Cattle ranching has been an influential part of American culture and economy for centuries. From Spanish settlers bringing the earliest cattle herds to the continent to the end of open range ranching and the need for private land loans, the history of cattle ranching has many ups and downs.
Today, there are over 700,000 cattle operations in the United States. One thing all of those businesses have in common is the need for money to purchase land, livestock, equipment, and more. That’s where cattle ranch financing comes in. Discover how the ranching industry evolved from open range grazing to private land and national financing lenders with this history of cattle ranch financing in America.
Cattle ranching began as a practice in North America in the sixteenth century when conquistadors and subsequent Spanish settlers brought European cattle across the ocean. Spanish cattle-raising practices spread across the continent along with these settlers. The Spanish government granted settlers massive plots of land, which led to the rise of large-scale, free-roam cattle operations. This became the foundation for the open range that would dominate ranching throughout the settlement of the American West.
Ranching in Colonial Florida
Ranches flourished in Spanish Florida for decades before spreading across the rest of the modern-day US. Cattle breeds and ranching practices from Spain—combined with techniques from Andalusia, highland Britain, and Ireland—served as the foundations for ranching systems in the area. By combining practices like branding, cattle drives, and the use of horses, whips, and dogs, ranchers created systems that found lasting success in the new tropical climate.
As time went on, cattle ranching played a significant role in the culture and economy of Florida. Even as the territory underwent raids, trades, and eventual statehood, ranching remained a staple for early Seminoles, British colonists, and, eventually, United States cattlemen.
As the United States expanded further west, so did ranchers and their herds. Cattle ranching, which was an established practice throughout the east coast by this point, had to further adapt to the drier lands of the West. Ranchers once again borrowed crucial techniques from Spanish ranchers, particularly the skills and tools of horse-mounted vaqueros, to find success in a new land.
The move to the prairies and deserts of the western United States also led to open range grazing. Ranchers would let their herds roam freely after birthing season in the spring until it was time to bring the herd to market in the fall. Public rangelands that consisted of unowned property became common grazing grounds for cattle herds across the country.
The Ranching Economy Evolves in Texas
The influence and importance of cattle ranching continued to grow throughout the 1800s. The Mexican War of Independence led to the end of Spanish ranching in the area, but American settlers who established the Austin Colony after the war took over the land and started their own ranches.
Later, The Texas Revolution in the 1830s and the Mexican-American War in the 1840s forced Mexican ranchers to abandon large plots of land and the herds that remained upon them. This made room for American settlers to spread further into modern-day Texas, taking over and expanding the ranching economy there.
Ranching Gains National Influence
After the annexing of Texas in 1845 and with the United States government helping to establish railroads and settlements across the western US, ranching began to have a larger influence over the national economy and culture. The use of railways helped expand ranching to far Western states like California, while cattle drives started taking place across state lines. Texas drives that stretched all the way to Midwestern states like Missouri, Illinois, and Iowa helped popularize the distribution of beef through the rest of the country.
This led to a national demand by the time the Civil War began. With wartime blockades cutting off access to cattle markets in the south, demand for beef and cattle skyrocketed by the end of the war. Simultaneously, those blockades and other factors that placed stress on Southern economies created an overabundance of cattle in Texas and other large ranching states. The result was a national ranching economy that thrived after the end of the war, turning ranching from a way for settlers to survive to a thriving industry that held national significance.
Overgrazing, the Rise of Private Lands, and Grazing Leases
The ranching boom that occurred after the Civil War continued well into the 1880s, and countless cattle operations thrived because of it. However, this success turned out to be the downfall of open range ranching. Over time, too many ranchers let their cattle graze on public lands. Overgrazing harmed the natural environment, leading to lower-quality grazing for all cattle. This, combined with a historically harsh winter in 1886 and 1887, led to the loss of thousands of cattle. The entire industry suffered financial loss, with many previously thriving operations going bankrupt.
Private land became necessary, and remaining ranchers started fencing off their land to limit grazing to their own herds. Government regulations also arose to reduce the risk of overgrazing. Private ranchers negotiated grazing leases with the government to maintain better control over their land and ranching operations. This set the foundation for the private land ranching models that still exist and thrive in the United States today.
Agricultural Politics in the 20th Century
This became a turning point in the history of cattle ranch financing in America. For the first time, most ranchers relied on private land to maintain their cattle. Meanwhile, agricultural loans became less and less accessible after the Homestead Act gave away most of the free farmland in the West. This widespread rural land crisis became a crucial national discussion in the early 1900s.
Political platforms began prioritizing a reformed agricultural credit system. President Wilson’s Federal Farm Loan Act in 1916 created a federal land bank that made it easier for farmers to obtain long-term credit for their properties. The Farm Credit Act of 1933 expanded upon these efforts by reforming the Farm Credit System and making loans available not just for farmers, but for ranchers and other agricultural business owners as well.
Later, the Farm Credit Administration unified all agricultural credit organizations. With the industry continuously evolving, the government passed the Farm Credit Act of 1971 to create more flexibility for agricultural lenders.
Serving the Needs of Ranchers Today
The agriculture industry continued to expand and thrive throughout the 1900s and into the twenty-first century. Today, cattle ranch loans help landowners keep traditional ranching culture and techniques alive while also reaping the benefits of modern equipment and practices. Ranch loan lenders help new and existing ranch owners purchase the large plots of land necessary for their businesses.
Moreover, this financing helps ranchers purchase livestock, build new structures, invest in endeavors that improve the health of the land, and so much more. With flexible credit options tailored to cattle ranchers and their specific needs, ranch loans enable the continued success of the proud, longstanding cattle industry.
At Farm Plus Financial, we understand that the needs of ranchers often differ from the needs of other agricultural landowners. That’s why we offer a wide variety of cattle ranch loans to help ranchers obtain the credit they need to purchase, develop, and thrive on their land. See how we can help your ranch find success when you explore our cattle ranch financing options today.