Florida’s earliest cattle ranches date to the 1600s, on the Alachua prairie near present-day Gainesville, and lasted about a century. During the 1800s, cattle raising spread from Alachua through Central Florida. During the Civil War Florida provided much of the beef for the Confederate armies. After the war, ranching continued to expand southwest into the Peace River Valley. In the 1910s, ranchers started vat dipping to rid cattle of ticks, and imported Brahman bulls to produce hardy, disease-free cattle adapted to the subtropics. By 1940 Florida had become a leading beef producer. Open-range ranching finally ended in 1949, when the state passed a fencing law. Since then selective breeding and herd-management improvements have made Florida a major cattle-producing state.

Today, medium and large ranches in Central and South Florida and smaller farms in North Florida raise cattle and employ cowboys. Florida’s ranching techniques have been specially adapted to the state’s subtropical climate. The tough scrub cattle of earlier years were a blend of Spanish Andalusian stock brought in the 15th century and British breeds from the Carolinas. To guide the cattle, Florida cowmen use dogs and crack whips in the air. This sound may account for the term Cracker, used to describe the state’s Anglo-American settlers.