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History of Florida Grass-Fed Cattle Ranching

Author: Christiane Roget

There was a time a century ago when there was no need to distinguish between ‘Grass Fed’ and Cattle Ranching in general. All cattle were Grass Fed in Northern Florida as well as anywhere that cattle were raised.

While the French bovine, the Parthenais, preemed and flourished throughout France and Ireland during the exhilarating European Renaissance; the New World was blazing another trail of cattle history.

Most Floridians, let alone a tourist passing through, would NOT associate the ‘Sunshine State’ as the oldest epi-center of Cowboy and Cattle culture in the New World. The Florida ‘Cracker’ like the cattle breed of the same name, traces its ancestry to Spanish stock brought to Florida in the 1500’s.

Motivated more by ‘greed’ than ‘need’ cattle history was unfolding in the region known as Nuevo Florida by a ragtag group of inveterate Explorers, who were trading in their aim to settle and civilize for a more immediate return on their endeavors, that is to pillage and plunder.

In 1521, Ponce de Leon and his 400 explorers brought Andalusian cattle, sheep, and horses to Florida. Plans to establish a settlement were abandoned. :


(A)s the intrepid Conquistadors prepared to return to the Old World with treasure heisted from the native populations they were forced to leave behind the cattle, horses, and hogs.

They abandoned stock that flourished wild in the new terrain making Florida the oldest cattle-raising state in what became the United States of America.

No other colony in the nation participated in the cattle-raising process until the Pilgrims brought cattle to America in the early 1600’s.

For the record, the Spanish settlers had a difficult time in those early days. Although there was ample grazing land; they were challenged with mosquitoes, ticks, storms, swamps, snakes and Indian raids. It was no picnic.

However, they prevailed and by 1700 cattle ranches were a common site along the Panhandle and to St. Johns River.

As more people began to make Florida their home, transportation became an issue. Once the railroad was introduced to Florida the 1800’s transporting livestock became less cumbersome and the beef industry began to grow.

New towns began to appear. The cattle industry was one industry where jobs were readily available. There was a need for stores to sell goods, blacksmiths to tend the livestock and cowboys to manage the herds.

Agriculture played an essential role in Florida’s economic prosperity. For almost 500 years, the cattle industry has contributed significantly to Florida’s flourishing and natural resources.

Many generations of family ranches and landowners have cared for the land, provided employment for many residents and contributed greatly to the local tax base.

Today, Florida is becoming more populated because of the climate, attractions, recreational activities and natural resources. This rampant urbanization is contributing to the loss of many natural habitats and depletion of the water table. Combined with the dredging of one of the world’s last remaining natural wonders, the Everglades and Lake Okeechobee are gasping at the altar of progress and expansion.

This urbanization is contributing to the loss of many of the cattle ranches in Florida. With real estate values going up, it is difficult for the landowner to pass up the opportunity to make a large profit on their land. The cattle business is no cakewalk, cattle ranching is a difficult business and the profit margins are slim at best.

Cattle Have Clout

The cattle industry plays a major role in the agricultural culture.

According to the Florida Cattlemen’s Association, “cattle ranching significantly supports Florida’s interstate economy and provides jobs as well as beef”.

In addition, the cattle industry supports a vast network of associated businesses. These allies include (but are not limited to) feed companies, heavy machinery corporations, and fertilizer manufacturers.

“This integrated web of economic organizations helps create jobs and business opportunities in Florida. Additionally, Florida’s cattlemen have been strong supporters of Florida’s youth and culture. From county fair displays to scholarship contests, Florida’s cattlemen have worked diligently to give back to the communities they serve,” according to George Fischer.

Not only does the cattle industry provide food, jobs, and support to the economy, it is also a business that benefits the environment. In today’s world, landowners are conscientious of the environment and how fragile it is. They contribute greatly to the land they manage and the wildlife that lives there. They utilize best management practices on their land regarding conservation.

A historical footnote. *

The French Parthenais Herd Book was established in 1893 and is one of the oldest in France. In 1970, the breed society established a stringent program of breed improvement with particular emphasis on the production of the highest quality beef. Today this program continues unabated with Arrowhead Beef stock attaining the status of ‘elite’ cattle