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Kyle Caires knows cows, brings his knowledge to UH-MC

KA‘ANA MANA‘O

When Kyle Caires was a small boy, he’d wake his mother at 5 a.m. to tell her he was “going to Grandpa’s.”

Grandpa was Joseph Freitas Caires Sr., who raised beef cattle, hogs, poultry and dairy cows Upcountry.

He had a big impact on his young grandson. Caires’ mother, Marlene Caires, was also a major influence. “She was very sharp with cattle,” Caires says, “and she had the first asparagus farm in Hawaii.” When Caires joined 4-H at the age of 9, turned out he was a natural, too.

A King Kekaulike graduate, Caires got his Bachelor of Science degree in animal science from Oregon State, his Master of Science in reproductive physiology from Washington State and continued there to earn his Ph.D. in reproductive genomics/stem-cell biology.

A blurb on his LinkedIn page reads, “Caires knows cows, even things Google doesn’t know.” That’s just one reason we’re so happy to have him at the Maui Extension of the UH-Manoa College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources (CTAHR).

He was a tenured professor at Berry College in Georgia — “the Harvard of Animal Sciences” — when other job offers started coming, including a few CEO positions. But home was calling and Maui proved irresistible.

“I consider myself a scientist who teaches,” says Caires. His classrooms are Maui’s ranches, farms and pastures. He works with big ranchers from Kaupo to West Maui and folks raising just one cow or one pig or one sheep. “They’re all our partners in research and extension.”

He assists with artificial insemination, pasture maintenance, invasive species control, animal health and welfare, nutrition and, of course, genetics.

One of his main goals is to improve the quality of Maui’s livestock. “We’re geographically isolated in terms of livestock production,” he explains. “It’s costly to bring in bulls, and they’re not genetically compatible with our environment, anyway.” By maintaining his connections to scientists and colleges worldwide, he “can take complicated cutting-edge information and distill it to what Maui needs.”

Caires also runs the livestock component of 4-H for the county. While he likes the competition aspect, he’s clear that “we are using animals to raise kids, not kids to raise animals.” And he wants them to learn “modern ag.”

“We’re the first 4-H program in the country to collect DNA, have it analyzed and get genomic predictions. What we started here is now being done at the universities of Missouri, Arizona and New Mexico.”

His pet project right now is the Haleakala Experiment Station. “We’re focusing on 15 of a total of 38 acres, which we hope to have up and running by mid-2020. It will have a livestock and forage demonstration farm with a pavilion, a learning lab for livestock producers, and we’ll integrate 4-H’ers so we can raise the next generation of producers. We want to level the playing field for our livestock producers and build economic opportunities for them.”

Caires also works on a Maui Pork Improvement Program, which entails doing complete evaluations on more than 3,000 carcasses and developing genetics to improve the quality of the pork produced here.

Like scientists everywhere, our climate crisis is on Caires’ mind. “My main concern is our central valley. I’m big into soil conservation. That doesn’t mean doing nothing with the land. Bare ground doesn’t hold water while it’s being baked by solar radiation. No-till farming, use of cover crops along with a sound crop rotation strategy are keys to ag land’s long-term health.

“Raising livestock fits right in with that theme, as rotational grazing promotes carbon sequestration into soil, with the added benefit of managing fuel loads to help with fire suppression. Managed grasslands under grazing have been shown to store up to 270 pounds of carbon per acre per year.”

It’s obvious that Caires works overtime to improve Maui’s agriculture in a myriad of ways. When we called him to set up a time to talk, this is the response we got:

“I’m actually driving cattle right now, and I don’t have my planner, but I’ll get back to you.” And he did.

For information about CTAHR programs on Maui, please visit www.ctahr.hawaii .edu/Maui/pages/Programs.aspx For complete information about all of CTAHR, please visit cms.ctahr.hawaii.edu/.

To learn about all UH-Maui College’s programs of study, please visit maui.hawaii.edu/ programs-of-study/.

* Lui K. Hokoana, Ph.D., is chancellor of the University of Hawaii Maui College. “Ka’ana Mana’o,” which means “Sharing Thoughts,” is scheduled to appear on the fourth Saturday of each month. It is prepared with assistance from UH-Maui College staff and is intended to provide the community of Maui County information about opportunities available through the college at its Kahului campus and its education centers.