genetic testing showed Mealani’s bulls rank among the top 5% and even 1% of Angus in the country, and they’re also free of a common genetic disorder, Developmental Duplication. Mealani hopes soon to make semen from its elite bulls available by contracting with a commercial stud. Best of all, more and more local ranchers are able to use the station’s research for their operations, including buying the prime-bred bulls for their own herds.