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Kenneth McClain


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Kenneth McClain
Series Title:
West Central Florida land use oral history project
Physical Description:
1 sound file ( 44 min.) : digital, MPEG4 file + ;
McClain, Kenneth, 1960-
Mansfield, Bill
University of South Florida Libraries -- Florida Studies Center. -- Oral History Program
University of South Florida -- Tampa Library
University of South Florida Tampa Library
Place of Publication:
Tampa, Fla
Publication Date:


Subjects / Keywords:
Land use, Rural -- Florida -- Manatee County   ( lcsh )
Ranching -- Florida -- Manatee County   ( lcsh )
Leases -- Florida   ( lcsh )
Oral history   ( local )
Online audio   ( local )
Oral history.   ( local )
Online audio.   ( local )
interview   ( marcgt )


Kenneth McClain, a rancher and a millwright, talks about the challenges of being a cow-calf cattleman who leases land in the Manatee County area. He specifically discusses land use by cattle men, leasing land for ranching, land owners selling land that ranchers are leasing, moving cattle, pasture maintenance, the beef cattle industry, developers and greed, rural development in Parrish Florida, and the migration of Florida farmers to Tennessee. He also discusses the history of land leasing in Florida.
Interview conducted June 26, 2007, in Parrish, Fla.
System Details:
Mode of access: World Wide Web.
System Details:
Streaming audio.
Statement of Responsibility:
interviewed by William Mansfield.

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Source Institution:
University of South Florida Library
Holding Location:
University of South Florida
Rights Management:
All applicable rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.
Resource Identifier:
aleph - 028592682
oclc - 182556439
usfldc doi - W34-00010
usfldc handle - w34.10
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This item is only available as the following downloads:

Full Text
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Kenneth McClain
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interviewed by William Mansfield.
Tampa, Fla. :
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1 sound file ( 44 min.) :
digital, MPEG4 file +
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West Central Florida land use oral history project
Kenneth McClain, a rancher and a millwright, talks about the challenges of being a cow-calf cattleman who leases land in the Manatee County area. He specifically discusses land use by cattle men, leasing land for ranching, land owners selling land that ranchers are leasing, moving cattle, pasture maintenance, the beef cattle industry, developers and greed, rural development in Parrish Florida, and the migration of Florida farmers to Tennessee. He also discusses the history of land leasing in Florida.
Interview conducted June 26, 2007, in Parrish, Fla.
Mode of access: World Wide Web.
Streaming audio.
McClain, Kenneth,
Land use, Rural
z Florida
Manatee County.
Manatee County.
7 655
Oral history.
2 local
Online audio.
Mansfield, Bill.
University of South Florida Libraries.
Florida Studies Center.
Oral History Program.
University of South Florida.
Tampa Library.
4 856


C O P Y R I G H T N O T I C E T h i s O r a l H i s t o r y i s c o p y r i g h t e d b y t h e U n i v e r s i t y o f S o u t h F l o r i d a L i b r a r i e s O r a l H i s t o r y P r o g r a m o n b e h a l f o f t h e B o a r d o f T r u s t e e s o f t h e U n i v e r s i t y o f S o u t h F l o r i d a C o p y r i g h t 2 0 0 7 U n i v e r s i t y o f S o u t h F l o r i d a A l l r i g h t s r e s e r v e d T h i s o r a l h i s t o r y m a y b e u s e d f o r r e s e a r c h i n s t r u c t i o n a n d p r i v a t e s t u d y u n d e r t h e p r o v i s i o n s o f t h e F a i r U s e F a i r U s e i s a p r o v i s i o n o f t h e U n i t e d S t a t e s C o p y r i g h t L a w ( U n i t e d S t a t e s C o d e T i t l e 1 7 s e c t i o n 1 0 7 ) w h i c h a l l o w s l i m i t e d u s e o f c o p y r i g h t e d m a t e r i a l s u n d e r c e r t a i n c o n d i t i o n s F a i r U s e l i m i t s t h e a m o u n t o f m a t e r i a l t h a t m a y b e u s e d F o r a l l o t h e r p e r m i s s i o n s a n d r e q u e s t s c o n t a c t t h e U N I V E R S I T Y O F S O U T H F L O R I D A L I B R A R I E S O R A L H I S T O R Y P R O G R A M a t t h e U n i v e r s i t y o f S o u t h F l o r i d a 4 2 0 2 E F o w l e r A v e n u e L I B 1 2 2 T a m p a F L 3 3 6 2 0


