Meet 2024 Polk County Cattlemen’s Sweetheart Bailey Lightsey

Polk County Cattleman’s Association Trade Show and Ranch Rodeo. Bartow, Florida. 2024. (© Tom Hagerty)

photos by TOM HAGERTY

Every year, each Florida county names a passionate and deserving young woman as Cattlemen’s Sweetheart. These individuals dedicate themselves to representing and raising awareness of the Florida beef industry. Cattlemen’s Sweethearts go on to represent their county in the competition to be crowned Florida Cattlemen’s Sweetheart. 

This year, Bailey Lightsey takes the crown as Polk County Cattlemen’s Sweetheart. 

She’s an eighth-generation Florida rancher whose family owns and operates the Lightsey Cattle Company, a major Florida cattle operation with ranches across the state. In addition to helping with the cattle operation, Bailey, 21, also helps her father, Clint Lightsey, build cow fences at his business C. Lightsey Fencing. 

Bailey’s family also works with the charitable organization ODF, the Outdoor Dream Foundation. This organization works with terminally ill kids to take them on life-changing hunting trips where they can hunt for hogs, deer, and more. 

Bailey decided to run for Polk Cattlemen’s Sweetheart at the encouragement of her grandparents. Thanks to her lifelong history with the Florida beef industry, she was perfectly poised for the title. 

To claim the title, Bailey had to do a number of tasks, including filming herself riding a horse and carrying a flag to demonstrate her horseback riding skills and writing an essay explaining how she will promote the beef industry as Sweetheart. When the time came and Bailey received the honor, she was elated.

“I was so excited, I had my fingers crossed, praying the entire time,” she recounts. “Of course I thanked the Lord, I give every victory I have to him. Really, I couldn’t believe it was happening, it was a really surreal moment. I was so excited but so overwhelmed that I just started praying.”

From here, Bailey will be competing for the title of Florida Cattlemen’s Sweetheart on Marco Island at Florida Cattlemen’s Association Trade Show from June 18-20. To prepare, she’ll be selling raffle tickets, making gift baskets for the other sweethearts, and making a wreath that will be sold to support the competition.

At the competition, Bailey will meet with the judges, perform hand written tests, attend a luncheon with on stage questions, and give a presentation, as well as do an interview with the judges. The presentation is on any beef or cattlemen related topic, and Bailey will be focusing on history.

Bailey already has big plans for if she wins the title. 

“I’m already planning to go out to Vega, Texas, to visit a feed yard there,” she says. “The reason I chose that is that my family runs a cow/calf operation, but after they get shipped out, we don’t have much insight. So I’d like to go out there to learn, as well as teach them about what Polk County is like.”

Agricultural education is also important to Bailey, and she would like to continue going to schools and other events and teaching children about the beef industry, as well as educating shoppers about beef products in stores. 

Besides her work as Cattlemen’s Sweetheart, Bailey is currently studying Agribusiness at Warner University. She plans to continue working with her family business, as well as work to support and grow the local beef industry.

“We have eight generations running this beautiful land, and I don’t want to leave it. I want to continue it for future generations,” she says, adding “And I also want to help ranchers in general, not just myself. I want to grow the knowledge of the Florida beef industry.”

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