Pineywoods Cattle

The Pineywoods and Florida Cracker have a rich history--and can serve a small farmer as a hardy, efficient beef, milk or draft cattle choice.

by Dani YokhnaFebruary 4, 2011
PHOTO: Jess Brown

Use: Pineywoods and Florida Crackers are triple-purpose cattle ideal for small-farm beef production, milking, and draft purposes (they make outstanding small oxen), especially in the Southeastern tier of states. Beef produced by these breeds is lean, flavorful, and their smaller carcasses make ideal freezer beef for today’s smaller families. Thanks to their tasty beef, both Pineywoods and Florida Cracker cattle are listed on Slow Foods USA’s Ark of Taste. And, since some strains emphasize dairy qualities; cows from these families make excellent hobby farm family dairy cows.

History: If you’re looking for a hardy, all-American breed custom-tailored for the South, seek no further: Pineywoods and Florida Crackers are the breeds you need. The primary difference between Pineywoods and Florida Cracker cattle is their place of origin. Both descend from criollo (Spanish stock born in the New World) cattle. One breed, the Pineywood, evolved in the longleaf pine forests of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia, while the Florida Cracker is a product of the Sunshine State. Both breeds share a common history. When Spain set out to claim the New World, she sent cattle with her conquistadors and colonists, to the tune of about 300 head. These animals proliferated. In many cases cattle escaped or were abandoned to the wild so that in time a vast feral population roamed New Spain. They became the Longhorns of Texas, the Corriente of Mexico, and the Pineywoods and Florida Crackers of the Southeastern states. Eventually, breeders ‘improved’ native cattle by crossing them with heat-hardy, humped zebu bulls like the American Brahmin, until purebreds almost ceased to exist. However, a handful of dedicated families in both regions maintained herds of pure, native stock and in the 1990’s the Pineywoods Cattle Registry and Breeders Association and the Florida Cracker Cattle Association were formed to preserve them. Both breeds are listed under the Critical heading of the American Livestock Breeders Conservancy’s watch list and additional conservators are needed.

Conformation: Pineywoods and Florida Crackers come in a wide palette of spotted and solid colors including blacks, reds, yellows, and blues in speckles, linebacks and roans. Some lines lean toward beefiness, others more toward dairy type. Most Pineywoods and Florida Crackers are fairly rangy with light- to moderately-heavy muscling and bone, and they weigh in the 600 to 1000 pound range. “Guinea” or dwarf cattle with shorter heads and legs occur in both breeds. Both horned and polled bloodlines exist but the majority of Pineywoods and Florida Cracker cattle are horned, with horn types varying from short, curved, Holstein-like horns to large, upswept, somewhat Longhorn-type varieties. They have short, shiny summer hair coats but grow longer hair in the winter months.

Special Considerations/Notes: Pineywoods and Florida Cracker cattle are self-sufficient animals that thrive on rough pasture and brush with minimal human intervention. They are remarkably easy keepers. Both breeds are long-lived and prolific. Pineywoods and Florida Cracker cows have strong maternal instincts and produce plenty of milk for their calves.

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