A brief look at Florida’s oldest industry — cattle ranching

A brief look at Florida’s oldest industry — cattle ranching

| Commissioner’s AgriCorner |

This April, Florida celebrates 500 years since Juan Ponce de Leon landed in St. Augustine and became the first European to discover our great state. Not long after the Spanish discovered Florida, they introduced cattle to the New World and established Florida’s oldest industry – cattle ranching. [emember_protected custom_msg=”Click here and register now to read the rest of the article!”]

In 1605, Florida’s first private ranch began operation. By 1700, Florida was home to 34 ranches and 20,000 head of cattle. The largest of the ranches, La Chua, was located near present-day Gainesville.

British raids at the beginning of the 18th century dealt a devastating blow to the missions and Florida’s budding cattle industry. It took years for the cattle industry to begin to recover. But when it did, it was built, once again, around the hardy Spanish cattle, which had become a permanent part of the Florida landscape. These durable animals, later known as Cracker cattle, played an important role in the state’s agriculture until well into the 20th century, when they were replaced by bigger breeds.

Today, Florida’s cattle industry is still going strong. The state ranks 10th nationally in the number of beef cows, with 940,000 head.

This year, the Florida Cattlemen’s Association unveiled a new exhibit at the Florida State Fairgrounds in Tampa celebrating Florida’s oldest industry. “Florida Cattle Ranching: Five Centuries of Tradition,” tells the story of Florida’s cattle ranching from the early Cracker cattle introduced by the Spanish to the present day in an interactive way. The exhibit features both audio and video stations, photos, hundreds of artifacts, and even a mounted cracker cow.

Thanks to the Florida Cattlemen’s Association, “Florida Cattle Ranching: Five Centuries of Tradition” allows Florida’s future leaders to see the important role cattle has played in our state’s first 500 years.

CREDITS

column by COMMISSIONER ADAM H. PUTNAM

photos courtesy of the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services [/emember_protected]