Land Use Oral History Project Patel Center for Global Solutions University of South Florida Interview with: Mr. Kenneth McClain Interviewed by: William Mansfield Location: Parrish, Florida Date: June 26, 2007 Transcribed by: Wm. Mansfield Edited by: Wm. Mansfield Audit Edited by: Kyle Bradford Burke Audit Edit Date: February 4, 2008 Final Edit by: Nicole Cox Final Edit Date: February 5, 2008 WM: This is Bill Mansfield from the Special Collections Library of the University of South Florida and McClain, here in Parrish, Florida on June 26, 2007. Mr. Mclain is a cattle rancher and we want to talk with him about pasturing his cattle and his response to urban sprawl. The first thing w e ask everybody to do is have them state their name and tell us when they were born and where they were born, so let her go. KM : My name is Kenneth Layton(??) or Leighton(??) Worth McClain and I was born in Jacksonville, Florida on May 24, 1960. WM: Okay I know that you ranch but you also have a day job, a regular job? eight years. WM: Wow! Okay, Tell me about your ranching operation. KM: Well, we run about oh fort y five, fifty head of mama cows in one herd. And at forty head of mama cows in the other herd. calf operation. The type of cattle [I have] are crossbred. The bulls are Beefmaster bulls. We feel that they are more heat tolerant and ten d to stay in the pasture a little better than some of the other breeds. calf operation is, could you explain that please?


2 KM: Yes. We actually take none of our cows to slaughter, unless we have issue s with them [like if] they quit calving or something. We raise the calves up we get about one calf a year per cow. The gestation period is nine months. And at about five months old, we use the one The [calves] are auctioned off and they are usually taken up towards Georgia, shots and [where they] ca strate the bull calves. They separate [the calves] out into herds that are similar size, similar breeding, similar body types. Then once [the calves] are conditioned for a few months they take them out west for them to become fattened and turned into beef. WM: Okay. So the cow calf means you have the cows and sell off the calves. KM: Sell y head. WM: Okay. Tell me about the land around here that you pasture them on. w a little bit at the time. You know, hold a few of our heifer calves back, for cows. And growing a cowherd up. ime something comes up we always either bid on, or I try to lease it, or something. We got up to about one hundred acres. A few months ago, a gentleman came to me and offered me a piece of land, because land I increased [our holdings] to eight little bit of it is rough land. every thing. I mean, per acre cost thousands of dollars to fence the land. effective just to go in and get you a one year lease, and fence it in. It just use acre per it can run [to] thirty to forty to fifty [acres] per cow, you know?


3 So, the cattleman is probably the best steward of the land, but he is probably one of biggest consumers of the land. WM: Okay. So the land that you have your cattle on is it leased or do you own it? n eleven acres and everything else is all leased. WM: How has urban sprawl encroaching suburbs, how has that effected your cattle operation? of the cattlemen. A lot of them just went flat out of it. There are very few and I know of none supplement their cattle operation with work. There might be some semi retired [m en]. time cattlemen left in Manatee County that I know of. rice, because of the tax deals too, you know? The landowner demands a certain amount of money from his land, belted" a as cow pasture and swamp; the best use to the county tax people might be ah four houses per acre. So, they have a formula they use and the taxes have risen quite a bit. And that kinds of r reasonable enough price to make some money. blame th make running cattle. WM: How long have you been ranching in this area? twenty four years. WM: Tell me about how it has changed her e since you started ranching. KM: Well, the houses have just filled in all of the gaps. I mean just between Parrish and Ellenton alone, literally every piece of property between here and there has been sold for


