The Range Cattle Research and Education Center (REC)
is Committed to Serving the Needs of the Florida Cattle
and Forage Industry

published in
THE FLORIDA CATTLEMAN AND LIVESTOCK JOURNAL
January - 2002

By Findlay Pate
UF/IFAS, Range Cattle REC

Up until the 1940's, most of south Florida was open range and cattle were grazed on native pastures with no fences. Cattlemen had long observed problems in cattle production on native range and recognized that it would require an organized research program to solve them. In the mid 1930's cattle producers worked with local state legislators to develop an agricultural experiment station in Hardee County. Florida legislative action in 1939 appropriated funds to open the experiment station. Cattlemen purchased 2840 acres of land near Ona and donated it to the State of Florida for the experiment station as part of the University of Florida's Agricultural Experiment Station system.

The research unit, first named "Range Cattle Experiment Station," originally worked on problems associated with cattle production on range, the resource most available at that time. During these first years of research, a mineral mixture was developed that cured the mineral deficiency problems affecting cattle in south Florida. That mixture called the "Ona Range Mineral" is still manufactured and used some 60 years later. Native range remains a significant resource to the Florida cattle industry, and the Range Cattle REC continues to research range management practices. Recently, supplementation practices and breeding season periods for cattle grazing winter range were evaluated and published.

The second Florida Fence Law in 1949 required ranchers to fence cattle off all roads. This immediately resulted in major changes in beef production practices in south Florida. Since fences were required, cattlemen began to use better management practices. These practices included rotational grazing, winter supplementation, planting improved grasses and legumes, pasture fertilization, controlled breeding seasons, and using superior beef cattle genetics.

The "Range Cattle Experiment Station" changed its research program to address problems related to modern beef production practices. Researchers worked to develop citrus pulp and other citrus by-products into cattle feeds. Research developed cane molasses into an excellent feed supplement for grazing cattle. Both of these Florida by-products were considered to have little value at one time. Today, dried citrus pulp is shipped all over the world as a cattle feed, wet and dry citrus pulp is used extensively as winter supplements in Florida, and cane molasses is a major component of liquid feeds, the most popular feed supplement used in Florida today.

The first Florida research using purebred Brahman bulls to cross with Florida native cattle was conducted at the Range Cattle REC. It was immediately recognized that Brahman crosses were greatly superior animals, with substantial improvements in cow reproduction and longevity, and exceedingly heavier calves at weaning. This one practice revolutionized Florida beef cattle production. Crossbreeding systems with purebred Brahman bulls and the development of Brahman-derivative breeds like Braford and Brangus are now main stays of the Florida beef industry. A popular cross breeding system in Florida today involves Brahman, Angus, and Charolais genetics to produce excellent feedlot cattle. This breeding program was designed and evaluated at the Range Cattle REC.

All improved grasses and legumes use by ranchers in south Florida were evaluated at the Range Cattle REC. The major ones are bahiagrass (80% of pastures), pangolagrass, stargrass, hemarthria (limpograss), annual ryegrass, white clover, and aeschynomene. Some newer forages currently being introduced are rhodesgrass, Suerte, Florona and Florico stargrasses, Florakirk and Tifton 85 bermudagrasses, carpon desmodium, Shaw creeping vigna, and Savanna stylo.

The Range Cattle REC worked extensively on improved fertilization practices. Today's ranchers are using considerably less fertilizer on bahiagrass, hemarthria, and stargrass with no reduction in forage yield or cattle production. Fertilizers cost was reduced 75% from that recommended 10 years ago. Reduced fertilization also has a positive impact on the Florida environment and water quality.

The Range Cattle REC has close relationships with many individuals, ranchers, and allied organizations associated with the Florida beef cattle industry. The day to day contact through visiting ranches, discussing problems, and sharing research information is most rewarding to its employees.

Many ranches and organizations have made contributions of gifts, time, advice, and use of their land. Bud Adams, of Adams Ranch, donated 250 Braford heifers in the early 1980's to the Range Cattle REC. Receipts from calf sales from these cows have revolved more than a million dollars into the annual research budget. Adams Ranch also donates funds to support research .

Deseret Cattle and Citrus has donated funds, cattle, and land resources to support numerous research projects. Land areas and cattle have been provided by Alico Ranch, Blue Head Ranch, Babcock Ranch, Carlton 2x4 Ranch, Pershing Platt Ranch, Corrigan Ranch, Mabry Carlton Ranch, Lykes Bros. Ranch, Barthle Ranch, Clemons Ranch, Buck Island Ranch, Immokalee Ranch, Kempher Ranch, Tucker Ranch, Williamson Ranch, and others too numerous to list.

To support our research program, companies have donated feed and health supplies on a consistent basis. U.S. Sugar Corporation and the Florida Molasses Exchange have donated more than 300 tons of molasses annually for the past 19 years. American Proteins has provided 25 to 30 tons of hydrolyzed feather meal annually for several years. Merial and Hoechst Roussel have donated many doses of dewormer and vaccines.

The Range Cattle REC has played an important role in the development of the Florida cattle industry. Many Florida cattlemen call the Range Cattle REC their research center. Thanks to the foresight of central Florida cattlemen who initiated its development long ago, and the continued support of the present day cattlemen and allied industries, the Range Cattle REC is truly the "Cattlemen's Research Center."