Florida Cracker Cows
The Florida Cracker is a breed of cattle developed in the state of Florida and named for the Florida Cracker culture in which it was kept. Also known as the Florida Scrub or just as the Cracker cow, these cattle are one of the criollo-type breeds originally brought to the Southern U.S. by the Spanish Conquistadors. The breed is very closely related to the Pineywoods cattle breed, but purebred Crackers have not been crossbred with any English breeds like the Pineywoods has in the past.
Florida Crackers are one of the oldest and rarest breeds of cattle in the United States. Descended from Spanish stock imported to the continent in the 16th Century. Florida Crackers are a small, horned breed that through natural selection, was bred to tolerate heat and humidity, built up a resistance to most parasites and diseases as well as to withstand low quality forage found on the grasslands and in the swamps of the Southern United States. The generally low level of nutrition provided by the unimproved range and unfertilized pastures, along with rough woods, “the scrub”, in which these cattle spent most of their time, likely also influenced the horn size and shape of the Florida Cracker Cattle. The horns of the Florida Cracker Cattle have a much greater tendency to go up rather than out like those of the Texas Longhorn cattle. This tendency to go up likely benefited the cattle as they ran through the scrub as the brush and low-lying limbs of trees would have made it difficult for a beast with wide horns to maneuver through. Some of the horns of the oldest Florida Cracker cows that are the most distinctive of the breed rise up quickly without going out far and then run backwards at their ends.
The Florida Crackers are small, with cows weighing 600-800 pounds and the bulls weighing 800-1200 pounds with both males and females horned. The colors of the cattle also widely vary from solid browns to whites to reds to black. There are dappled grey/blue, dappled-brown, white with black spots, white with brown sports and other combinations. They tend to be more docile and easier to manage by humans, making them a popular choice for cattle roping competitions and for recreational cow raising activities, such as 4-H.
There was little effort by cattlemen over the history of Florida Cracker Cattle to improve them. Pretty much the situation was survival of the fittest. It is likely that the wildest of the bulls escaped capture and castration and, thus, were more likely to produce progeny. Certainly, the general lack of nutrition available to them in the winter months had an impact on their size. Only small cattle with low maintenance requirements were likely to thrive under such conditions as supplemental feed during the winter would not have been provided to the historical Florida Cracker Cow.
After 1949 the combination of new laws about free roaming livestock and the introduction of larger beef breeds led to the rapid decline of the Florida Cracker. Given that the breed is considered a living part of the state’s history, Florida has been a leader in the conservation and promotion of this breed over the past few decades.
In the 1970’s, then Commissioner of Agriculture Doyle Conner put out the word that it was an important endeavor to save Florida Cracker Cattle from extinction and asked for contributions of Florida Cracker Cattle to start a state-owned herd. Several ranches in the state donated cattle to this cause and now we have herds at state parks in Tallahassee, Gainesville, Lake Kissimmee and Withlacoochee. However, this breed is still quite rare and an increased knowledge about them is vital for its preservation.
In 1988, the Florida Cracker Cattle Association was formed to gather cattlemen and cattlewoman to preserve the Cracker Cow breed in Florida. The organization meets annually to promote the Florida Cracker Cow breed. The Association has been successful in encouraging ranchers to continue to breed pure Florida Cracker Cows. At one time there were only 30 Cracker Cows in the state, today that number has increased significantly.