Florida’s cattle industry is steeped in history, and the week-long, once-a-decade Great Florida Cattle Drive this January was a great way to celebrate that history. I had the privilege of joining the historic drive through the heart of Florida for the final leg of its journey.
When it was all said and done, several hundred participants, all with varying levels of experience, drove more than 400 head of cattle close to 60 miles to relive and recreate a historic Florida cattle drive. To make it authentic, participants dressed in 19th century style clothing, slept in the fields at night and took turns as “cow hunters.”
In fact, the U.S. cattle industry, the largest producer of beef in the world, can trace its roots back to Florida. Cattle ranching in Florida, and the country for that matter, began when Spanish explorers introduced horses, cattle and other farm animals in the early 16th century.
Native American tribes and other early Floridians quickly adopted cattle ranching and grew it into an important industry, and a way of life. From this humble and fragile beginning, cattle ranching became one of our state’s most valuable cultural and economic activities. Today, Florida not only has more than 1.7 million head of cattle, it is home to some of the most productive and storied ranches in the country, including the largest cow-calf operation in the United States.
Thanks to the Great Florida Cattle Drive, participants from around Florida, the country and the world have been able to see the important role beef cattle production has played in our state’s history, and the role it will continue to play in our state’s future.