4 development [or] slated for development. Yes gone. I mean, because th WM: When did you notice that? When did it start effecting you? KM: About five years ago [2002] i t really seemed to really start turning on. We saw land prices just go from you know for years, in Parrish you could buy five acres for ten thousand dollars an acre, pretty easily. As a matter of fact, this piece [of land] right beside me sold for forty th ousand dollars just oh probably seven or eight years ago. And now, all of a sudden that same piece of property, over here, they want three hundred and twenty thousand dollars for it. WM: Mmm! It did it quick. When [prices went up] it went str aight out of sight. Some big landowners sold out. You know millionaires now. WM: Okay. So it was about five years ago that the development [was] starting, pushing in. How did that effect you? KM: It made leases extremely hard to find. You were always; it seemed like, behind the eight ball. You always found out about the lease after somebody else got it or after it got slated for development You were always [under] the gun. At one point it looked like we were going to have to cut our herd down to next to nothing. while. WM: And so I guess, if you ca n KM: Um much some of the other cattlemen. Mine, fortunately, was under contract. Tw o of the places that I had [leased] were actually under contract and they had put money down on them. When things went bad here, about a year ago, the ah buyers walked away from it. They lost more money than I will make in a lifetime on cattle, by walking away. But land that I could have bought six or seven or eight years ago for two hundred and fifty thousand dollars, for fifty acres, suddenly [sells for] three million dollars. (chuckles) But you know


5 in one place. KM: Right. And it happened very quickly too. This one piece of property that I leased amp in the back of it and [the any grass on it. ten years, somewhere near nine or ten years, and it was for sale. I underst and the [owner] put several hundred thousand dollars in the property and then walked away. I could have bought it for what he put down on it, eight or nine years ago. over there has got [a] hundred seventy you know. Actually leases are pretty well cutthroat or anything about it. Seems like when you get [a lease], you keep it. Unless you make the landowner mad, some way or anot her, or development moves in. But the new [There are] a lot of issues. SWIFTMUD [Southwest Florida Water Manage District]. You uite understand. They buy the land, then they take it out of the tax rolls and then they run the cattlemen off of it and then they start mowing it. WM: Well, it does seem like they could get more use out of it if they let cattle graze on it. or burn it or anything and here they got somebody willing to do it. The bombing range over there, Avon Park Bombing Range, they ha ve leases that are


6 but I got to admit, they lease everything they can lease and they do it right. They maintain the fences and prescribe how many cows you can put on it and they burn it. up to the plate. I em a long time to come around Duette Park and things like that. You take twenty, thirty, forty thousand acres out of the equation that k ind of hurts [the cattleman] pretty quick. KM: No. I was under the gun, twice in the last two or three years. In other words, there was land that I was leasing that was for sale and had sold but did not close. WM: Okay. KM: It got all the way to closing and the man that owned it I had already made a deal with the new land owner to continue leasing until he developed it and he called me about four days before the closing. I knew it before the realtor tha t he was not going to close. He was going to walk away from the table. WM: That must have caused some anxiety to think that the land you had your cattle on was going to be sold. What do you do in that situation? KM: Well you always try to negotiate with the future landowner, [to get] at least a few months to remove some of your stuff and let him know that you do have items on there; cows and fences and pens and stuff. So far the couple of times that it has happened, the owners, the future owners, or buyer s, were pretty cooperative. Because they knew they a while. One offered me the same lease, right on for another year or two, until he developed it. Then he backed out. That was the one that backed out four days before the closing. But, you know, I called him and told him I got a notice from a lawyer that I had thirty days to remove everything. I had a big set of cow pens on there that took me a week to pull off. I sai WM: Okay.


