If you live in central Florida, then I'm guessing you might have cows for neighbors along with humans. If you have some cows as your neighbors, you're probably aware that Florida's cattle business is a national powerhouse, ranking in the top 12 states around the country for beef cattle.
However, because most of Florida's residents live within a few miles of the coastline and rarely venture inward, there's a large swath of the population that thinks cattle are not big business in the Sunshine State.
That's why the 6th Annual Ranch Rodeo Finals and Cowboy Heritage Festival is an important event. It provides a glimpse into the state's ranching way of life.
"The festival and rodeo highlight an industry that's been around in Florida longer than any other. The cattle industry has been here almost 500 years," said Dusty Holley, director of field services for the Florida Cattlemen's Association, the event sponsor, along with county cattlemen's groups.
The two-day event, to be held at the Silver Spurs Arena in Kissimmee on Sept. 27 and 28, "presents Florida's ranching and Cracker Cowman way of life to the rest of the world," according to a press release.
So just what do you do at a rodeo and cowboy heritage festival? For starters, there will be whip making (I could make a double entendre here, but I'll refrain), spur making, saddle making, cowboy poetry, swamp cabbage cooking, a beef cook-off competition, a Native American tribe encampment, a whip popping contest, and other family-friendly activities.
The executive chef for the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, Justin Timineri, will give cooking demonstrations with Florida ag products. Timineri will also help judge the beef cook-off (stand back, vegetarians).
There's a twist on the rodeo that will take place in the evening both days of the event. Attendees "will watch real ranch cowboys compete," said Holley. Sixteen teams from around the state have competed to make it to the Ranch Rodeo Finals. Rodeo events will include saddle bronc riding, colt riding, wild cow milking, branding, team doctoring, double mugging (should someone call the police?), cattle sorting, a stampede race, and a kids' boot scramble.
With all the fun of whip popping, double mugging, and more, people are surprised to learn that the cattle business is such a big part of the state's economy, said Holley. Another related fact: Not only is Florida one of the top states for beef cattle, but we're also home to Deseret Ranch, the largest cow-calf ranch in the U.S. The ranch's 300,000 acres span three counties. Although it's not the biggest ranch in the U.S. for its size (a ranch in Texas holds that honor), it takes the cake for the number of cows on site based on its size.
The Ranch Rodeo Finals and Cowboy Heritage Festival is free, but entrance to each rodeo performance is $10 a person. Kids 10 and under can attend the rodeo at no cost.
Last year's event attracted around 10,000 people, said Holley.