PODCAST: What to feed animals during a pandemic? Pigs and chickens are harder than you think
The high cost of feeding their animals is an ongoing problem for dairy and meat producers in Hawaii, who largely import feed from the mainland. But the pandemic has disrupted shipping routes, causing shortages and delays.
“In two days there was no more animal feed in any state feed store and we realized we were totally dependent on the mainland until the next boat arrived,” said Mike DuPonte, a recently retired agricultural expert at the University of Hawaii College. Tropical agriculture and human resources.
Even many hog ranchers in Hilo, who fed their pigs mostly with leftover food from restaurants and hotels, have suffered from the shutdown of tourism and the closure of restaurants.
âThe animals were starving,â said DuPonte. “We promised at that point that this was something that would never happen again in this state.”
Motivated by the immense need for local food and a growing interest in food security, a group of farmers, entrepreneurs and researchers took advantage of the pandemic to experiment, and by the end of the year, the Big Island dairy and meat producers should be able to purchase local foods made from invasive plants.
The Last episode from Civil Beat’s agriculture podcast, âHawaii Grown,â visits the University of Hawaii’s Hilo mill to learn more about the experience.
In 2018, Pomai Freitas was reflecting with some colleagues on the possible uses of gorse, a thorny and aggressive invasive plant covering hundreds of acres across the Big Island, including many acres on Mauna Kea.
âWe were looking to turn it into biochar first, but because there is so much of it on Mauna, we were like ‘why not food?’â He said. âWe tried everything you could think of, spaghetti, pancakes, but it really didn’t work, so we can try the animal feed.â
Freitas is the president of Hui Hoolako, a non-profit organization focused on the preservation of Hawaiian lands. The group has teamed up with UH Hilo Agricultural College to use their state-of-the-art feed mill to grind gorse into pellets.
âThe crusher was only used for research testing purposes, but it can handle commercial loads, it is only about 10 years old,â said DuPonte.
The university has experimented with and created a plethora of options – steamed, flaked, rolled, pelletized – and use the goats and pigs that live at Hilo’s facilities as taste testers to polish the formula. Nicholas Krueger, an instructor from Integrated Crop Livestock Systems at UH Hilo who worked on the project, said their studies found the feed to be high in fiber and protein and, so far, the animals appear to be l ‘to like.
âHopefully this will be a good enough feed that the animal can replace at least part of the feed,â he said. “But we have to make sure the animals love him first.”
The first animal palatability study is expected to be finalized before the end of the year, which will answer the demand side of the equation. As for supply, Krueger doesn’t expect Hawaii to run out of gorse anytime soon.
âOn some parts of the mountain we have a 15 to 20 foot canopy of this material that a mongoose could barely get through,â he said.
Over 30,000 acres are infested with gorse on the Big Island alone. The thorny plant is known for its delicate yellow flowers and its ability to smother all other plants in the area. The biggest challenge of the project is not where to get the plant from, but how.
âMaking sure we don’t inadvertently spread gorse is a big priority,â Krueger said.
A single gorse plant can produce up to 18,000 seeds. So the group experimented with many different ways of killing the seeds before transporting gorse off the mountain; they found that grinding the gorse very finely was the best bet, so they keep their grinders on the mountain.
âAs of today, we can probably clear one to three acres a day,â Freitas said. âWith the right funding, we could get up to eight acres a day. “
An investment in sustainability
Transporting invasive species is risky, and taking workers and equipment to high altitudes and then trucking gorse to the Hilo grain mill is expensive and time consuming.
Freitas said that once they finalize their formula and start mass producing the food, they will find a business model that works for them and local farmers. Ideally, they will be financially independent, but grants focused on removing invasive species could help them fill in the gaps.
âWe are not trying to be the biggest producer of animal feed in the world,â he said. âWe do it with and for the community for the sake of sustainability. “
Providing a local alternative to imported food could not only reduce carbon emissions from imported food, but also increase the amount of dairy and meat produced in the state.
“Processing and transportation is our bottleneck – guaranteed – but the cost of feed is so expensive now that it doesn’t seem like it would be too difficult for this material to fetch a price that would be better.” , Krueger said.
“I’m not going to sit here and peddle something if that doesn’t work and that’s exactly what we’re trying to find out.”
“Hawaii Grown” is funded in part by grants from the Ulupono Fund of the Hawaii Community Foundation, the Marisla Fund of the Hawaii Community Foundation, and the Frost Family Foundation.