BY LAUREN CHASE (Montana Stockgrowers Association)
While scanning through Facebook one day, I came across this image and quote from YPC member, Ricky Booth and thought it is was a perfect way to sum up what it means to be a cattleman. That led me to want to find out more about Ricky and how he is involved with the beef industry. Let’s meet him on today’s Cattle Call feature…
What was life like growing up in Florida?
Besides hot, humid, and wet – it was great fun. When I wasn’t in school I was staying with my grandparents. Saddling up my pony and going cow-hunting (def. rounding up cattle) with the cowboys was how I spent my summers and spring breaks. Some of my fondest memories were the times I spent with my family working on the ranch. And when the work was done we enjoyed fishing for bass, catfish, and gators. Just like a normal kid I played football and baseball and just like a rural kid I showed 4-H market steers at the county fair. As a teenager our ranch became a refuge of sorts for my friends and I. We could get away from town and enjoy the woods. Although it didn’t limit the amount of trouble we got into, it just meant dealing with parents instead of the law.
In retrospect, I realize that growing up in central Florida was pretty interesting. Of course as a child I didn’t know anything different, but as I’ve grown older and traveled a bit around this great country of ours, including many rural destinations, it’s dawned on me that I have witnessed an extraordinary amount of change and experienced a great deal more of diversity than your average ranch kid. To put our area’s growth into perspective – my mother’s parents graduated from high school in 1935 and she in 1970. Her class was only slightly larger than that of her parents – 50 or 60 total in each, 2 high schools in the county. When I graduated in 1996 we had 350 in our class and were 1 of 4 high schools in the county. Today there are 7 high schools. Ranchland was gobbled up at a record pace through the late part of the last century and the first decade of this one. Many ranch families sold out, moved on, got smaller, and/or got out of the business all together. Folks from all over the U.S. and the world moved here during that time – most of them with no knowledge of our area’s history. I’ve been hosting a mini-version of the USFRA’s Food Dialogues since I was in elementary school. As one of the rural few all throughout school I was always called on to explain our county’s heritage and cattle industry. It can get tiresome to constantly converse in generalities to the agricultural illiterate about our business when all you really want to be discussing is a new vaccine program, calf prices, or new genetics you’re interested in. The traffic, the fewer ranchers, and the loss of most of our ag support industry are some examples of the not-so-good change, but it’s not all bad. World-class healthcare, fancy restaurants, top-notch attractions, new and technological advanced schools, the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico, and just about every retail store you could imagine are right in our backyard. The measurement I have found that has become universal for how rural you live is, “How far are you from a Wal-Mart?” We’re only about 12 miles, so not too bad. Except for the fact that we used to drive cows right through what is now the electronics department!
How did you decide to study Animal Science and how is that degree helping you now?
It was the only degree program that I had a passion for and with age I have realized that passion is extremely important – it is directly correlated to the degree of quality of anything you will receive or create in life. I started at Auburn University but transferred to the University of Florida after my freshman year. I have a passion for the state of Florida too.
My Animal Science degree is a continual benefit to me professionally, but not because of a specific course or professor. It was the immense broadening of my professional network that made it all worthwhile. My network is still expanding today…the snowball keeps on rolling. Now I am not saying that the classes I took didn’t provide valuable information or skills or that professors I had didn’t educate or inspire me – with hind sight though you understand the immeasurable worth of people and relationships.
My father is quoted as saying, “The best class we paid for was that internship.” That internship was completed at, what was then, Stevenson/Basin Angus in Hobson, MT. Aside from the great people I met and wonderful lifelong relationships that were created, the hands on experience in a place about as far from Florida as you can get in the contiguous 48 was tremendously significant when evaluating my overall educational experience. I gained new understanding about how the industry works outside the sunshine state, how to run an AI program, and that I really can’t handle cold weather.
DPR is one part of the original Heart Bar Ranch that my great-grandfather, Henry O. Partin, started in the early 1900’s. Henry O. was a commercial cattlemen and citrus grower to start, but in the 1930’s he decided to bring in a herd of purebred Brahman cattle from Texas. That decision changed the Florida cattle industry forever and would prove to have a profound impact on his descendants for going on 5 generations now. Partin Brahman genetics have been used all over the (warm-weather) world and are the base of 5 of the largest herds in the U.S. In the 1980’s the Heart Bar Ranch was split up between Henry O.’s 5 children and the DPR was created.
Today the DPR is primarily a commercial and purebred Brahman cattle operation. Our commercial cattle are made up, for the most part, of Hereford x Brahman and Angus x Brahman cows. Our herd is divided into 2 types of mama cows – Brahman-sired crossbreds and English-sired crossbreds. Brahman-sired females are mated with Hereford and Angus bulls and replacement heifers can be selected from this group. English-sired females are mated with Brahman bulls if replacement heifers are desired and Hereford, Angus, & Charolais bulls are used accordingly in terminal crosses. Our registered Brahman herd is truly a herd of beef-type Brahmans. While most of the breeders in the U.S. and the national breed association dedicate a majority of their time to the show-ring, we are dedicating our time and efforts to increasing the quality of beef production traits within our Brahman cattle. As the demand has grown in recent years for beef-production Brahman genetics so too has the demand for DPR genetics. We have stayed focused on creating the “right kind” of Brahman cattle for the commercial industry and we have been gradually increasing our herd size in response to the demand.
