You’ve explored Treasure Road and now you are ready to “branch out”. Going left or right first? Cattle Dip and North Spur Trails start about .25 miles from the main gate. Let’s go right first and explore Cattle Dip Road. You already know or can guess why it’s named Cattle Dip. Cattle dips were put in all over the south to help fight the battle against the cattle tick or Texas tick fever.
Cattle herding in Florida has been important from the times the earliest Spaniards brought the beasts in the sixteenth century up to the present, reports Dr. Nancy White, University of South Florida. By the mid-1800s, Florida’s herd numbered over a half-million, and the industry was important in shaping the culture and character of the state. But there were always problems and the early twentieth century’s biggest one was the tick. The tick caused a fever and decrease in red blood cell count that reduced the quality of the beef, and bites that damaged the hides.
Dr. White and a group of her students did extensive research at the Preserve in early 2005. From the research, archaeologists have looked at cattle dipping sites to learn about the culture of people raising cattle in early Florida. These sites seemed to serve as centers for social activity in the 1930s and ‘40s, since these dispersed ranchers would gather at these sites. Neighbors to those having cattle dips could share and would make it a social gathering of sorts while they dipped their cattle. Artifacts recovered near these sites attest to this fact.
During this time period there was still open rangeland in this area. Florida has the distinction of being the last state to have vast cattle ranges unfenced. With the passage of time and roads being built, the demand for keeping cows off these roads grew. Fences were then required to help gather the cattle for dipping. Many ranchers were unable to continue ranching due to economic impact of this mandatory practice.
In the early 1900s, the cattle industry was seriously impacted by cattle tick fever in the southern states. Cattle were shipped by rail to the slaughterhouses in the northern states. Cattle in the south developed a tolerance to the fever and only suffered low-weight and poor-quality hides. As cattle were being shipped to the north, herds were contacting the fever and dying. Due to this development southern cattle were prohibited from being shipped to the north. When the southern ranchers suffered severe economic times, they turned to the Federal government for help. That is when and how the cattle tick eradication program began.
The solution to this problem was to require that cattle be dipped in a solution containing arsenic and other ingredients then be declared tick free. From 1906 to 1961 any cattle being shipped out-of-state was required to be dipped every 14 days. This proved to be cost prohibitive for many ranchers.
The United States Department of Agriculture determined the specifications for the vats. These vats were 25 to 30 ft in length and 2.5 to 3.5 in width. The vats were 7 ft deep so the cows could be forced in then run out. Most often they were made by pouring concrete and they sometimes had wooden railings around the perimeter of the vat.
Cattle were herded into the vat which had a drop-off at one end, sometimes deep. Once they entered, they could not back out. There would be a concrete dripping pad at the exit end of the vat. The dipped cattle were then put into pens where they could be inspected. If ticks were found, they were removed or wiped with the dip.
Today there is no evidence left of any vat on cattle dip road. What you will see are beautiful long-leaf pines, native flowering plants, ti-ti, along with other species. You will see where staff of the Buffer Preserve has conducted prescribed burns on both sides of the road. Palmettos, felled trees, native flowers are blooming at different times of the year so it’s good to walk at different times of the year.
Thanks to Sophia Fonseca, Biologist at the Buffer Preserve for help in getting pictures to share. If you walk the entire trail you will have gone about 1.75 miles. Don’t forget your water, hat, sunscreen! There is some shade on Cattle Dip. Enjoy!