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Brangus Breeder Highlight –
Ernie Mattos, Kelonukai Ranch

By Pamela Doiron

In November, I had the honor of attending the Hawaii Cattlemen’s Council meeting on the Big Island of Hawaii. WCBBA member, Ernie Mattos introduced me to several breeders from all of the islands who include a little ‘ear’ in their herds. In addition, I was able to visit with the local Hawaii State Congressman and Representatives from the Hawaii Agricultural Department and young cattlemen and women who ranch on the most remote islands in the world!


Debbie Torres, KND Shorthorns, Rep. Richard Hiroyuki Keala Onishi, Pamela Doiron, The Spanish Ranch

Ernie calls the girls in, “Come! Come!” so we can get a closer look at his Brangus females.


Many of the Hawaiian ranchers work with the Hawaii Ranchers Beef Program. With a dearth of processing plants in the State, nearly all of Hawaii’s cattle are shipped to the West Coast for finishing and harvesting. There is a local market for local and grass fed beef, especially in the high-end restaurants.

A strong relationship exists between the ranchers and the land: many ranchers like Ernie and Sabrina White England are ranching lands that have been in their families for generations. Various watershed partnerships, the Hawaiian Island Land Trust and other groups work together to produce a quality product while instituting programs that will rehabilitate native forests and grasslands. Grazing is a big part of that effort as 75% of the State’s ag lands are managed by the cattle ranchers.

And high above Hilo, on the wet side of the island, Kelonukai Ranch can measure its rainfall in feet rather than inches. However, when the dry season comes, the porous ground does not hold the moisture and the cattle move on to other pastures. It’s hard to think that Hawaii is in the middle of a drought, but many of the lower pastures and those on the leeward side of the island are quite brown and dry. Hawaii only has two seasons: October to April which is wet and cool, and May to September which is dry.

Ernie raises Brangus, Angus and Ultrablack cattle and is quite selective for genetics that will thrive on the Big Island. Total numbers can vary depending on the weather and grazing as well as the ability to harvest cattle when they are ready. “It’s hard to take advantage of beneficial prices when the opportunity comes,” says Ernie, “when we don’t have the capacity to harvest in a timely manner. Big Island Meat here on the Big Island and Hawaii Meat on Oahu shut down. Kona Specialty Meats opened in 1995 but had to shut down in 2002. We have Hawaii Ranchers, but capacity is still a major problem here.” Hawaii Island has only one slaughterhouse and one mobile unit. Oahu has one unit and Kauai has 3 units for 53 producers.

The restoration of grasslands to native forest is also a concern as some areas near Ernie are becoming off-limits to cattle. “Just like the oak trees on the West Coast, our native ohia trees are dying due to a fungus carried by insects and wind. We have about 34,000 acres of ohia trees dying,” says Keith Unger, Hawaii Land and Water. Hawaii is also trying to restore its koa forests which were cut down for the beautiful wood.

The tradition of ahupua’a or Hawaiian land division, allowed native Hawaiians to hold pie-shaped plots of land that included the wet uplands all the way down to the beaches so that each division had access to all necessary resources to thrive. Only a few ranches still have that type of land. Ponoholo Ranch is a prime example.

No matter which part of the island, from Kohala to Waimea, down to Puako and out to Hilo, ranching is still an important part of Hawaiian life and culture dating back to King Kamehameha and the early paniolos. Thanks to Ernie, I learned more about his family and ranching traditions on the Big Island. Mahalo, Ernie!!


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New WCBBA Officers and Directors elected at the January 28, 2016 meeting in Red Bluff, CA
include (L-R) Rex Hunt, Carole Guertin, Pamela Doiron, Stephen Dunckel, Frank Lima and Della Strong.


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Officers and Directors

President: Pamela Doiron, El Rancho Espanol de Cuyama
Vice President: Frank Lima, Stardust Farms
Secretary/Treasurer: Rex Hunt, JR Ranch


Della Strong, Deer Creek Ranch
Stephen Dunckel, Tumbleweed Brangus
Carole Guertin, Running Star Ranch