The breeders perpetuate the history, the family legacies

A Cracker calf winds its way through the pastures of JB Ranch as the rest of the herd takes shade. PHOTO BY MARIE WOZNIAK

It is the story of two ranches.

They’re completely different, but each gives a brief glimpse into the ranchers’ way of life and a window into the ecosystem services they provide – benefits conservationists see as critical to protecting Florida’s remaining ranches from development. These are just two of the more than 15,000 cattle ranches, large and small, that make up Florida’s 500-year-old cowboy culture.

Blackbeard’s Ranch, Manatee County

Splish Splash. The cattle coming our way on Blackbeard’s Ranch almost looked like they were fording a river rather than a flooded pasture. A 4 inch rain had soaked the ground the night before, leaving them to wade through chest-high water.

This 4,530 acre cow / calf farm is in the town of Myakka, about an hour from downtown Sarasota, but you would never know it. At the end of an indescribable entrance road, a vast expanse of what looks like a Florida savanna opens up, stretching to the horizon and a line of trees marking the state park boundary. of Myakka River.



The herd of around 20 cows and calves grew closer and closer, with a small group of cowboys and their helpers keeping them in line. The colors of the cattle and cowboys on their horses were bold and crisp against the bright morning light as they strolled through their own reflections in the water.

Jim Strickland sat in the driver’s seat of a swamp buggy, watching them approach, sometimes shouting directions. He is the Managing Partner of Blackbeard’s Ranch. He also owns Strickland Ranch and is a managing partner of Big Red Cattle Co.

These cattle were directed to a pen where sufficiently old calves would be separated and taken to the Arcadian cattle market, he explained. These were Beefmaster cattle, but the ranch also has other breeds, including nine African Watusi cows, with the largest horns of any cattle in the world, he said.



There was also Julie Morris, Florida and Gulf Programs Manager for the National Wildlife Refuge Association. She and Mr. Strickland work together in the Florida Conservation Group, a nonprofit organization that advocates for funding for land conservation and protection of natural and agricultural lands. Mr. Strickland is Vice-Chairman and Ms. Morris is a member of the Board of Directors. The group helps people secure conservation easements on their ranches or woodlots.

They also host occasional educational events at the ranch, bringing together elected officials, environmental groups, cowboys and others to talk about common ground between them, conservation easements and tell the story of sustainable ranching. .

While we were talking, a sudden “Crack!” looked like a firecracker exploding in the background. A few more sentences in the conversation, then “Crack! After the third time, it was realized that this is the cracking of the cow whip that you read, the sound that gives the name to the Cracker Cowboys.

The whips, about 12 feet long, are typically made from materials like parachute rope these days instead of leather, Mr. Strickland said. This makes them last longer and less prone to snacking from barn rats, mice, and other critters.

Mr. Strickland has so far known what one might call a colorful life. He has seen his share of tragedy and can tell his share of stories.

Her father died of an accidental gunshot wound at the age of 17. His grandfather, Andrew Jackson Strickland, died breaking a horse when Jim’s father was 13. The horse reared up with him in the front yard and fell back, dragging a small brass saddle horn into his chest which killed him, Mr Strickland said.

He was struck by lightning twice while working on ranchlands. In previous years, he ran Strickland Exports and shipped cattle around the world, including Russia, China and even the Sultan of Oman, he said.

As we went along, Ms. Morris spoke about the different habitats on the ranch. It is a flat pine meadow / woodland system, with wet and dry meadow, improved pasture, marshes, oak hammocks.

We stopped to take a look at Dancing Moon Marsh, where a small alligator was basking by the water’s edge.

Like many other ranches, Mr. Strickland has to branch out to pay the bills. Side food at Blackbeard’s Ranch includes a small weekend beef business, Miakka Prairie honey, Mangalitsa pigs, and guava jelly.

Mr. Strickland said he owns 15,000 to 20,000 acres of land under leases, management and partnerships. Approximately 1,700 acres of this land are under conservation easements, including a wetland easement on Blackbeard’s Ranch.

It has won numerous environmental awards, one of the most recent being the National Cattleman’s Beef Association’s 2019 Environmental Stewardship Award for the Southeast Region.

What makes him remain a breeder?

It could be as simple as too many Roy Rogers and Gene Autry shows, he said. He could jump in the weeds and talk about Willie Nelson’s song, “My Heroes Have Always Been Cowboys,” but the point is, it’s true, he said.

