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Crescent J Ranch

The Crescent J Ranch is a working horse and cattle ranch, located adjacent to Forever Florida and integrally involved with Forever Florida in ecological education and preservation of native Florida land and species. For more information on various aspects and efforts of the Crescent J Ranch, please read the history below or click on a link to read about a particular topic.

History
William J. Broussard, M.D., is a 10th-generation cattleman from Louisiana. His ancestor Joseph "Beausoliel" ("beautiful sunshine") Broussard was the leader of the French Resistance in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick in the 1750's and 1760's. Those French-speaking farmers wished to remain neutral in the wars between the French and English and refused to take an oath of allegiance to the English King. They were therefore expelled from Canada and eventually ended up in Louisiana, a French possession at the time. Beausoliel intended to take his followers back to Canada via the Mississippi River, but died of yellow fever, leaving them to become, eventually, “Cajuns.” He also left his family many head of cattle. He had a contract to supply beef to the French army. The Broussards have been in the cattle business in Louisiana ever since.


Dr. Broussard and family moved to Florida from Germany upon discharge from the U.S. Army in 1967. The ranch, which did not have a name then, was owned by Dr. Arthur Tedford and Homer Denius, a founder of Florida Tech in Melbourne, FL. Mr. Denius sold his 50% undivided interest to Dr. Broussard in 1969 and Dr. Tedford sold his 50% in 1970, except for a 200-acre portion now occupied by Camp Illahaw, an airstrip, the zipline station and an animal interaction area.

Dr. Broussard on Pretty Boy Cresent J Ranch Pasture

Charolais Cattle
Dr. Broussard's father, Alphé A. Broussard, first learned about a breed of French cattle that was exceptional in beef production in about 1947. He bought some cross-bred bulls from Ben Burnside of North Louisiana, but decided he wanted purebred. He learned that the only herd of full-blooded Charolais cattle in North America was in Mexico. This was The Foundation Herd of Charolais Cattle in North America.

It was a long and arduous process to bring those cattle to the Broussard Flying J Ranch in Louisiana, but Alphe Broussard managed to accomplish it in spite of great opposition from the Mexican Government and some Texas cattlemen.

Charolais in winter coats
in France, c. 1935
Charolais adapted to Florida heat

Dr. Broussard's new ranch in Florida did not have a name. He wanted to name it Flying J Ranch but that name was already registered in Florida, so he chose the name Crescent J Ranch because the brand is very similar. The 32 Charolais brought to the Crescent J from the Flying J were therefore part of the Foundation Herd. Their descendents are now the only registered remnants of the Foundation Herd.

Spanish Colonial (Cracker) Cattle
In 1521 Juan Ponce de León and a few soldiers brought the first cattle and horses to Southwest Florida to establish a colony, but the Calusa Indians attacked, delivering a mortal wound to Ponce de León, driving the Spanish off and taking their cattle and horses. The cattle and horses have been in Florida ever since.

In 1990, Dr. Broussard purchased 12 cows and one bull ("Bulldozer") from the State of Florida. They were certified to be pure descendents of the Spanish cattle and registered as "Cracker" cattle by the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy. (See the websites www.florida-agriculture.com and The American Livestock Breeds Conservancy.) Other registered Cracker cattle have been added to broaden the genetic base of the Crescent J herd, and the herd now numbers in the hundreds. Some are taken to slaughter for use by the Cypress Restaurant and some are sold to market every year.

Spanish Colonial (Cracker) cattle Bulldozer and harem

The Crescent J herd is the largest herd of registered Cracker Cattle in the world. They are more true to the original colonial cattle than other descendents of those cattle such as Texas Longhorns because their reproduction was natural rather than being controlled by people. In Texas, where the terrain is open, cattlemen who liked long, straight horizontal horns selectively bred cattle with that feature.  In Florida, our dense woods contributed to a natural selection of horns that curve up and back rather than stretching out to the side.

