|If you’re thinking it’s in Texas, Kansas or South Dakota, you’re wrong! Deseret Ranches is located in Central Florida and belongs to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church). It is located about 50 miles southeast of the Orlando International Airport and 19 miles west of Cape Canaveral, Florida and spreads over the three central Florida counties of Osceola, Orange, and Brevard. Covering almost 300,000 acres. From what I understand, about 90 ranchers and their families live on the ranch.
Every story has a beginning, and Deseret Ranch’s story began in 1947 when Henry Moyle was in Georgia on assignment for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The Church had a long history of self-reliance and providing for its growing membership, often at the frontiers of the nation. The Church had also owned some small farms that it used to feed people in need and was interested in owning additional farms or ranches. With some experience in agriculture and familiarity with the southeastern United States, Moyle proposed the idea for a large cattle ranch. Moyle tasked an associate, Heber Meeks, with finding a good piece of productive ranch land that would serve as an agricultural investment and a resource to feed people in times of need.
Meeks began looking for about 10,000 acres and before long found some property in central Florida with good potential. Moyle encouraged Meeks to continue his search and to target larger parcels. In 1949, Meeks identified 50,000 acres belonging to a timber company. Most of the pine and cypress had been harvested to the point of near depletion and with little thought of regeneration. The rest of the property was covered in swamps and palmettos.
Despite the property’s rough condition, Moyle and his team had a vision. In 1950, Moyle acquired the first parcels for the Church and within two years pieced together the core of the ranch, over 220,000 acres. Most of it was raw ground, with the old Carroll Ranch being the only part of the property with any pasture (about 4,000 acres) or homes (five). Grazing on the rest of the parcels was limited to native rangelands of poor quality wiregrass – where there was any grass at all. Infrastructure was almost non-existent, with only some sheds and a few miles of fence to support the fledgling operation. The sandy roads were often impassable by car for much of the year. This was long before the days of Disney World, and Florida’s population was a tenth of what it is today.
The heat, humidity, insects, and heavy rainfall required specially bred cattle that did not exist when Deseret was first founded. In fact, Deseret’s original herd was purchased from a local cattleman, John Partin. Partin said he had 3,000 cows on open range, but after 9 months he rounded up 7,000 for sale. Like most Florida cattle at the time, these cracker cows typically weighed less than 700 pounds, had conception rates of only 25% and had calves that weaned at 250 pounds. Four-hundred bulls were brought in from Texas to improve the genetics and a cross-breeding program was developed.
Ranch managers also realized they would need higher-quality grasses if they were going to improve production and began to work with universities to produce higher-quality varieties suitable for subtropical Florida. Deseret partnered with local ranchers and academics from the University of Florida to improve its breeding and production systems. That was the start of Deseret’s ongoing effort to produce cattle that are adapted to Florida while leading the industry in performance.
Gordon B. Hinckley, former president of the church has said, “We have felt that good farms, over a long period of time, represent a safe investment where the assets of the Church may be preserved and enhanced, while at the same time they are available as an agricultural resource to feed people should there come a time of need.”
The LDS Church does not disclose the revenue of the ranch, but it is known that in the year 2000 they moved an estimated 16 million pounds of calves. In 2008, Deseret Ranch discussed selling part of the property for a development near Orlando, Florida, but the proposed rezoning was withdrawn prior to approval. The Deseret Ranch also brings in revenue from the mining of native shell beds (which is used throughout Florida to pave roads), orange groves, hunting permits, and sales of ornamental palm trees. In 1997, it was the world’s largest beef ranch and the land was worth an estimated $1 billion! Wow… I was sent some great pics I wanted to share. You can visit their website HERE.