Purebred, pricey and precious
CHRISTY SWIFTWAUCHULA - Marcus Shackleford's herd stands out a little more than most. The striking white-colored cattle with the distinctive hump lend an exotic look to the quintessential Florida landscape on his Wauchula ranch.
Published: October 16, 2012
Published: October 16, 2012
These are purebred Brahman cows and bulls, heat tolerant and often bred with Angus to create the popular Brangus cattle currently found on most Florida ranches.
The cows are friendly, too. With a few honks of the horn, they come running, some kicking up their heels in excitement. Shackleford can even get out of the truck and pet some of them.
The 67-year-old started Rocking S Ranch with his wife, Linda, in 1970. A graduate of the University of Florida with a degree in animal science and a master's in administration and supervision, Shackleford was born in Avon Park and grew up in Wauchula. His family "goes eight generations back on one side and six on the other" as far as Florida ranching goes.
"One of my great-great grandfathers was the first man to have cattle east of the Peace River," Shackleford grinned.
Growing up in the 1950s, Shackleford said his family had between 40 and 60 Brahman bulls. But in the late '50s, early '60s, when pastureland became improved, more Hereford and Angus cattle were crossed with the Brahmans to produce Braford and Brangus cattle.
Shackleford thought he'd continue with a commercial cattle operation, but when it came time for him to inherit his portion of the land, the extensive family ranch had been split into pieces. Finding himself limited in land, Shackleford opted to use his education to specialize in the breed that originally hails from India.
On Shackleford's office wall is a framed family tree of a Brahma bull going 10 generations back. The bull sold for $1 million.
"That's how important some of these animals are," he said. They are difficult to breed because the limited gene pool allows many opportunities for defects and undesirable traits.
"Raising Brahmans is one of the hardest things I've ever done," said Shackleford, who's been doing it for 40 years now. "I just didn't want to give up," he said.
Shackleford now uses artificial insemination to ensure the traits he wants in his calves and exports cattle all over the world. His 80-100 head of cattle is probably considered a larger operation than most in Florida, he said.
There's been a relatively recent revival in the breed because ranchers are beginning to realize they don't have enough Brahma in their herds, and the cattle are suffering for it, he said.
"Sometimes these calves have too much 'English' in them. They don't do as well. They don't gain," explained Shackleford.
This past president of the American Brahma Breeders Association (ABBA) loves his purebred Brahman cattle because "they are so essential to our area."
Shackleford judged cattle for almost 30 years, ran his family's grocery store in Wauchula for 25 years, and even taught vocational agriculture for a stint.
In 2012 he was inducted into the prestigious ABBA Hall of Fame. He's served on their board for 30 years.
These days, Shackleford works his own cattle with help from wife Linda and one hired hand. The Shacklefords are planning to host an ABBA event on their ranch later this year.