The record-setting heat this summer is taking a toll on two Leeward regions already under severe drought. Kaupo Ranch on Maui is in one of those devastated areas.
A total combined head of 1,500 cattle grazed on the southern slopes of Haleakala five years ago. Due to the dry weather, that number has now fallen to 1,300 and will likely continue dropping.
The paniolo heritage at Kaupo Ranch traces back to 1929. When the rain falls, the remote property is blanketed with lush greenery. These days, however, much of the landscape is barren and brown.
"You just go into survival mode and do what you think you can do, prepare," explained Kaupo Ranch manager Bobby Ferreira. "What I going get rid of? Lighten up as much as you can."
Ferreira said feral goats and deer often gobble up any grass shoots. Since there isn't enough dry feed to last through the summer, some cattle will be moved to pastureland being leased from another ranch. Calves are also being weaned earlier than usual at lower weights.
"We wean the calves early so that we won't take the mothers down and put them in really poor conditions because those calves is milking off of them," Ferreira said.
Kaupo Ranch is a partner in a grass-fed beef processing business called Maui Cattle Company, but now the ranch is sending most of its animals to the mainland for final feeding. Some other partners are still recovering from six straight years of drought.
"We were doing about 50 to 55 head a week through this operation and since then it's brought our numbers down to 12 head a week. It's reduced it significantly," said Alex Franco, president of Maui Cattle Company.
The National Weather Service says El Nino conditions will likely lead to a wet summer and a dry winter.
"Then without the normal winter rains coming in, you really get into a bad situation because the summer is normally dry and even with El Nino, we don't think that the Leeward sides are really going to get out of drought or see huge improvement," said NWS meteorologist Robert Ballard.
Ballard said the only hope is for steady showers from a tropical cyclone that is weakening or passing south of the islands. Despite the struggle, workers are determined to make sure that Kaupo Ranch survives for future generations.
"Pray for rain. That's all I can say. Pray for rain," said Ferreira.
The other area under severe drought is on the southern part of Kauai from Kalaheo to Waimea.
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