The Legacy of Cattle Ranching in Florida: A Historical Overview

February 27, 2023   |   Cattle

In this Monday Morning Market Update, Shea Booster covers the history of cattle ranching in Florida and its numerous challenges dating back to the 1500s.

Cattle ranching has a long and storied history in the state of Florida, dating back to the 1500’s when the first documented cattle grazed across Florida’s pristine land. On March 3rd, 1845, Florida gained its statehood. While cattle continued to rule the palmetto plains, cattlemen ruled the legislature. From Florida’s inception, well into the 1900’s, cattlemen drove both cattle and policy in Florida. Today, it remains an important industry, providing jobs, economic growth, and nourishing food for consumers across the state and beyond. According to the Florida Beef Council, Florida has approximately 15,000 cattle producers, with the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services reporting 1.69 million head, including dairy cattle as of January 1, 2021.

The History

Historically, Florida ranchers have endured many hardships including extreme heat, natural disasters, and numerous species of insects, arachnids, and predators. Luckily for the State of Florida, cowboys and men are two different breeds and Florida’s cracker cowboys were up for the challenge. From the 1910’s through the 1950’s, the cattle fever tick devastated herds across Florida. To combat this tick, the State of Florida mandated the dipping of cattle into arsenic vats every fourteen days. In the 1930’s, Henry O. Partin, an Osceola County cattleman and 1980 inductee in the Florida Agricultural Hall of Fame, introduced the Brahman breed to Florida. Brahman cattle are especially suited for Florida’s extreme heat and are equally resistant to many bugs and ticks, thanks to their abundance of loose skin and the oil it secretes. Although times have changed, challenges for the Florida beef industry remain present.

According to the Florida Farm Bureau Federation, the cost of production for Florida cattle ranchers has risen significantly due to rising feed costs, transportation expenses, and land values. The University of Florida IFAS reports that Florida cattle ranchers are also contending with the challenges of extreme weather events and drought.

Throughout the years, the cattle industry has remained resilient. Year after year, cattle sales in Florida generate over half a billion dollars with the top producing counties, Okeechobee, Highlands, and Osceola, leading the way. The state's high-quality beef remains in demand, as consumers across the country recognize the value of Florida-raised beef. Cattle production is not only a vital piece of Florida’s economy, but of its own preservation and conservation. Florida’s trademark beauty and native plants thrive on Florida ranch lands and many conservation easements are home to a multitude of cattle herds.

                                                                                                Source: Bronson Cattle & Timber

Real Estate

The real estate market also plays a significant role in the state's cattle industry. As land values rise, it becomes increasingly important for ranchers to work with knowledgeable brokers when buying or selling ranch land. Many of the advisors at SVN | Saunders Ralston Dantzler have experience with livestock and care about the legacy of the land. We understand the unique needs of ranchers and can help connect them with the land they need to operate their businesses and live the dream.

The state of the cattle industry in Florida is complex, with challenges and opportunities coexisting side by side. But one thing is clear: the industry is an important part of both the state's history and economy, and it will continue to be so for years to come. Whether you are a rancher looking to expand your operations, or a buyer looking to invest in Florida's cattle industry, working with a knowledgeable broker at SVN | Saunders Ralston Dantzler is key to success.

Bonus Content

If raising cattle is your livelihood, a passion, or even just an interest, considering giving A Land Remembered by Patrick D. Smith a read and view some of Frederic Remington’s artwork, Cracker Cowboys of Florida.

 A Land Remembered is a powerful, work of historical fiction that spans three generations and explores the history of Florida through the eyes of one family, the MacIveys. It is a tribute to the cattle industry, the power of owning land, and the importance of family. It is a must-read for anyone interested in Florida's history and the rich culture of its ranching communities.

Frederic Remington was an American artist and sculptor known for his depictions of the American West. However, he also spent time in Florida, where he became fascinated with the Cracker Cowboys, the state's own unique brand of cowboys. During his time in Florida, Remington produced several paintings of the Cracker Cowboys, including the famous "'A cracker cowboy" which features Morgan Bonaparte “Bone” Mizell. Despite his fame for his Western-themed artwork, Remington's contributions to Florida's cultural heritage should not be overlooked. His depictions of the Cracker Cowboys have helped to preserve their legacy and the state's cowboy culture.

Special thanks to Dusty Calderon for his contributions to this article. As a 6th generation Floridian from Osceola County, he brings a wealth of both experiential and historical knowledge to SVN | Saunders Ralston Dantzler. You’d be hard pressed to find a more passionate cattleman in the Sunshine State.

Shea Booster
As a trusted and experienced land advisor at SVN | Saunders Ralston Dantzler Real Estate, Shea's career allows him to work at the intersection of his two greatest passions: people and agriculture. He is an expert in the real estate market with a passion for connecting farmers, ranche...