By: Matt Woolfolk, Commercial Marketing Director & Field Representative
The area around Lake Okeechobee is one of the most agriculture rich areas I’ve ever traveled. You can drive for miles with citrus trees lining both sides of the highway. Sugar cane fields are everywhere. Several of the vegetables in Southeastern grocery stores were harvested in this area. Perhaps the most exciting part of it all is the large number of cattle and the good name Beefmaster owns in the area.
For almost two weeks, I crisscrossed through the communities surrounding Lake Okeechobee to learn more about beef cattle production in this fertile region, as well as the role played by Beefmaster cattle. I was able to visit with both purebred and commercial producers, sale barn managers, pharmaceutical representatives, feed representatives and employees of the University of Florida, to try and get a complete picture of the business. You may not realize it, but Florida is big time cattle country. Four of the ten largest ranches in the United States are located in the Sunshine State. Florida’s cow herd is the twelfth largest in the United States.
Beefmaster cattle are popular among many of the larger commercial ranches in the Sunshine State. Time and time again, producers told me of how they admired the productivity of the Beefmaster female in the harsh summer climate. They complimented the cows for having a live calf, successfully raising it to weaning and breeding back. On several ranches, I saw cows that were born in the 1990s and are still raising calves! Multiple operations said they were keeping all the high quality Beefmaster-sired heifers that they could produce as replacement females. Beefmaster bulls were in use on several types of cows, from Brangus and Charolais-based females to the classic “Heinz 57” crossbred cow. Weaning weights on steer calves were coming in as much as 50 pounds higher than annual averages.
The University of Florida Beef Cattle Short Course was a great event for education and meeting more industry professionals. Sessions on market outlooks, reproductive physiology and a group panel discussion on the state of the industry in Florida highlighted the proceedings in Gainesville. This was an interesting event with a lot of useful information gathered both inside and outside the lecture halls.
If you ever get the opportunity, I strongly encourage you to make a trip to Florida and see Beefmaster cattle at work in the field. I also encourage you to fly down and rent a car; it’s a really long drive from Texas! You will gain a new appreciation for the ability of the breed to perform in a commercial atmosphere. The conditions for raising beef cattle in Florida are unlike anywhere else in the country. Luckily for us, our cattle thrive in these conditions. Beefmaster will continue to be in the spotlight in Florida for the foreseeable future!