Texas Longhorn steer
on Crescent J
Florida Cracker steer
on Crescent J

Steers are cattle that were born bulls, but were castrated at some time. Most are "steered" (or "cut") when they are weaned, as were the two pictured above. This removes the source of testosterone, the hormone that would normally make them mature into bulls. Testosterone controls many things about the growth and development of normal male animals. It "tells" bulls, at about two years of age, that it's time to quit putting so much energy into growing and start putting it into reproduction, which includes, in unmanaged breeding such as in the Crescent J Cracker herd, fighting or otherwise asserting dominance over younger or weaker bulls. Therefore bulls' horns are short and thick. (See Bulldozer's horns above.) Steers' horns are shaped more like cows' horns, only much bigger, as unlike bulls, steers don't stop growing, and their horns don't stop growing, either. The largest cattle and the largest horns on the Crescent J Ranch belong to steers.

Cracker Oxen
Oxen are cattle used as draft animals. Sometimes, especially in other countries, cows are used as oxen, but usually, oxen are steers that were allowed to grow as bulls for eithteen months before being castrated. That gives them more muscle, but still makes them more manageable than bulls. They need a lot of training before they can be hitched to a wagon. The Crescent J Ranch has the only pair of working oxen in Florida and the only pair of Cracker oxen in the world! They were picked out as little calves because they looked alike and were already friends – always playing together in the pasture. They were put in little halters connected by a 10'foot rope, so got used to not being totally free even while still calves. They were not fully trained until they were about five years old.

Efrain, kids and oxen, 2007 Oxen in November, 2008

Spanish Colonial (Cracker) Horses

The largest herd of registered Cracker horses in Florida, therefore in the world, is also on the Crescent J.

Pretty Boy, Foxy and son Cracker horses on Crescent J

Other Crescent J Horses
There are other horses on the Crescent J besides the Crackers. There are Quarter Horses for working cattle and for trail rides, although Cracker Horses are also used for both. There are Belgian Horses used as draft horses, and there are miniature horses used for children's pony rides, as pets and also to pull a little sulky-like cart.

Rotational Grazing
In 1979, Dr. Broussard learned about a system of managed grazing that could increase the herd carrying capacity of available pasture by about 50%. This is accomplished by dividing the pastures into grazing cells and rotating the cattle through the cells every day or two. The size of the cells is determined by head count. He divided all the pastures on the Crescent J with solar-powered electric fences in order to implement this advanced system of managed grazing.

The cattle quickly learned the routine and are always ready to move immediately into each new cell in its turn. They eat everything in the cell instead of wandering around a large pasture, picking out their favorite grasses. When they leave that cell, all the grasses begin to recover at the same time. When the cattle are rotated back into that cell a month or so later, all the grasses are fresh, instead of some being old and dry. This not only makes better use of all species of grass in the cells, but also spreads the manure around the entire area, as the cattle don't just go in the afternoon to their favorite spots to lie down, chew their cuds and when they get up, drop their manure where it becomes a source of polluted water that could drain into canals or creeks and eventually into some source of drinking water.

Ecological Maintenance

Restoration/Maintenance Of Wetland Ecosystems
Before the cattle were fenced out of the wetlands on the Crescent J, most of the native ferns and underbrush were eaten and trampled into the mud. Simply fencing the cattle out made a huge difference in those ecosystems, allowing them to recover.

Fenced & restored wetland Osceola turkeys near restoration

Hydrology
Florida has been ditched and drained for more than a hundred years, lowering the water table and depleting both shallow and deep aquifers. Most cypress domes, saucer-shaped wetlands forested with pond cypress trees, had ditches cut into them to allow timbering and grazing. On the Crescent J, efforts have been made to reverse the destructive effects of draining by allowing the ditches to degrade or plugging them. As a result, the local water table is rising and the cypresses are regaining health.

Alligator Habitat
Alligators have recovered from near extinction to the point that most bodies of water again have alligators in them. The size of the lake, pond, canal or waterhole determines the size of the resident gator. Large lakes could harbor many alligators, though we will never see the reptiles in the numbers that the first European and American explorers of Florida saw.

Bull gator
(credit Bill Crotts)
Two gators
(credit Steve Wagner)

The Crescent J has a number of ponds that have been dug to supply fill for roads and building sites. These ponds were purposely dug deep enough to provide habitat for alligators. Some have been stocked with fish and frogs. Canals, ditches and ponds are occasionally cleared of vegetation when plants have become too dense, as alligators need some open water. The dug ponds have islands with a few trees and shrubs to provide safe nesting habitat for wading birds. Alligators in the ponds protect the islands from bobcats, coyotes, dogs and raccoons. Even panthers and bears will avoid swimming in alligator-populated water.

