Title: 1995 Ag-Environmental: Bright Hour Ranch
Type: Agricultural-Environmental Leadership Award
A summer storm brings rain to South Florida, leaving behind one of agriculture's primary management tools. Water is the lifeblood of any farming operation, and is the keystone for effectively managing all aspects of the Bright Hour Ranch -- especially wildlife. Water projects are planned to maximize their benefit to natural habitat.
Rowdy Bateman: Management, I guess, is simply combined with a love of the land and dedication to seeing that the species we now know survive for generations; we've been able to construct artificial areas to enhance this water quality area. We have several retention areas which we plan to further enhance the game life with. These make an abundance of area and habitat for a lot of upland game birds which we're extremely proud of.
A weir has created several hundred acres of wetlands that provide water for wildlife during dry months. Culverts with header boards allow for adjustment of water level and flow.
Bright Hour Ranch is a 45,000-acre commercial cow/calf operation, citrus and sod production venture located in DeSoto County. It has approximately 17,000 acres in improved acreage. But its the remaining 28,000 acres of native pasture that spotlight Bright Hour's commitment to wildlife preservation and enhancement. Deer, wild hogs, turkey, quail, sandhill cranes and ducks can be seen in abundance here. Cara-cara and burrowing owls also call the ranch home. The growth of the alligator population in recent years has been remarkable.
Calvin Houghland: There are a lot of species that have become extinct and a lot of them on the endangered list. So we think that even down to the smallest bug, really, they have a place here. And we just try to make the place safe for all wildlife.
The ranch employs many methods to enhance the natural habitat. Mowed game trails weave throughout the ranch, allowing game to travel easily from heavy brush to open areas and back again. Along the trail are plots of prescribed feed, wild oats and native peas. Woods are burned on a rotational basis to enhance habitat.
In agreement with the Game and Fresh Water Fish Commission, the ranch also has three hunting preserves, providing for careful management of various wildlife populations.
A new 23-acre retention pond will enable water to be lifted out of the ranch's 500-acre citrus grove into the retention area. The pond will provide an additional water source for wildlife.
Rowdy Bateman: We try to do what is right. We always try to look at how it is going to affect the land, the ranch. That's the important thing. There are a lot of intangibles working on a ranch like this. You've got to have a true love and a feel for the people, the animals, the property, what's right and what's wrong; we like to think that we have at least our share of common sense.
Under the direction of Calvin Houghland, who acquired the ranch in 1964, the spirit of family continues to be the guiding principle of the Bright Hour Ranch. For more than eight decades, this idyllic setting has been home for generations of family members and employees, many of whom, like Z.A. Browning, were born and grew up on the ranch.
Z.A. Browning: I've really enjoyed it all my life. It's just part of my life. I just love the environment here on the ranch, that the main thing.
Bright Hour Ranch constantly looks to the future, whether it's protecting wildlife or preparing future generations to carry on the ranch's philosophy. The Bright Hour Ranch Family Scholarship Fund enables long-term employees' family members to attend a college or university. Two students are now pursuing their studies thanks to this program.
Rowdy Bateman: We're very proud of the things we've done. We're even more proud of the things we hope to do in the future. Those things would be the preservation of the abundance of wildlife that we have, the natural beauty of a place like Bright Hour. There are very few of them left. It's up to us to preserve them. There's nothing prettier than a sunset or a sunrise on Bright Hour. It's something I wish everybody in the world could see at least once.