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North Shore Cattle Company: Doc Lum’s Legacy

Former state vet pioneers 100% Hawai‘i Grown Beef

By Martha Cheng

When Calvin “Doc” Lum retired, he leased a parcel of land high above the North Shore, quiet and breezy with expansive views of the ocean and the Wai‘anae range. Not so uncommon for retirees looking for a peaceful place to rest, but it wasn’t for himself. Rather, these thousand acres were for his cattle, and it was the beginning of the North Shore Cattle Company.

Linda Nakasone, one of the “Kokua” Paniolos, or cowgirls and cowboys who help out at the ranch out of love for the animals and work, calls the ranch Doc’s atonement, his way of doing good by all the livestock he was responsible for and the decisions he had to make in his years as a veterinarian. She says, “on Molokai, when they had to put down all the cattle because of bovine tuberculosis (in the 80s), he made that call. Raising cattle is his redemption.” The decision was a controversial one, but Doc’s concern was that the disease would infect all the other islands’ livestock.

Cattle with a view of the world. Photo by Dan Nakasone.

Eleven years after starting NSCC, Doc finally has his rest, after passing away in January. His paniolos and family, however, remain close to him, on the ranch that they alternately call the “ranch on top of the world” and “heaven.” They take care of the cattle according to Doc’s standards, raising them solely on grass, with no hormones and no antibiotics. Most cattle on the islands is shipped off to be raised in feedlots on the mainland, but North Shore Cattle Company started because “Cal believed that we should keep the cattle here in Hawaii and feed our own economy,” says Kay Lum, Cal Lum’s widow.

And maybe it’s also because he had many a boyhood dream to fulfill: like a boy who’s watched his first Western, “Cal always liked the idea of being a cowboy,” Kay says. “He’s not one to ride a horse, but he liked the idea of being outside.” At age 62, when he and Kay first started NSCC, he may have been too old for horses, relying instead on an ATV to round up cattle, but he insisted that the others use horses because they’re quieter and thus less stressful for the cows.

Dan and Linda Nakasone rounding up cattle. "You know those pictures of cowboys on horseback," Dan says, "That's us!" Photo by Brad Goda.

Bringing Beef to Market

People say that while the swap meet at Aloha Stadium has its share of crowds and kitsch, there are always a few gems worth seeking out. NSCC’s beef was one of them, selling for $1.15 a pound. These days, the beef is in demand in restaurants all over Honolulu, from the UH medical school cafeteria to Alan Wong’s restaurant.

But NSCC had a tough start, literally. Dan Nakasone, who introduced Doc to Alan Wong tells the story of their first experiences serving the steaks to Wong’s diners. In the beginning, seven out of ten plates would come back because the steaks were too tough. Grass-fed beef tends to be leaner than grain-fed, and to compensate, Lum was aging the beef for seven days. Dry-aging helps the natural enzymes in beef break down tough connective tissue. (Also, the water evaporation means the beef has a more concentrated and richer flavor.) Experimentation kept Doc aging the beef longer and longer, while Wong dealt with steak after steak being returned to sender.

“You gotta give Alan credit for sticking with us, instead of saying ‘take a hike,’” Dan says. 28 days proved to be the magic number. When the beef was dry-aged for 4 weeks, no plates were sent back.

I called him one of the last of the Mohicans. At a time when it is all about speed and turning over your inventory to make money, Doc stayed true to what he believed in.
— Alan Wong
Since those times of trial-and-error, NSCC beef has become wildly popular, unable to meet the demands of consumers looking for healthier and local beef. But it’s just now starting to turn a profit. Kay and Ryan Lum, one of Doc’s children, are looking for additional avenues of income, which include agri-tourism and purchasing a mobile slaughterhouse so they can process their own cattle, sell the offals that chefs are increasingly requesting, and rent the mobile unit to other ranchers with livestock.

Alan Wong with Doc and Kay Lum at a Farmers‘ Series Dinner.

Doc’s Legacy

The reasons Doc’s family and the kokua paniolos continue to work on the ranch are as much because they love being outside, fulfilling the romantic vision of being a cowboy, as they are to carry out Doc’s vision: making 100% Hawaii Grown Beef viable.

Ryan says his father’s “confidence in himself assured the rest of us that we were on the right track. That’s what we’re trying to live up to now that he’s gone.” They’re definitely big cowboy boots to fill.

As Wong says, “I called him one of the last of the Mohicans. At a time when it is all about speed and turning over your inventory to make money, Doc stayed true to what he believed in. It took him much longer to raise his cattle before going to slaughter...But he stayed with it and had long-term vision. He knew it was the right thing to do for him and the ranch...Today, the rest of the world is talking about grass-fed beef, and Hawaii is right up there because of Doc.”

Doc in the pasture with his cattle. Photo by Brad Goda.

North Shore Cattle Company’s beef is part of the Hawaii Seal of Quality program. For more information on Seal of Quality products, click on the logo.

Why grass fed?

Leaner, hence lower in fat and calories than grain-fed beef

Higher in Omega-3s, “good fats” that are more heart-healthy and have been studied to reduce the risk of cancer and brain diseases like Alzheimer's.

What's healthier for us is also healthier for the cattle. Cattle's stomachs are made for grass, not grain; feedlot conditions and a diet of grain often lead to diseases in the cattle.

Comments from Readers

  1. 541d800ebda395ac3f366eaff28456cc
    Carrie Oliver on 6/23/2009 at 7:32pm

    This is a wonderful story and thank goodness for people like Alan Wong who are willing to stick it out (financially and reputationally) to find the magic formula with grass-fed beef. The truth is, if you were to do a comparison tasting with grain-fed beef, you'd find some duds in the mix, too, especially if aging is less than 14 days. I wonder, has anyone considered the specific mix of grasses used in the finishing diet and/or other factors that might explain tough beef? I have to say that in 4 years of tastings, I have yet to find a grass-fed beef to be tough, as long as it's been aged (and cooked) right.

  2. D41d8cd98f00b204e9800998ecf8427e
    Martha on 6/24/2009 at 11:09pm

    So interesting! Another great rancher, Jack Spruance at Pu'u O Hoku Ranch on Molokai is experimenting with grasses and breeding to produce more tender beef. Wrote about his slaughterhouse ( http://honoluluweekly.com/feature/2009/05/grist-from-the-mill/ ), hoping to write more about him. His goal is to create beef so tender you don't need a knife. From grass-finished beef! Have you had anything like that?

  3. 7938a8bd2e93eecabe210202a662ad3d
    Evelyn on 7/18/2009 at 7:56am

    This one rips at my heart strings! Losing this line of business and watching the feed lot at Campbell go under was hard for me since my roots are on the West side. So much has gone away over the last 20-30 years. It does my heart good to see an article like this one. I so need to get my butt out to the North Shore! I'm afraid I've been negligent in that area.

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