Two islands in a 2002-dug pond in December, 2008

Exotic/Alien Plant Control
Florida has many invasive species, both plant and animal, that out-compete native species, mostly due to the lack of the controlling species which usually did not come with them from their homelands. Plant species are often spread by deer, feral hogs and machinery which has been working where seeds and roots of those species can get into the machinery and travel to new locations.
Some of the most troublesome invasive exotic or alien species on the Crescent J are Tropical Soda-Apple, Cogongrass and both Asian and European (Old World) Climbing Ferns. Brazilian Pepper has not yet become a problem, but every year, it comes closer geographically, especially along highways. Vigilance is essential.

All invasive exotics must be fought whenever and wherever they crop up, as soon as possible, to prevent them from spreading out of control. An occasional Tropical Soda-Apple and Canadian Thistle can just be dug up, but if they become established, large patches must be sprayed with herbicide, as must Cogongrass and the Climbing Ferns. Climbing Ferns can be prevented from taking root in wetlands if water is kept at a depth sufficient to keep the roots flooded. That is enough reason by itself to restore the hydrology in the cypress domes and sloughs.

Herbiciding Cogongrass Climbing Fern

Native Plant Landscaping

Trees
About 130 thousand trees of native species have been planted on the Crescent J Ranch since 1990. Live Oak, Southern Magnolia, Southern Red Cedar, Bald and Pond Cypress, Longleaf, Loblolly and Slash Pine make up the majority of those native Florida tree species, but Tupelo, Water Hickory, Pignut Hickory, Water Oak, Swamp Bay, Swamp Chestnut Oak, Sand Live Oak, Chapman's Oak, Turkey Oak, Hercules Club, Acacia, Mulberry, Cabbage Palms and Sweet Gum have also been planted in their proper locations to restore disturbed habitats.

1991 Live Oaks
in December, 08
1992 Magnolias
in December, 08

Shrubs And Vines
Walters Viburnum, Cherokee Plum, Simpson's Stopper, Wax Myrtle, Beauty Berry, Blackberry, Shiny Blueberry, Fringe Tree, Saltbush, Palmetto, Firebush, Passion Flower Vine, Cross Vine, Trumpet Vine, Coral Honeysuckle have increased the population of butterflies and other native Florida insects, as well as Ruby-Throated Hummingbirds.

Grasses, Aquatic Plants and Wildflowers
Eastern Gamma (Fakahatchee) Grass, Muhle Grass, Wiregrass, Love Grass, Lopsided Indiangrass, Toothache Grass, Chalky Bluestem, Giant Bluestem, Duck Potato, Pickerell Weed, Spatterdock, Lotus, Narrow-Leafed Sunflower, Jacob's Aster, Tickseed (the Florida State Flower, Coreopsis levinworthii) Black-Eyed Susan, Indian Blanket Flower, Blue Flag Iris and Horsetail (Scouring Rush) have been planted around the Visitor Center and other places.

1993 pine restoration in 2008 1993 grasses restoration in 2008

Wading Bird Rookery
When a low spot in a pasture was dug into a lake and the dirt made into an elevated pad for a Visitor Center for guests, an island was left and dirt added to it. Wax Myrtle, Cypress and Cabbage Palms (Sable Palmetto)were planted on it. Ten years later, White Ibis, Cattle Egrets, Great Blue Herons, Anhingas, Limpkins, Green Herons and Black-Crowned Night Herons have turned that island into the rookery that was envisioned when it was constructed. Shortly before sundown each evening, the incoming flocks wheeling around the rookery before settling make a dramatically beautiful display.

Island Rookery Incoming!

 


Crescent J Ranch Services


For information on cattle and horse sales through the Crescent J Ranch, please contact Cynthia Davis at: Office 407-892-5010, Mobile 407-908-4206 or Email CDavis@FloridaEcoSafaris.com


Cracker Horse Yearlings


Cracker Horse Yearlings


Cracker Horse Yearlings

Own Your Own Part of Florida's Equine Heritage!


Equine-Assisted
Therapy Programs

Conducted by Dr. Sandra Wise and Dean Van Camp. Visit the Equine Education Center Pagefor more details or contact Dr. Wise at DrWise@DrSandraWise.com


 
 
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