Carlton 2x4 Ranch
Few structures and fewer fences stood on the pastures when they were purchased in 1978 -- the 5,700-acre piece of tame grass was virtually a clean slate for the new owners. Albert Carlton and his wife, Dr. Barbara Carlton, saw an opportunity to do something that few ranchers today have the chance to do -- build a diversified and self-sustaining ranch from scratch. More than that, these dedicated conservationists dreamed of creating a ranch that was not only economically viable, but also environmentally sound.
Seventh-generation Florida agriculturists, the Carltons knew they would need the help of skilled ranch managers to achieve their goal of creating a treasure for their grandchildren -- the ninth generation. They hired Pat and Brady Pfeil, experienced cattle people and knowledgeable rangeland managers, whose sons, Brad and Orin, would grow up on the ranch.
Combining the Carltons’ vision and the Pfeils’ expertise, the Carlton 2x4 Ranch, located south of Arcadia in DeSoto County, was designed with the long term in mind. Cattle and land management were integrated, with a strong emphasis on encouraging the presence of wildlife. Water controls and fences were erected where they would best utilize forage resources 20 years into the future.
The Carlton 2x4, one of Florida’s first brucellosis-free ranches, is home to more than 1,000 head of Brangus cattle. The ranch, always at the forefront of cattle production under Brady and Pat’s management, has kept extensive computer-based information on the cattle since 1980. This record keeping has allowed the Carlton 2x4 to become a source-verified supplier of beef. Maintaining ownership of its herd all the way through processing -- a practice new to Florida’s ranchers -- demands extra care.
"If there is a good or bad part about our product it will come back to us and we’ll know about it," Pat Pfeil said. "How we handle our cattle in the pens, how well we protect them against diseases, and what type of genetics we use -- every bit of that we’re accountable for all the way to the table. That’s going to become more important as we look at international pressures from various diseases coming in. Now it goes right down to food safety issues, so we feel really good to be out on the forefront in that area."
The 2x4 is also a pioneer of rotational grazing. Balancing the number of cattle in relation to the amount of acreage and frequently moving the herd prevents overgrazing of pastures. This protects the forage root system, allowing the pastures to regenerate.
To help the quality of the forage, the 2x4 is working with the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) on a project to increase legumes in their pastures. By feeding legume seed through mineral, the cattle will introduce it into the pastures with the lowest impact possible. An earlier project with the NRCS helped the ranch reduce its fertilizer application by 80 percent.
In 1987, the ranch diversified further by converting some of its flatwoods to citrus groves. To ensure health to the ecosystem, the 2x4 embarked on a long-term study of its water quality with assistance from the state of Florida. The ranch hired an engineering firm to design the 640-acre grove, and was permitted by the South Florida Water Management District.
The design used state-of-the-art technology for precise control of water flow, including under-bed drain tiles and a system of canals to feed a reservoir. More than 10 years of water quality testing have established that water leaving the system shows no trace of pesticides or herbicides. In fact, it’s the source of drinking water for the cattle herd -- another testament to its quality.
As a water-saving measure, microjets deliver water directly to the roots of the trees. Small amounts of liquid fertilizer are injected through this system many times during the year, allowing the trees to use the fertilizer more efficiently.
Tensiometers monitor the grove’s moisture level, and help determine when to irrigate. Irrigation is performed at night to avoid evaporation. Scouting the groves enables Brady to know when to apply pesticides. This allows targeting specific pests, which helps maintain a better biological balance.
The Carlton 2x4 Ranch has demonstrated that intensive citrus production and a healthy ecosystem can go hand in hand when Best Management Practices are applied.
As part of its long-term plan, the ranch has established 160 acres of cypress in recovered wetland areas. Stands of long leaf and slash pine have been planted as both a renewable resource and a source of wildlife habitat.
Of paramount importance to the 2x4 Ranch was the preservation and conservation of wildlife. Dr. Carlton, an avid hunter since childhood, has encouraged the Pfeils to give significant attention to increasing the variety and amount of wildlife on the ranch. Working with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Pat and Brady have established a balanced deer herd. Turkey and dove populations have flourished. Some improvements come slowly.
"The quail is in steep decline in all parts of the United States," Dr. Carlton said. "I’ve made a commitment to try to reverse that on our ranch. I’ve not been successful although I’ve been working at it for about 15 years, having gone from predator control, to planting feed plots, burning, chopping -- all the recommenced procedures. But I think the quail decline issue is far greater than just habitat management. So we’re trying to just increase any type of wildlife or water fowl on the ranch in any way we can."
For the better part of 20 years the Carltons and the Pfeils have combined efforts with research groups and regulatory agencies, finding ways to enhance the native habitat, maximize the wildlife potential, and improve agricultural practices.
"I feel honored to be called a steward; I feel honored to be called a cattleman," Brady Pfeil said. I try to remember to thank the Lord daily for the job that He’s given me here to be a steward. To have a place to raise my kids."