7 KM: He was very, very kind. And like I said, I knew before the realtor [did] that he WM: What about some of your colleagues? Have there been instances where the land was KM: Oh yes. WM: Tell me abou t that. KM: Um not WM: Uh huh. oper comes in and buys I know one guy that bought two hundred and some acres over here and as they developed it, he had to build new fence. Well, you know, when you go building a mile of fence ah about four or five thousand dollars to build a mile o to move, of course he re uses it I think two or three times now. I think of the original two hundred and twenty like I said very close. Within four days. (laughs) WM: Well, tell me ab out in that instance, the guy had to keep contracting his pastureland to accommodate the developer. What are some other examples? KM: Umm I know I believe that L. V. Moran(??) had to turn around and, I think, he had to cull a herd down to next to nothing. You know sell off older cows and go has too. hich is like selling off your profit. Now he might pick your future profit. You might sell her and she might go over to the market and calf the


8 I was to that point at one time. I thought I was going to have to sell my herd down to about twenty, twenty five head. Fortunatel not a whole lot of land some acres, sixty in case. Because we know that things are always changing you know? Usually you get month lease, with ninety days notice to leave. WM: Umm. KM: So, I literally could get a leave. (chuckles ) full, but with the economy and everything today, I kind of need it to where I can throw [the cattle] around here and there. case I need more grass for my horses. little three acre piece. I p twen ty thirty five. KM: Oh yes! Hay is in great demand, because of the drought, grass not growing and over grazing, people over grazing. I try not to over graze. WM: Well, do your colleagues have back up pastures as well? KM: The larger ones do. They may have cows in a pasture but they are not necessarily o r ten head on it, where it could hold thirty head or forty head. So yes, if they have to disperse this fifty head herd over here, they can put twenty here and fifteen there.


9 But you know, when you start penning cows and moving cows and moving babies, its very disruptive to the business. WM: Uh huh. KM: Those herds go together. Whenever I go and buy, say, five more cows, it takes a little while for those [new cows] to herd up with those other cows, and some of them never do. So whenever you go to work them, rather than having to work hard I can go in there and throw pellets in there and get 95 percent of [the cattle] in and go through there with a horse and a dog and [gather the rest of the cattle.] ach other it makes moving them of effort by somebody to move them. We had five trailers moving cows for a whole day. Just moving cows from one pasture to another. WM: Wow. WM: You told me about the land where you have your cattle now, this is the one that was a very marshy area and I think that the piece of property and build a road through this thing, the way it is. The road access is three before it will be developed. I th ink that it may end up tying to the next piece of property and when they develop that, they will develop this one. Hillsborough and Manatee and there is no access dir be an issue. A lot of the people that move into this area that work in Tampa or St. Pete, access to I 75 is very important to them. Well in order to get to I 75 from that piece of property you got to drive ten, fifte piece of property to get back on.


10 before you get to go north. So that just made a twelve mile trip before yo u got to where you just came from. WM: Uh huh. WM: So you feel fairly comfortable with that. KM: For a few years. You know, but if this land thing picks back up a gain, who knows? [in the real estate market] was booming and they jumped on it. They informed me when I leased it that they were going to put it back up for sale in a ye ar and a half, but who knows? Things are not picking up so, it may be more than that before they even market it. It depends on how deep their pockets are really. (laughs) WM: So, when and if they sell this land will you use those acres, those backup acre s? developer, or whoever purchases it to use part of it, perhaps the back half of it, or all divided. That will hold my herd for quite a while. Then when it comes all the way to the end [of ones. You know I have some older cows. educe KM: Reduce the herd. Which means losing future money, future revenue I mean. up. high right now, Florida is a very big producer of calves. I think because of the reduction of land, that is usable by the cattlemen and the number of people getting out of it, I truly believ e that the price of beef enemy. anol out of corn, so corn is in demand up there, so every farmer around there is turning all of his land into corn [production] and


