My oldest son, a friend, and I moved as fast as we dared down a sandy firebreak illuminated by only a sliver of moonlight; running late to a date with an Osceola turkey that was roosted on the edge of a cypress bay. As we moved along in the half-light, we were suddenly startled by the sound of several good-sized animals tearing through the thick saw palmetto into the darkness. As the sun rose behind us, we began to realize from the tracks and patties visible all around us that it had very likely been a few cows that we’d scared that morning. That suspicion was confirmed when right in the middle of working the bird, a few cows decided to join the party and put on quite a show with our decoys. I regret not taking any video as the cows bobbed, weaved, and did their own little dance up to the decoys and our makeshift blind trying to figure out what was going on.
We had been more than a little surprised to see cows on our hunt, but it had made for a special memory for my son and I. Likely, many people are just as surprised to learn that Florida is cattle country and has a long and storied cattle culture. In fact, cattle ranching, in what would later become the United States, started in Florida with the Spanish in the 1500s. The legacy and descendants of these Spanish cattle introduced to Florida are known as Cracker Cattle; the name “Cracker” derived from the crack of the whips traditionally used by cattlemen to work and drive these cattle.
As a separate breed, they were almost lost through crossbreeding and the introduction of other larger heat-tolerant breeds. But some old Florida cattle families recognized the importance and value of these special cattle and with the help of the state, worked to protect them. The hardy attributes that have allowed these cattle to survive in the flatwoods and swamps of Florida for so long are a large part of what makes them a great option for today’s small farm.
What Makes Cracker Cattle Special?
Simply put, Cracker Cattle are survivors; they have adapted to thrive with little to no intervention or care. They have adapted to eat things other cows wouldn’t dream of touching and to live in the harsh elements with no antibiotics or other medications/vaccinations. They can take the extreme heat of Florida, are very disease and parasite resistant, and are unsurpassed for fertility and longevity. Cracker Cattle owners will tell you that they are at their best when raised under minimal care and left to their own devices.
Perfect for Your Small Farm
Cracker Cattle are a great choice for a small farm because they require less care than other breeds as described above; they are just extremely hardy cattle. While the learning curve for any rookie to cattle is likely a long one, it arguably might be a little shorter with crackers than with other breeds, as you can be more hands-off and still produce great cattle. Finally, if you are primarily interested in raising cattle without hormones or antibiotics that are grass-fed from start to finish, they are the perfect fit because that’s what they are already adapted to.
Additional Information and Where to Find Cracker Cattle
If you are ready to start your farm or ranch, or perhaps interested in adding Cracker Cattle to your existing herd, the place to start is the Florida Cracker Cattle Association website (or Facebook page) and their list of Florida Cracker Cattle producers. This list is not meant to cover every ranch or breeder but will give you some great resources and contact information to get you started. Additionally, there is a Cracker Cattle and Horse auction held annually in the fall at the Withlacoochee State Forest and this is a great opportunity to purchase cattle offered via private owners, as well as cattle from the state-maintained herds.
So, if you have been thinking of raising your own beef or perhaps adding some cattle to your existing farm, then give Cracker Cattle some consideration as they might be the perfect choice for you to jump right in.
Special thanks to Two Son Farm, located in St. Augustine, FL, for generously opening up their beautiful farm to us, showing us their own special herd, and telling us all about their experience with Cracker Cattle.