LAND O'LAKES — West of the hogs, not far from the lettuce, live the newest occupants of this 50-acre farm in central Pasco: 30 cows.
Hardly any of them were born here, but make no mistake where they belong now. Branded into their hides are the initials of this growing farm's proprietor:
That would be Robert Leon White, a.k.a. Pasco County Sheriff Bob White.
The Brangus cows, which arrived last year, are the latest additions to the county jail's 9-year-old agriculture program, which uses inmate labor to raise vegetables and meat served at the jail.
They came as part of a trade with the Manatee County Jail: Pasco swapped 100 pigs for 25 cows from Manatee County, which also supplied the hot iron.
Pasco also has a standing request to borrow Manatee's bulls when it comes time to grow the family — and, consequently, the meat supply for the jail.
"You can't ask for a better-looking set of cows," Sgt. Steve Wood said recently, as he gazed at the herd, which now includes a couple of calves, plus three cows donated by local residents Jill Orpin and John and Margaret Bushell.
In the first year, the jail will have spent about $20,200 on the cattle, a total that includes both setup costs — such as buying fence supplies and extending a water line — and routine food and medical costs, said spokesman Kevin Doll.
He said that money comes out of the jail's "inmate welfare fund" of dollars raised from inmate fees or commissary purchases.
White's office touts the agriculture program not only as a way to teach skills to inmates but also as a cost-saving measure for taxpayers. The idea is that the jail saves money by reducing the amount of food it must buy.
Jail officials say the 6-year-old hog program, which costs about $6,500 a year to run, has resulted in that kind of savings.
Last year, for instance, Pasco sent 53 of its hogs to be slaughtered and processed in Manatee County. That resulted in 11,533 pounds of pork later fed to the inmates.
If the jail had bought that much pork at wholesale prices last year, the cost would have been more than $23,000, according to calculations by the Sheriff's Office.
Overall, the jail says it spends, on average, about $27,000 a year to run all of its agriculture programs, ranging from the pig farm to a new ornamental plant operation. But officials say they save more than $146,000 a year by growing and raising food they would otherwise buy.
Along with two deputies, Wood, the sergeant, is assigned to the inmate work programs. Wood said the decision to brand the cows with RLW had both practical and symbolic significance.
"If, God forbid, they got out of our field, we'd know they're ours," he said. "It was just kind of a thing we thought of because of all the positive things the sheriff has done. Without his support for us, we wouldn't be able to do all these things."
White, for his part, chuckled the other day when he asked whether a reporter had visited "RLW Ranch."
Jodie Tillman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 869-6247.