Cattle Breeds Native to North America
The Florida Cracker
Florida Cracker cattle share with Texas Longhorns and various cattle breeds of Central and South America, the name of 'criollo'. Like the Florida Cracker horse, these cattle have as their ancestors stock which came to the Americas with the Spanish. Florida Cracker cattle, as well as being one of the oldest native American breeds, are also some of the rarest.
Once known as Florida Scrub or Florida Native cattle, the breed thrives in the swamps and thick scrubland of Florida. They have developed a high resistance to the various insects and diseases which plague these swampy places. They cope with high temperatures and high humidity and can exist and even thrive on the low quality forage which is available.
The Florida Cracker is sometimes linked with the Pineywoods but the latter has some English breed blood and is generally larger than the Florida Cracker although it is closely related.
The breed was very nearly wiped out in 1949 when restrictions were placed on the free foraging of livestock. Land was enclosed and Brahman, Hereford and Angus cattle were introduced with the idea being to breed bigger, meatier cattle. The few herds that remained pure were highly valued for their heritage value and for their toughness and tolerance to heat.
Preservation of the breed has been seen as important to the state as it is a living part of Florida's heritage. In 1989, four hundred cattle were registered as foundation stock and, to look after the interests of the breed, the Florida Cracker Breeders Association was formed. The Association supports the preservation and promotion of the breed.
Florida Crackers have a similar appearance to the Texas Longhorn but are smaller. Adult cows weigh between 950 and 1000 pounds. There is also a type known as 'guinea' cattle which are very small and only weigh up to 500 pounds.
Although a horned breed, the horns are not as long as the Texas Longhorns which is a great advantage in the heavily timbered lowland areas. The horns tend to go up rather than out and enables easier passage through the woods. The horns should not be wide at the base as this is regarded as evidence of 'foreign' blood, possibly Brahman. It is believed that the low nutritional value of the forage may affect the dimensions of the horns.
Any colour and any combination of colours, splotches, spots and markings are acceptable. Nearly white animals are also quite common but most have coloured ears.
Florida Crackers have good resistance to bugs and disease. They tolerate the long, hot and humid summers and are well adapted for low input production of beef. When well managed, the heifers mature at a very early age and fertility is excellent.
Florida Crackers are listed as critically endangered by the American Livestock Breed Conservancy. The breed also appears on the list of Slow Food USA's Ark of Taste.