11 [has] quit raising cotton, and soybeans and everything else. So all of those commodities have gone right up with the corn. ( chuckles) we use. I mean, we hardly ever fertilize. The best thing a cattleman can have is a mower. KM: Oh, mowing is truly the best thing you can do to a pasture. It really is. It does better than doin g anything else. I see these people disking up [their pastures] and planting require a lot of maintenance. They require maintenance every year fertilizer. pasture and then move the cows off of it and then go in there and drag it, then when it the old adage about burning. You burn a pasture and it comes back three times greener and thicker than it did before. think it does a very similar thing to burning it. WM: When you say you drag it KM: I have a large chain metal drag that I pull behind the tractor that is basically a no brainer. You get in the tractor and drive around as fast as you can. (laughs) But wh en a pasture is down low, and it has rained it is almost like you poured fertilizer on the pasture. I mean it literally is. You would not believe how much it grows within a week. I mean it just jumps up there like you fertilized it. just put cow manure on it. But instead of having it in clumps, you scattered it throughout the whole pasture. You have to have a short pasture in order to do low and then a rain. Then you go in there and re drag it. Then when weeds come up, you mow them in October, September or October, your weeds and stuff by doing that. use policies?


12 Manatee County I think all of the coastal counties, Manatee County included, I think the I saw some numbers back, probably in the nineties of what kind of money agriculture brought into the community and it was way more than tourism. I mean it was like 60 percent of th e product was agriculture. You know, groves citrus, vegetable, ornamentals (flowers, nurseries of all types) and cattle. important agriculture is to Manatee County I think they have really forgotten it in the last five years. The land thing and everything going up has become their big concern. How any way to feather back the building. They keep saying they can be sued because if they allow this guy to build and next door d develop. So I guess they are between a rock and a hard place. You know? They have no choice. amount and where it is developed at. WM: Have they worked with the fa rmers or talked with the ranchers about that? too wet. There was a piece of property I went to a meeting over here off of [State Road] 62, it runs from 62 to [Highway] 675. WM: Is 62 a street? KM: State Road 62 and then Highway 675, which I guess is a county road. The piece of p roperty ran between the two of them and in the middle of it was Gamble Creek. This piece of property gets so wet during the wet season, you could watch hay bales float on it. I mean this is a very, extremely wet piece of property. So much so that when th e developer gave us the overhead view of the houses that were going to be put on it, they were literally on islands in this piece of property, I mean they were literally little roads with islands and water all around them. I think it was hree or four narrow piece of property.


13 mitigate this thing. Come on now, this is But oh no, they kept on playing around and playing around. But I think there were enough people complaining about how wet it was going to be. The water liter ally goes back when it was built. road there, on that corner, exactly where you Those were some of the [issues]. And I raised [those questions]. I think it ended up dying because there were too many people in that room [opposed to developing everywhere. But that was a piece of property that had no business being developed. And the county just stood there and watched it all season them cows got to have canoes, just about. (laughs) But durin g most of the year or a rice paddy, one of the two. (laughs) You know? But I sometimes think that we have a little bit of greed disguised as progress in the co unty. WM: Could you explain that a little bit more? Side 1 ends; side 2 begins. KM: (sighs) I think we grew too fast. I think that even when the governor realized, he was trying to throw roadblocks in there about schools and roads and things like that. They roads in. We


14 We got roads all ov development built. ant the current taxpayers to pay the bill. even need it to be paved. It was [a] dirt [road] most of my life. [The developers] are the ones that need it, not me Like I said, even the governor tried to throw roadblocks in, about I think it was fire departments, public schools and inter structural roads and water and stuff. And even he tried to throw a roadblock in it. They actually the meetings I went to they w ere kind of mad about it. KM: The county commissioners. WM: Okay. KM: Who have the final say, regardless. I mean, they can step over the first ones that are supposed to turn something down. Too many things have gone to the county commissioners that never should have gotten to that point. WM: Well if it i County. WM: I guess it might be progress for some people, but not necessarily for everyone. But things should always change for the better, not for the worse.


