This is a tale of two ranches.
They are completely different, but each provides a brief glimpse into the cattle rancher’s way of life and a window into the ecosystem services they provide — benefits conservationists consider vital to protect remaining Florida ranchlands from development. They are only two of the more than 15,000 cattle ranches, large and small, that make up Florida’s 500-year-old cowboy culture.
Blackbeard’s Ranch, Manatee County
Splish splash. The cattle moving toward us on Blackbeard’s Ranch looked almost like they were fording a river rather than a flooded pasture. A 4-inch rain had soaked the ground the night before, leaving them plodding along in chest-high water.
This 4,530-acre cow/calf operation is in Myakka City, only about an hour from downtown Sarasota, but you’d never know it. At the end of a nondescript shell entrance road, a sweeping expanse of what looks like a Florida savannah opens, stretching to the horizon and a tree line marking the boundary of Myakka River State Park.