Enhancing the sustainability of grass-fed beef production in Hawaii via carcass and meat quality improvement

Project Overview

Project Type: Professional + Producer
Funds awarded in 2013: $49,948.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2016
Region: Western
State: Hawaii
Principal Investigator:
Dr. Yong soo Kim
University of Hawaii

Annual Reports

Information Products


  • Animals: bovine


  • Animal Production: free-range, grazing management, grazing - rotational, stocking rate
  • Crop Production: food product quality/safety
  • Education and Training: extension


    Interest in locally produced, grass-fed beef has increased tremendously among the general public, chefs, and agricultural community in Hawaii as a sustainable model for beef production and also to increase the level of food self-sufficiency for the island state. This project was designed to evaluate growth performance, and carcass and meat quality characteristics of pasture-finished cattle in selected ranches of Hawaii, and to evaluate characteristics of pastures on which cattle are finished in collaboration with local ranchers. Results of the project show that a large proportion of Hawaii grass-fed beef is reasonably tender even though large variation exists. Younger slaughter age, not marbling beyond a certain level (probably High Slight) showed an important factor improving the tenderness of grass-fed beef. Results also demonstrated potentials of the incorporation of leucaena (Leucaena leucacephala), a high protein legume tree, into a tropical pastoral rotational grazing system to improve grass-fed beef production.


    The “Grass-fed beef” label indicates meat that is produced by feeding forages from start to finish without any grain supplementation (USDA-AMS 2007, Federal Register 72:58631–58637). Many healthful aspects of grass-fed beef have been identified, including lower total fat content and higher content of omega-3 fatty acids, conjugated linoleic acids (CLA), and antioxidants as compared to feedlot-finished beef (Razminowicz et al. 2006, Meat Science 66:567–577; Faucitano et al. 2008, Journal of Animal Science 86:1678–1689). The healthy nutritional profile of grass-fed beef, along with the perception that grass-finishing promotes animal well-being and environmental sustainability, has probably contributed to the recent increase in the demand for grass-fed beef.

    Even though beef cattle production is the third largest agricultural commodity in Hawaii, only 20-30% of weaned calves are raised for local slaughter with the majority being shipped to the mainland USA due to greater access to marketing options compared to the high cost of shipping concentrates feed to Hawaiian Islands to support a feed-lot finish sector. However, since year-round maintenance of pasture is possible in some regions of Hawaii due to the subtropical climate, grass-fed beef production may be a viable alternative to shipping out weaned calves. Moreover, grass-fed beef may provide a sustainable production model to improve the level of food self-sufficiency for the island state.

    For the development of a sustainable grass-fed beef industry, a consistent supply of high quality of grass-fed beef is a key and important element. However, some studies reported that palatability of grass-fed beef is inconsistent, often leading to consumer dissatisfaction with this product (Van Elswyk and McNeill 2014, Meat Science 96:535–540). Also, the lack of information on the nutritional quality of pastures on which grass-fed beef are produced is a limiting element in developing strategies of improving carcass and meat quality characteristics of grass-fed beef in Hawaii.

    Project objectives:

    The objectives of the proposed project were to evaluate growth performance, carcass and meat quality characteristics of pasture-finished cattle in selected ranches of Hawaii and to evaluate characteristics of pastures on which cattle are finished. The results of the project were disseminated through workshops, presentations at various international, national and local meetings, and extension publications, and other publications.

    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.