Hawaiian ranchers ship cattle to mainland feedlots

By STEVE BROWN

Capital Press

SUNNYSIDE, Wash. -- A veterinarian who examined the cattle that survived when the container they were in fell off a truck said the outcome could have been much worse.

Twenty-three of the 68 cattle in the container died in the accident. The cattle were en route from Hawaii to a feedlot.

"This was an unfortunate accident that turned out pretty well," Jared Gould said. He was the veterinarian on duty at Horse Heaven Cattle Feeders in Sunnyside when the surviving cattle arrived.

The remaining cattle "were not in terrible shape," he said. "They were tired and walked off to feed and water."

The loaded container fell off a tractor-trailer and onto Interstate 90 on Oct. 6, landing on its side. After hitting the pavement, the container skidded about 200 feet.

When state troopers arrived at the scene, they found that some of the cattle had died in the crash and some of the surviving cattle had their hooves stuck in the container's barred windows.

Troopers said they didn't want to release the remaining cows from the container because they might wander into freeway traffic. A tow truck righted the container with the cattle still inside.

Robert Calkins, spokesman for the Washington State Patrol, said the driver was cited for defective equipment, failure to secure the load and driving too fast for conditions. The tractor, chassis and container were inspected and put out of service, meaning they required repairs before they could be operated again.

Gould said with 68 cattle aboard, the container was lightly loaded.

Jason Kelly, communications director at the Washington State Department of Agriculture, said Horse Heaven is a restricted feedlot, meaning all animals there are destined for slaughter.

"They had the import permits required under the law, as well as certificates of veterinary inspection," he said.

Horse Heaven has been receiving cattle from Hawaii the past four or five months, he said. A drought on the islands has crippled producers' ability to fatten the animals there.

Hawaii ranchers ship 40,000 live cattle a year to the mainland; only 4,000 are slaughtered for meat sales there.

Hawaii's local and grass-fed beef industry will get a boost when Hawaii County breaks ground on renovations to a state-owned slaughterhouse on the Hamakua Coast.

The AP reported that $4 million in state-funded improvements will increase slaughter capacity by 40 percent.

The slaughterhouse is leased to Hawaii Beef Producers.

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