Tom Nordlie (352) 392-1773 x 277
FORT PIERCE, Fla.—Until 1948, it seemed that Florida cattle production would be forever limited by the state’s withering heat and humidity.
Then came Alto “Bud” Adams, Jr.
Adams understood the problem firsthand. Growing up on his father’s ranch near Fort Pierce he’d raised the small, hardy Spanish cattle Florida was known for — they tolerated the climate but didn’t perform well in the marketplace. Retailers and consumers favored improved beef breeds like the big Herefords that thrived in the Midwest.
In 1948, Bud Adams decided to develop superior beef cattle suited to Florida conditions by crossbreeding Hereford bulls with Brahman cows, a breed developed from Indian cattle to withstand hot, muggy weather.
“Those Hereford bulls came from Kansas, and they didn’t last long in this heat,” Adams said. “I wanted to try using the crossbred bulls as breeding stock, which was something cattlemen weren’t supposed to do back then.”
In the early 1950s, Adams sought advice from Marvin Koger, a cattle geneticist with the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.
“Dr. Koger said it would take about four generations of crossbred to crossbred matings to achieve uniformity,” Adams said. “By the fourth generation they were breeding 99 percent true to type, and I knew we were onto something.”
Bud Adams called his cattle Brafords and standardized them at 3/8 Brahman and 5/8 Hereford, he said. Heat-tolerant yet growthy, the animal became a favorite of Southern ranchers and one of the few recognized beef breeds developed in the 20th century.
Fifty years after he began developing the Braford, Bud Adams has become a symbol of Florida agriculture and its ability to cope with change. While adopting the latest scientific innovations, he remains a staunch conservationist. Known as one of the state’s premiere cattlemen, he has diversified into citrus production and ecotourism.
And despite half a century of accomplishment, Bud Adams remains focused on the future.
“Bud has foresight. If there’s a better way to do something, he’ll try it,” said Findlay Pate, director of UF’s Range Cattle Research and Education Center in Ona. “You can’t stand still in the cattle business.”
Over the years, Adams has tried, and popularized, many production methods developed by UF scientists. Pate considers him a valuable ally to the Ona center.
“When Bud Adams talks, Florida cattlemen listen,” he said. “Several years ago we found that you don’t need phosphorus amendments to grow bahia grass, the state’s most popular cattle forage. This was a break with tradition, but Bud followed our recommendations and other ranchers followed Bud. Everyone saved money and helped protect water quality.”
In the early 1980s, Adams donated 250 head of Braford cattle to the Ona center for research purposes, Pate said. After several generations of breeding, the Brafords now comprise about half of the center’s 1,019 cattle.
“Those Brafords have been vital to our research,” he said. “Through his generosity, Bud has helped IFAS improve the entire Florida cattle industry.”
Jim Handley, executive vice-president with the Florida Cattlemen’s Association, said Adams’ attention to the “big picture” is well known to the state’s ranchers. Adams was president of the association in 1958 and has remained active ever since.
“Cattlemen need to maintain a positive relationship with the community at large, and Bud emphasizes that,” Handley said. “He’s an outstanding spokesperson for our industry because he enjoys educating the public, and he’s very conscious of the rancher’s role in protecting the environment.
“Bud will tell you that it all starts with the land,” he said. “South Florida’s cattle industry is successful because the land here supports great forage grass, so it’s our responsibility to keep nature’s balance.”
Handley said Adams always looks to nature for solutions to ranching management problems. Rather than rely on chemical pesticides to kill insects, Adams promotes biological pest control using native predators. To keep pastures healthy, he allows them to “rest” after cattle have grazed for several weeks.
“Sustainability is becoming more and more important for ranchers,” he said. “Bud has been using it as the foundation of his business for decades.”
There are actually three Adams Ranch operations in Florida, located in Osceola, Okeechobee and St. Lucie counties, said Mike Adams, Bud’s second-eldest son. Mike is a third-generation University of Florida graduate and president of Adams Ranch, Inc. Lee, the eldest Adams son, manages the Osceola County ranch. Rob, the youngest, manages the Adams Ranch Citrus Company, known as ARCCO, based at the St. Lucie County ranch.
Best known of the three, the St. Lucie County ranch is where Bud grew up. His father, Alto Adams, Sr., an attorney and Florida Supreme Court justice, purchased the ranch in 1937 after his doctor advised him to spend more time outdoors, Mike Adams said.
Located near Fort Pierce, the 18,000-acre ranch is headquarters for the family business, where new ideas are first put into practice. Like the other Adams operations, the Fort Pierce ranch produces Braford cattle and sells them as breeding stock, but it also grows 2,000 acres of citrus and is home to a thriving ecotourism business.
“When we got into ecotourism it raised a few eyebrows,” Mike Adams said. “After all, this is a working cattle ranch. But Dad knew it was a good way to establish a deeper connection with the community.”
Since 1996, the Fort Pierce ranch has hosted tours from January through June, attracting about 9,000 visitors per year, he said. Traveling in open-air buses over dirt roads, they get a glimpse of the real South Florida.
The property looks much the same today as it did centuries ago, a blend of cabbage-palm hammocks and open grassland, Mike Adams said. Besides the dirt roads, fences and spring fed canals, there are few signs of man’s involvement.
Except, of course, for the cattle. Brick-red bulls, cows and shy calves are everywhere, sometimes temporarily blocking the roads, always staring curiously at human passers-by. A surprising number of cattle lounge in the noonday sun.
“Brafords are comfortable in the sun,” Mike Adams said. “The short, light-colored hair increases their heat tolerance.”
Cattle are hardly the only creatures present. Deer and wild turkey feed warily in the pastures, while red-shouldered hawks and sandhill cranes make appearances overhead. In the canals, wading birds, fish and turtles mingle, along with the occasional alligator.
Near the garage where the tour buses are stored is an ordinary-looking pasture that holds the next step in Adams cattle production. Known as ABEEF, they are a composite of Hereford, Brahman, Red Angus and Gelbvieh cattle, developed for faster growth and better muscling and marbling.
“In 1990, we started asking ourselves what improvements we could make for the 21st century, and this is the result,” Mike Adams said. “We sold our first ABEEF bulls last year.”
Tim Olson, a UF animal sciences associate professor, said that so far, the ABEEF cattle are fulfilling their promise. In the early stages of the ABEEF project, Bud Adams invited Olson and other UF beef production experts to a conference where he explained his goals and asked for input.
“They knew exactly what they wanted to accomplish to meet the needs of the marketplace,” Olson said. “And they had done their homework. Bud has been in this business long enough that he can anticipate the consequences of research developments and market trends.”
If Bud Adams doesn’t have a crystal ball to see the future of Florida beef production, UF animal sciences professor Roger West has provided him with the next best thing. Using medical ultrasound equipment, West can evaluate the carcass characteristics of live cattle.
By directing ultra high frequency sound waves into the animal’s body and electronically monitoring them, a sound “picture” is formed, he said. The results are then converted to visual data and interpreted by a technician, who can predict the size and quality of various cuts of beef the animal will yield. This information can help breeders maximize desirable traits.
“This sounds like science fiction to some people,” West said. “But when Bud heard about the method he immediately recognized its potential. Today, every Adams Ranch bull gets ultrasound analysis and we’ll probably start using it on the heifers soon.
“Bud is always looking a little further down the road,” he said. “That’s what keeps him on top.”