15 ids today that are in [portable] classrooms the day the school is built. The day it opens up, the portables open up. There is a problem with that. (laughs) WM: Well, what was Parrish like in the 1950s? WM: Okay. KM: But a good friend of mine, George, that you met before WM: George Massingale? KM: Yes, George Massingale. His dad bought the filling station right here on the corner of State Road 62, when they moved to Parrish in, I think, 1954, or 56. It was very rural, a very rural a rea. I know when I lived here in 1970, 71 it was very rural. I know people hear this story, but I literally walked about a mile to the school bus. As a matter of fact, it was exactly a mile. If I cut through the cow pasture it was about eight tenths of a mile. And it took me fifteen minutes to walk it, walking slow, like a kid will. The road was about two miles long then and it turned then to dirt, on Erie Road. And I knew just about everybody that drove down that road. There were many, many days where I walked that fifteen minutes, one way or the other to school and I never saw a car. e most, when some of these other developments started filling in back in the back here. But until that point, you about knew who everybody was. KM: Oh yes, it has taken off. WM: So what do you foresee in the future? KM: S cary numbers here. They estimate currently what they are calling the build out of build out area. Which is roughly from Ellenton to the Hillsborough County line, up th ere thousand people. They are estimating in 2032, for it to be two hundred and sixty five thousand people.


16 WM: Mmm! WM: I guess that would kind of put a hurt on your ranching? mo changed too much. We, unfortunately there are a lot of people from Florida that are moving to that area of llywood and the mountains. et. (laughs) WM: So these people are literally moving from this agricultural area to that agricultural area? know, they I the orange grove was but it was a fairly sizeable orange grove. They literally traded that, it was a land swap for five thousand acres in west Tennessee. And they still have millions of dollars in their pockets. like I said they made so much money off of that property and ended up with a humongous piece of property up there. The climate, it gets warm in the summer and cold in the winter. Rar ely snows. [It] has the chance of tornadoes, of course we have hurricanes, so, you know. WM: You said that you all would be moving to Tennessee, do you have any idea when that will be? KM: Six to eight years, probably. WM: Six to eight years? KM: Yeah. WM: Do you think that this area will be built out by then? KM: Not to that two hundred and sixty thousand, but it will be too big for us, if this next land thing happens.


17 I know the last time I heard the numbers there was about thirty thousand homes ap proved that have not been built yet. Using that number and [estimating] two and a half, or three and a half people per [home] and five trips a day on the road, you can imagine just what y thousand people, (laughs) WM: Uh huh. everywhere. National Monument or Historical Monument, and the c hurch I went to, downtown there in Fruitville, a little Baptist church, has now got a historical marker in front of it. A few WM: Well there are a lot of changes going on it is interesting to hear that you would move from yo ur home to another place, to escape sprawl. KM: Oh yeah. And actually, most of my family [will do the same]. My oldest stepdaughter has already bought land up there [for] her and her husband. My little brother bought [land] right around the corner form me Some of my very best friends live right some stuff up there. And a couple of the guys I work with, one of them bought [land] right beside me and the other one bought down the road from me. WM: Will you continue working cattle up in Tennessee? Here leasing the land has caused these problems. But none of my family ever had the


18 If you research m ost of these large ranchers, most of these large places were bought in the thirties, forties and fifties by people from up north. The people that lived down here They we re poor, very poor. Proud, but poor. WM: Uh huh. here or fifty acres there, or something. But they never had the kind of money to buy thousands of acres to raise cattle on. laws until after World War Two. So ranching they talk about the Old West, but really the Old West was down south is what it was. WM: One other question, you can lease the land and still make money? KM: Oh yes, as long as you keep the leases reasonable. I mean there is a point at where you can no longer make money. And when it I mean how many of the small farmers have you seen, just walk away because they just WM: Most of them. from Florida that are moving in The people fro m Florida, that are moving up there now will buy the hundred acres and difference. The land prices are what Florida was twenty, twenty e made the kind of money where I can afford those twenty year it I own,


19 WM: Okay. KM: And buy more. KM: No, not reall y. No. WM: Okay. I always thank people for taking the time to talk with me. And [I] remind you that the information you shared with me is going to be deposited in the University of e for researchers to use. We need your permission for them to have access to it. WM: Okay great. KM: Hope I was of help. end of interview