Edible Hawaiian Islands Fall 2012: Hawaii Lowline Cattle Company

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With a vision "to advance Hawai'i's efforts of food self-sufficiency," two Big Island couples have teamed up to build a herd of Lowline Angus cattle, offering chefs a new beef product that's Animal Welfare Approved (AWA) and certified by the American Grassfed Association (AGA).

Hawaii Lowline Cattle Company (HLCC) is owned and operated by Rick and Haleakala Sakata and Dwayne and Tammie Cypriano of Ahualoa. Located between the rolling hills of Waimea and Honoka'a, the rural area is blessed with adequate rain to keep pastures green and growing.

Lowlines are beef cattle in a compact package. The breed was developed as part of a 1974 research project involving herd selection for controlled growth rate. Conducted at the Trangie Agricultural Research Center in Australia, the study used Aberdeen-Angus cattle to establish the original Australian Lowline herd.

Aberdeen-Angus have a prestigious pedigree that can be traced to the mid-1800s in Scotland. Starting with Queen Victoria, Britain's royalty has long been a patron of the Aberdeen-Angus Cattle Society and Prince Charles has his own herd.

During the Trangie project, the Lowline breed was formed using animals selected on the basis of a low growth rate; they were the "lowline" study group. Smaller than other Angus cattle from birth to maturity, Lowlines were released into the industry in the early 1990s.

"Lowline beef is superior in quality, with excellent taste, texture and tenderness," says Rick Sakata, who markets HLCC. "Lowlines are efficient range animals, making the most of a grass-fed diet, and because of their small size, they require less space to pasture."

Sakata says HLCC has the state's only two registered Lowlines in the American Lowline Registry. Arriving by jet in 2008 from the U.S. mainland, the two bulls were the start of the HLCC herd, which is a cross between two breeds.

"For our beef, we cross the Lowline bulls with Red Angus cows," says herdsman Dwayne Cypriano. "Red Angus is a calm and docile breed and not a real large animal." The cross produces a moderate-size animal that performs well on grass and produces excellent meat and more of it." Dwayne says Hawaii Lowline's carcasses average 435 pounds for heifers (females) and 485 pounds for steers (males), while 100% Lowlines tip the scales at about 300 and 350 pounds respectively.

To best raise their cattle, the couples decided from the outset they would feed their animals 100% grass and use humane handling practices.

"When we first sat down and talked about doing this, we discussed how we wanted to do business, including our lifestyle," says Haleakala Sakata. "We wanted to incorporate our beliefs into our practices." Topics covered included the treatment of animals and how the beef would be sold.

Dwayne, who previously worked at a cow-calf operation where weaned calves are sent to the mainland for grain finishing, says his father, Louis, was a grass-fed cattle rancher and he enjoyed what his dad did. "I wanted to go grass-fed because I like the sustainability aspect of it," he says.

Cypriano also likes to control his own prices. He explains, "A rancher who finishes his animals on grain is at the mercy of the market. His profit is controlled by the price of commodities produced elsewhere. If the price of corn or soybeans goes up, then feed costs rise and that rancher takes it in the shorts."

Regarding how HLCC handles the 75 animals in its program, the couples strive to provide a stress-free environment. Voice commands and whistles are used to move animals among pastures, calves are slowly weaned from their mothers and hot branding is not used. Animals are totally raised on forage, "the way nature intended," emphasizes Rick. They dine on nutritious kikuyu and pangola grass, plus trefoil, a protein-rich leguminous clover. They also have an ample, fresh supply of water. Tammy Cypriano, who keeps the herd record book, says a protocol is followed to provide optimum health care and "no hormones or antibiotics are given to the animals."

"We want to take great care of our cattle and go the extra mile," stresses Rick. "That's why we flew our Lowline bulls here to Hawai'i at the beginning. The difference was five hours on a plane to five days on a barge."

Hawaii Lowline's operational practices are Animal Welfare Approved (AWA) and certified by the American Grassfed Association (AGA). Via annual audits, these national organizations ensure animals have continuous access to outdoor pasture (except in emergencies) and no farm confinement feeding system is used. According to AWA's Grass-fed Primer, "a growing body of scientific research shows feedlot systems are responsible for a wide range of animal welfare concerns." AWA certification also requires animals to be harvested in a humane way and to insure that, Sakata says, the nearby slaughterhouse, Hawaii Beef Producers, is also audited.

With a goal to eliminate waste and encourage the entire use of the animal, Hawaii Lowline Cattle sells its beef as whole carcasses to chefs and restaurants. "Our beef is priced per pound of carcass weight," says Rick. "Our chefs deal direct with Hawaii Beef Producers to have the meat custom-cut to their needs." He adds that chefs are invited out to the field to view the herd and pick their animal.

To date, six restaurants are serving Hawaii Lowline Cattle Company beef. On O'ahu it can be enjoyed at d.k Steak House and Sansei Seafood Restaurant & Sushi Bar in Waikiki, at The Grove in Kailua and Ola at Turtle Bay.

Chef Fred DeAngelo of Ola and The Grove says the response from customers to the Hawaii Lowline product has been "overwhelmingly favorable." Chef says he's been using the product "for over a year" and the beef has a great flavor and is tender.

"What intrigues me about this product is I get to monitor and select the cuts I want to use," says Chef DeAngelo. He says buying beef by the carcass encourages his staff to be more creative in the kitchen "as we have to use all the cuts." A new thing he's been concocting is corned beef brisket.

"I also like the idea of using the entire carcass as it pays respect to the animal and helps the rancher. My intention is for our guests to enjoy beef raised in Hawai'i; I'm all for our grass-fed ranchers who feed their animals the way nature intended," adds Chef DeAngelo. "My goal is to put the best product on the plate."

On the Big Island, Chef Mark Vann recently began using HLCC beef at his two restaurants: Huli Sue's at Mauna Lani and The Fish & The Hog Market Café in Waimea. Vann, whose family comes from a long line of Texas ranchers, says he likes the idea of picking out his animal from the herd "and knowing exactly what I'm getting."

"I find Hawaii Lowline beef to be dense in beef flavor, tender and very buttery because the marbling is so good," Chef Vann says. "What Dwayne and Rick are doing is exemplary and I feel lucky to be involved with them."

He explains, "I like how their cattle grazes on grass. I think cattle feedlots are unnatural and very inhumane. Hawaii Lowline is handling cattle the way we should be handling them and it makes better sense for the environment too; there's less of a carbon footprint."

Rick sums up his product saying, "Happy cows make better meat."

For more information: (Australian Lowline)


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