Florida Cattle Ranchers

I was recently invited to a day-long event at the Lightsey Cattle Ranch in Lake Wales Florida. This 4000+ acre ranch is home to more than 10,000 head of cattle and owned by brothers Cary and Layne Lightsey. The event was to showcase 13 members who make up the new company known as FCR, or Florida Cattle Ranchers LLC. FCR is committed to marketing locally produced beef “from conception to plate” so consumers know where their beef is coming from and know the folks behind the ranching.

The main reason we started this is because we’ve had people call and ask if they can buy one of our animals,” Lightsey said. “People today want to know where their food comes from.

I pulled up to the ranch about a half hour before the sun came up. I introduced myself to Layne who was already out working in one of his barns. We made small talk for a few minutes before we loaded up into his Ford F-350 Dually and slowly made our way across the ranch. Numerous times did we stop to open a gate crossing from various types of vegetation depending on what section of the ranch we were on.

Layne wanted to get to edge of Lake Kissimmee so we could watch the sunrise from the shoreline of this giant lake that his ranch surrounds.

As we sat in the truck, not really allowed to get out due to the large herd of swamp cattle, or woods cattle as he called them, that sat keeping an eye on us, I sat listening to stories from this life-long cowboy of ranching on this property for multi-generations. I honestly could have sat in the truck listening for the rest of the day and would have been completely entertained, my only regret is not have a recorder because the stories were so good, loaded with so much detail, it would be impossible for me to re-tell them in his grandeur.

If you’ve ever read the book A Land Remembered (Highly, Highly Recommended!) it was like sitting there listening to the words from the author himself. Mr. Lightsey was telling us stories of riding out in search of woods cattle when they simply roamed the area openly. Pushing cattle for days to bring them to market. Things you don’t normally think about when you think of touristy, beachy Florida, not realizing that Florida was the first state in the Union to have cattle. It was Florida’s first industry and there are some 15,000 cattle ranches in the state of Florida. Most do not realize that 9 of the countries 25 largest cattle ranches are in the Sunshine State and of this industry, 500 MILLION dollars, yes that number is correct, was spent last year alone.

The rest of the day was spent meeting and talking with the Reputation Ranchers, those who have multi-generations working on their properties. One rancher we spoke with boasted that his father had worked with his grandfather on their ranch. He had worked with both his father and his grandfather and in the past few years he’s worked with his sons and his grandchildren in those same barns on the same property. These men are proud of what they do, they’re not afraid to put in hard work and they’re very proud to try and keep their hard earned money here in their own state and local communities.

Don Quincy of Quincy Cattle Company out of Chiefland, who is one of the partners in the FCR boasted that “It’s the first company in the state of Florida owned by ranchers and committed to delivering beef from calf to the supermarket.” The Florida Cattle Ranchers wants to grow their feed here in the state of Florida, they want to raise their cattle here; rather than ship it out of state to market where the cattle become stressed and lose precious weight, they’re in the process of working with investors to build and develop a Florida market that keeps everything here in our state.

The kick-off event also drew representatives of Florida’s environmental community, such as Charles Lee, a lobbyist for Audubon of Florida, who support the new business.

Audubon has a strong interest in the health of the Florida cattle industry because our ranchers are our best stewards of the land,” Lee said. “Anything that supports the viability of the industry and keeps it able to resist selling land to developers is a good thing for the people of Florida. You have to have a viable cattle industry as the first line of defense against development.

It was an eye opening experience and one I was very glad I attended. Surprisingly enough, it was also an eye opener as to how small this country or ours is. Throughout the day, I met numerous people I’ve met in the past, all in different places around Florida. Many knew us from the Tiki Bar and asked how Cedar Key was doing even though we were 3.5 hours south. I talked with another rancher who told me he was from Okeechobee. When I asked if he knew Reed Durrance, the rancher we met back in March of 2009 who opened his property to us and allowed us to experience his way of life for a few days, he laughed and said “Oh yeah, I know Reed, he’s a very good friend of mine!

I’d like to thank the 13 ranchers who make up the FCR for starting a company I hope many people will support. It would be good to see every state have something similar to this in hopes the industries keep their money local and help support their own economies. You’d be amazed at how many efforts are made to keep things local and reuse products you’ve probably never thought of.

When talking with Layne, he explained that the local supermarkets like Wal-Mart and Publix bring any produce that has spoiled to their ranches. There they feed the produce through what would be compared to a monstrous food processor that chips everything up into what looks like a giant slurry. They spread the slurry out into drying beds before mixing it up with grain to be fed to the cattle.

When I asked what another pile of very odoriferous substance was, Layne explained that the local breweries bring their spent malts and grains to the local ranches after they’ve cooked all the alcohol out. This is also dried before being mixed up with feed to be fed to the cattle. It’s really recycling at it’s finest and something that’s being done that not too many of even know about.

The afternoon ended with a cattle drive showing up how they move the herds from one side of the property to the other the old fashioned way. Simply pushing them while the cowboys ride their horses and the dogs do their jobs. It was an amazing day and one I’ll never forget. Good people, amazing sights and to think it’s all right here in this amazing state that most only think of Mickey and a bikini on a beach. There is so much more to offer from this great state and it’s heritage. Be sure the next time you’re visiting your local butcher that you ask if you’re buying Florida Fresh Beef!

