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"Florida Cracker" Cattle Make A Comeback
Florida Cracker cattle get their name from the early 1800's when "cow hunters", or "crackers", used dogs and cracked whips to round up wild Spanish cattle. Despite nearing extinction at one point, cattle producers dedicated to the heritage breed estimate there are now around 900 Florida Cracker cattle. Other breeds that descended from the wild Spanish cattle include the Pineywoods, which thrive in Mississippi, Alabama and southern Georgia, and the Longhorns in Texas.
  "I don't feed them at all, just some hay in the winter and a molasses block. And I don't worm them; they're parasite resistant," says Ralph Wright of Lake City, Florida, who raises a dozen Cracker and Pineywoods cattle on 20 acres.
  His father was a cow hunter, Wright explains, and the Wright family has always appreciated the heritage breeds. They have been a big part of the South's history - first used to feed southern troops in the Civil War and later soldiers in the Spanish American War. They almost disappeared when European breeds were introduced in the late 1940's, but a few families maintained their purebred herds.
  In 1970, the Florida Department of Agriculture bought and managed a herd of Florida Cracker cattle. In 1988 the Florida Cracker Cattle Association organized, and the Pineywoods Cattle Registry & Breeders Association organized in 1999. Cattle owners like the breeds for their hardiness, easy calving and longevity.
  "They're smaller than commercial breeds at less than 1,000 lbs, but are capable of breeding as early as 8 mos. of age, and some have calves until their late teens and early 20's," Wright says. "I have even heard of Pineywoods calving into their 30's."    Cracker Cattle horns have a greater tendency to go up rather than out, and are shorter than those of Texas Longhorns, which make them more suited to surviving in the thick woods and brushy areas in Florida.
  "They come in every color that you can think of," Wright says. "I've got one bull that's a Parker brown coloration. He was born a red and white, within a month he was brown and white, and three months later he was black and white. Now he has a frosted black color with red and burgundy accents."
  Though the Spanish breeds adapted to the humidity and parasites of the South, they can also be found on Midwest farms and as far north as Maine. Breeding stock, and meat, sell for prices similar to other lean, grass-fed cattle. Wright notes the organizations' goal is to preserve the breeds, not make it an expensive exotic breed people can't afford.
  Anyone interested in checking out the breeds can find information and cattle for sale on the associations' websites.
  Contact: FARM SHOW Followup, Ralph Wright, S.W. Beauford Place, Lake City, Florida 32024 (ph 386 961-9112; old_cow hunter@yahoo.com) or
  Pineywoods Cattle Registry & Breeders Association, Julie Brown, Secretary, 183 Sebron Ladner Rd., Poplarville, Miss. 39470 (ph 601 795-4672; www.pineywoods cattle. org) or
  Florida Cracker Cattle Association, Dr. Tim Olson, P.O. Box 110910, Department of Animal Sciences, University of Florida, Gainesville, Florida 32611 (www.cracker cattle.org).

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2009 - Volume #33, Issue #2