Since graduating from UF in the spring of 2001 I have been working full-time at DPR. I am the Brahman herdsman – responsible for all the breeding, media, marketing, sales, & genetic selection. My uncle Hank Partin is the general manager and his son, John, and my brother, Randy, complete the workforce. We are the whole crew, so from patching a broken wire to negotiating a sale, it all rests on our shoulders. There is no typical day here at DPR, but we are a typical central Florida cattle ranch. Our commercial calves are sold at weaning in the late summer/early fall. In the winter time we palpate and vaccinate our cows, cull cows, develop our replacement heifers & purebred Brahman calves, do quite a bit of prescribed controlled burning of rangeland, and complete most other task you don’t want to do in sweltering heat and humidity. We calve mostly mid-December through mid-March and as we move into springtime we being working through our cattle – castrating, sorting, turning out bulls, and AI work with the Brahmans. In the summer it is time for pasture management. We do a lot of mowing and herbicide spraying. Summertime also allows us to take advantage of our school-aged family members. We’ll put the kiddos to work as we vaccinate, deworm, and implant our calves then prepare them for shipment by sorting off pairs. Lots of time on spent on horseback throughout the entire year because our landscape and cattle don’t do ATV’s. And of course, marketing and selling purebred genetics is year-round as well. There are many other odd jobs, as folks in the business know, but that’s the most of it.
It is a blessing and I try to remind myself of that often. I am so thankful that my kids get to experience this way of life, even if it may not be for all their life or their children’s’ life. Those precious values we as parents are always striving to instill in our children seem to “come to life” on the ranch. Long, hard work is daily. Birth and death are ever-present. Patience is a prerequisite. Family is important and forever. If you ever have to go #2 in the woods don’t wipe you backside with Spanish moss – there are red bugs in it. And oh yes, enjoy life and have some fun!
All this instilling of ranch life values stuff hasn’t prevented my kids from being spoiled however. When you leave the ranch there is a whole other world central Florida has to offer – Disney World. Both my wife’s parents have worked there for over 35 years, so frequent visits by their grandchildren are a must according to them. I was just thinking back to a couple of weeks ago – my kids spent a day horseback with their dad, the next day at Disney, and then a day at the beach with mom. It’s a hard life growing up on a central Florida ranch you know!
What advice do you have for other young producers about making it in the beef industry?
Respect tradition, but do not be paralyzed by it. Your father, grandfather, uncles, and other veterans of the industry have great experience and vast knowledge. Do not discount what they know. But if you don’t have a willingness to adapt the industry will leave you behind. The old guard can be hard to crack. Stay determined, respectful, and patient.
Be involved. Our population is changing. It is going to take a concerted effort by all of us in agriculture to feed knowledge to those we feed physically. Staying in the woods or hunkering down on the ponderosa will not suffice. We all must fight the good fight.
Good business people take advantage of opportunities, great business people create opportunities. Don’t be afraid of trying something new, different, or out-of-the-box. Our country was discovered by bold explorers, founded by courageous forward thinkers, and prospered because of innovators and hard workers. The more bold, courageous, innovative, and hard working professionals the beef industry has the better it will be.
God, family, cows – in that order. I can’t imagine doing anything else. I love the cattle business, the people in it, and most of the work it takes to be successful at it. I love the fact that there really is no retirement – you just go until you can’t go anymore. Like being addicted to a drug our lifestyle ravages you body and mind. But unlike a drug addiction, which can destroy your soul, this business, this lifestyle strengthens and purifies your soul. Agriculture is primal and life sustaining. Being a part of it keeps you grounded in an otherwise crazy world.
Florida is no stranger to tourism. What is one thing you would want those tourists to know about the Florida beef industry?
Working as a local rodeo announcer I get the opportunity to speak with 200-300 tourists on a monthly basis. I stress to them that we not only have a deep and rich cattle ranching heritage here, but we also have a vibrant, unique, and economically & environmentally beneficial cattle industry that is alive and well. Most folks are genuinely surprised. Even more so when you tell them that several of the nation’s largest cattle ranches are headquartered in Florida.
Try explaining the whole beef industry to average folks and you’ll quickly see eyes glazing over. You’re speaking Greek when you start talking cow/calf, stockers, feeders, and fats. So I sum up Florida’s beef industry this way for tourist – Most of you know and love that western fed steak you get at a restaurant or buy at the grocery store. It is entirely possible that at some time or another you’ve eaten a western fed steak that was born right here in Florida.
And finally, what is your favorite beef meal?
I’ve been asked this question several times and I simply cannot answer it with one meal. So to follow the theme of my previous long-winded answers I’ll provide you with one more lengthy response on the final question. 1) Fried steak with rice and milk gravy. Now this meal is not on the NCBA’s list of healthy beef cooking options, nor is there anything safe about it. Although I consider it wholesome and if you were starving it would be nutritious. My wife, mother, grandmother, and aunts all do it very well – it is a required cooking element of all the women in the family. Lightly breaded steak, pan-fried in oil. Add milk and flour to the used oil and drippings to create the gravy and spread that atop a heaping helping of sticky white rice. 2) Oak wood fire grilled steak. This is more the men’s expertise. We use oak wood – a plentiful commodity in Florida – in an open fire pit, sprinkle a steak with just salt and pepper, then barbeque to medium rare (my preference). I’ve eaten steaks cooked liked this in the middle of the woods, or around the cow pens that a 5 star New York City restaurant couldn’t beat.
If I were to be on death row you’d have to bring me both for my final meal.