Cattle Ranch, Florida Cattle Rancher, Lightsey Cattle Company, Bonish Photo

Cattle Herd standing along the shoreline of Lake Kissimmee on the Lightsey Cattle Ranch

Cowboy, Florida Cattle Ranchers, Bonish Photo

One of the youngin’s running to see his grandmother who had just come out of the house

Branding, Florida Cattle Ranchers, Bonish Photo

Heating up the Brands

Bull, Florida Cattle Ranchers, Bonish Photo

I dare you to climb over the fence

Florida Cattle Ranchers, Bonish Photo, Cowboy,

Letting the horses have a drink during the cattle drive

Lightsey Cattle Company, Florida Cattle Ranchers, Bonish Photo, Cowboy

Cooper Lightsey sitting on the front porch of the Cattle Ranch

Florida Cattle Ranchers, Cowboy, Bonish Photo

The Florida Cattle Ranchers and their Brands

Cowboy, Whip Cracking, Bonish Photo, Florida Cattle Ranchers

Showing off the Whip Cracking Skills

Cattle Drive, Florida Cattle Ranchers, Bonish Photo

Cattle Drive

Branding Iron, Florida Cattle Ranchers, Bonish Photo

Mikayla of Warner University working the branding iron

Swamp Cattle, Lightsey Cattle Company, FLorida Cattle Ranchers, Bonish Photo

Swamp Cattle at Sunrise

Lightsey Cattle Company, Cattle Drive, Florida Cattle Ranchers, Bonish Photo

Pushing Cattle across the Lightsey Cattle Ranch

Ken Griner, Florida Cattle Ranchers, Bonish Photo

Ken Griner, president of Usher Land and Timber Inc., a Chiefland cattle rancher and Florida Ranchers partner

Cowboy, Saddled Up, Bonish Photo

Cowboy, Florida Cattle Ranchers, Bonish Photo

Young Cowboys enjoying a cool drink on the Lightsey Cattle Ranch

Lightsey Cattle Company, Florida Cattle Ranchers, Bonish Photo

Watching the Sunrise from the shores of Lake Kissimmee

Lightsey Cattle Company, Florida Cattle Ranchers, Bonish Photo

Lightsey Cattle Company

Lightsey Cattle Company, Bonish Photo, Florida Cattle Ranchers

Sunrise on the Lightsey Cattle Ranch

Don Quincy, Donna Sharp, Quincy Cattle Company, Bonish Photo

Don Quincy of Quincy Cattle Company with Donna Sharp

Lightsey Cattle Company, Bonish Photo, Florida Cattle Ranchers

Multiple generations of cowboys pushing cattle along the Lightsey Cattle Ranch

Cattle Drive, Lightsey Cattle Company, Florida Cattle Ranchers, Bonish Photo

Cowboys lined up ready for the Cattle Drive

Branding Iron, Florida Cattle Ranchers, Bonish Photo

Working the Branding Iron

Florida Cattle Ranchers, Cowgirl, Bonish Photo

Tending to the Horses at Sunrise on the Lightsey Cattle Ranch


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7 Responses to “Florida Cattle Ranchers”

  1. Aunt PatApril 26, 2016 at 7:16 pm #

    Loved the picture of the Brahma cows. When we lived on Walker Farms as kids they were always in the back half right behind our house. There was a big climable tree just over the fence & we all climbed it knowing if the cows came back this way we would be stuck up there as they would lay under it for shade. John & Joe often waited to long & would have to run like hell to get over the fence–they were probably 4-6 years old.

    • Pat BonishApril 26, 2016 at 7:31 pm #

      I remember hearing these stories as a kid 🙂

  2. Jodee GravelApril 27, 2016 at 3:01 pm #

    I admit I sure don’t think of cattle ranches when I think of Florida! What a great post – definitely entertaining and educational. I owned a small ranch in norther CA for several years and your photos bring back wonderful memories. Watching the sunrise from the barn while feeding the horses…..I can smell all those wonderful smells. Love the young cowboys 🙂 Sounds like an enterprise worthy of support for lots of reasons. Thanks for sharing.

    • Pat BonishApril 27, 2016 at 8:40 pm #

      I’ve always thought it would be neat to own a working ranch, but WOW, would it be a lot of hard work

      Glad you liked the post

      Safe Travels

  3. Natalie LowersMay 11, 2016 at 5:20 pm #

    As a Florida Native and the daughter of a farmer I can certainly relate to this, the pictures are beautiful, thanks for sharing your experience with us. As I was reading this I thought of the book “A Land Remembered” so glad you mentioned it.

    • Pat BonishMay 11, 2016 at 5:49 pm #

      Thanks Natalie and glad you can relate. “A Land Remembered” is one of my all time favorite books and I’ve bought it for numerous friends to read. Its the same way I found the book, as a gift from a friend who could not believe I hadn’t read it.

      It should be required reading for anyone who lives in Florida!

      Take care

  4. Carol WagnerNovember 20, 2016 at 7:15 pm #

    When we lived in Daytona Beach in the 70’s, we knew Florida was one of the largest beef producers. We thought that had disappeared with “progress” in the years since. So happy to have found your blog and that the cattle ranches still exist. Will be proud and happy to support them. So glad to be back in Florida! Also want to get back to visit Cedar Key!

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