“Almost 60 years later, I can almost tell you the kind of boots the guys wore that were the real cowboys who worked with daddy,” he said. “I can almost tell you what shirts they were wearing, what color their raincoats were, what their stools looked like. I’m not going to dig into it and say it’s in my DNA. You know, I don’t know if it’s true, but was I raised around this? Yes.”

JB Ranch, Collier County

JB Ranch is what scientists and environmentalists talk about when they say ranches are mosaics. The nearly 10,000 acres south of Immokalee are a predominantly green and gold mosaic, with improved pastures, dry meadows, native grasslands, wetlands, and woodlands, including cypress hammocks. .

JB Ranch is owned and operated by Aliese “Liesa” Priddy and her husband, Russell.

The ranch is considered by some to be about as pristine as it gets for a ranch, one of the closest to what nature’s original pasture landscapes

Florida once looked like. When you visit, the expansive beauty makes you catch your breath.

The land extends to the northern border of Big Cypress National Preserve. The ranch is bordered to the east by Hendry County.

“You go to his ranch and it’s like you’re out in the wild,” said Julie Morris, Florida and Gulf programs manager for the National Wildlife Refuge Association. “It’s right next to Big Cypress and it feels like you’re in Big Cypress.

The ranch won the 2021 Florida Cattlemen’s Association Environmental Stewardship Award. The group cited sustainability initiatives such as installing seven solar-powered wells to provide water to livestock waterers, creating 650 acres of water reservoirs for water retention and conservation. water, prescribed burning, and weed and brush management. Ms. Priddy also has a conservation easement on 1,167 acres of her land.

“It’s kind of a confirmation from your peers that you are recognized in your own industry for what you do,” she said. “And you know, that means a lot.”

Entering the ranch from one side of the road, oaks dripping with Spanish moss line part of asphalt, part of dirt road leading to a pasture with a small herd of Florida Cracker cows. They are direct descendants of the line of cows that Ponce de León brought to the shores of southwest Florida near Charlotte Harbor 500 years ago. The line nearly died out until a few were saved for a new founding herd in the 1970s.

They are half the size of a commercial, horned cow known for long life and high fertility. By the time of our visit in September, 11 new calves had been born with more to come, Ms Priddy said.

“I think they’re really cool. And being able to participate in the preservation of this history, I think, is really special, ”she said. The rest of the cattle on the ranch are Brangus, a cross between Brahman and Angus.

The ranch has been in her family for three generations, Ms Priddy said. The Collier family first owned the property and leased the hunting rights from their grandfather. The grazing rights were leased to two other men with the first initials of J and B. Hence, JB Ranch.

The property was put up for sale after a death in the Collier family, and her grandfather bought it, Ms Priddy said. It was in the 1940s.

As we walked through the ranchlands, wild turkeys came through the pastures. In another area, you could see small herds of deer leaping through the woods. In yet another area, two pairs of sandhill cranes roamed the prairies. The habitats all unfolded under a sky full of puffy clouds. Ms Priddy said she had also seen endangered white pelicans, roseate spoonbills and Florida panthers. The ranch sits in the midst of prime habitat for panthers. Mrs. Priddy believes that the population has rebounded well, that there is a “carrying capacity” of the land for the panther and that her land has reached it. Environmental groups strongly disagree. The debate continues.

While most of the nearly 10,000 acres look like natural Florida, they’re not spared. At first, the Colliers allowed logging, she said. There are dirt roads winding all over the place. The majority of the roads were built before her grandfather bought it, Ms Priddy said. In 1955 his grandfather made a deal with a rock mining company and there is still active mining going on.

There is another diversification to help pay the bills. It has partnered with a hunting outfitter and offers deer, turkey and alligator hunting during the season. Another source of income comes from the rented land that she provides to a local farmer to grow vegetables.

Ms. Priddy does much of the cowboy work herself. How does it feel to be a breeder operating in a world where men are predominantly ranchers?

“I grew up in a family that didn’t really make you feel like you had limits on what you could do. We just expected you to always do your best, ”she said. “I’m not going to say that all male ranchers embrace female ranchers as much as I would like.

“But I think ranching people in general, whether they are male or female, are some of the most great people you can find in terms of work ethic, personal ethics, to be, you know, sincere and honest. I think most breeders still like to think that any deal sealed with a handshake is as good as any signing on a contract. ??

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