Story of a… Florida Cowboy

Fifth-generation rancher Kevin Whaley maintains the traditions and bloodlines of Old Florida.

Roberto Gonzalez

The family legacy. Whaley runs his approximately 6,000-acre ranch, which was passed down through his family, with the help of his 24-year-old daughter, Laci, two brothers and a nephew. 

Growing up cowboy. When he was only 6 years old, Whaley participated in the quadrille, a type of intricate square dance that is performed on horseback, at the Silver Spurs Rodeo. By then, he was a veteran rider. “I imagine I was two or three years old when I first started riding.”

A day in the life. His typical day can include building or fixing fences, herding cattle or getting them out of the road, watching for coyotes, or lending a hand to a fellow rancher, among a host of other duties. “I get to do a lot of different things, but don’t think I don’t get tired,” laughs Whaley, who studied ranch management at Texas Christian University.

Genealogy for farm animals. Whaley Ranch is home to sheep, about 1,000 head of cattle, a team of horses and cattle dogs, all with bloodlines tracing back to the time of Whaley’s ancestors, who settled the Kissimmee area in the 1860s. 

A code among cowboys. “Most of the people I was raised around are good, honest, fair people.” From his grandfather and father, he learned to “treat people like you want to be treated and to be fair to people. I always try to give a little bit more than I receive.”

He learned from the old-timers. Among Whaley’s mentors was late Osceola County rancher Doc Partin. “He was a good fella, as good a cowboy as there ever was. He loved what he did as much as anybody I’ve ever seen. I’m the same kind of way, really. I love what I do.”

Land doesn’t equal money. A misconception most people have about Whaley’s way of life is “that all people with a few acres and some cows are rich, ’cause they’re not.”

Speaking of money. “Agriculture is one of the few businesses in which you have no hand in what you sell your products for. You get what they offer you. It’s like with the cows. We’re getting less than half the price of [what we got] two years ago.”

Good markets can bring cattle rustlers. “A couple of years ago, when the prices got real high, one of them calves was worth $1,000. Somebody would come steal your calf and take it to one of the markets around the state. You’ve just got to keep your eye out.”

Roping gone wrong. Whaley laughs when he recalls a nighttime wild boar hunt. “I got up on the hood of my truck and roped that thing, and he took off and dragged me about 20 yards. We went ’round and ’round. I’ve kicked them off me before. I’ve cut up the bottom of my boot to pieces that way.”

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