Malama MauiI’m so excited! Maui is a bit more rural than Oahu, which is great for really getting a feel for the islands without a loss of conveniences and great places to eat. Our first stop: The Ulupalakua Ranch, on the leeward slopes of Haleakala at an elevation of slightly under 2,000 feet.  There’s an amazing scenic drive leads to this 18,000 acre ranch, rising from sea level to as high as 6,000 feet (though I’m not going that high), across  grazing pastures and panoramic views of Maui’s southern coast and Lanai, Molokini and Kahoolawe. Our visit to the ranch was joined by Greg, who represents the Haleakala Ranch. These ranchers work together in a very cooperative “ohana” (family) kind of way.

At the Ranch

The ranchers (Alex, Jimmy and Greg) are delightful and informative. They drove our group way up into the hills, where we stopped first at one of the grazing areas not currently occupied by a herd of horses or cows. From this spot, we had a hazy and seemingly infinite view across the land and far out into the ocean. They talked about their practices of grazing in different areas, letting certain land rest (and overtake the invasive species such as this yellow daisy). Alex told us the daisy came to the island in paving mulch, and now we see it across most fields.

I asked about doing ranching as a business. The cows here are sent to Maui Cattle Company. “It’s an interesting business,” Alex says. “The key thing with Maui Cattle Company, the lifestyle that we’ve gotten used to, we were facing bad economics. We needed to make a change and connect to our customers. We were so disconnected for many years. Now we’re connecting, re-establishing value with our customers, helping to maintain the lifestyle and can pass on lessons to people who don’t share this–to show the value of open space. It’s real important to people and visitors to Hawaii to realize how important having agriculture as part of the economy is. It’s not only our sand beaches, it’s our agriculture. Paniolos (Hawaiʻian cowboys) are part of our history.”

Maui Cattle Company

I was surprised to learn about the interwoven nature of ranching. Alex explained, “Agriculture helps kick start small family operations. Our large operation is made up of family ranches. We’ve got an average age of about 80 years. Maui Cattle Company as a business is processing 50 head of cattle per week. Our counterparts process 1000 heads/shift. We’re a small operation. One of our small partners runs 125 cows, another has 90 cows. It’s very difficult for small operations to get into processing business. By coordinating our efforts it allows us to have some degree of economies of scale.”

We were driving through rough terrain (I’m talking 4 wheel drive in slow motion) when a bunch of cows paraded across our path. There were LOTS of egrets hovering around nipping at the bugs stirred up as the cows moved. These cows are 11-16 months old; they look relatively young. They’re referred to as “grass finish animals.” I asked how long they’re cared for; their best harvest time is around 2-2.5 years old.

The Ulupalakua ranchers were proud to explain how they treat their animals humanely, and how they care for the lands including grazing the cattle in different areas. I laughed when Alex said the cows come to the ranchers when called! The cows have learned that the ranchers call when they want to move herds to new pastures, which means fresh new grasses.

There’s much more to be told about their sense of ecology, responsibility, and leaving the land in better shape. Now it’s late, so I will save my notes for a later post. Also there are pictures to upload, links to other blogs and activities, much to coordinate here! I hope you’ll check back to follow us on our grand adventure!