Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services

Characteristics of Cracker Cattle

By Dr. Tim Olson
Department of Animal Sciences
University of Florida

The foundation (FC-branded) Florida Cracker animals were those bulls and cows that passed an evaluation by a group of three evaluators approved by the Florida Cracker Cattle Association. I was involved in the evaluation of nearly all the cattle that were approved as foundation cattle. Basically the criteria were designed such that approved cattle were to conform to the archival pictures of Florida Native/Scrub Cattle that were available to us, along with freedom from evidence of known breeds of “modern cattle.”

Since Florida Cracker Cattle descend from the Spanish cattle brought to Florida in the 1500s, they should resemble cattle of similar origin still in existence in other countries of Central and South America. These cattle are quite similar across many countries and do resemble the pictures that survive from the 1930s and earlier of our Florida Cracker Cattle.

Basic Criteria

Size

Small to moderate: Cows: 600 to 1,000 pounds.

Bone

Light to moderate bone.

Hair

Adults should have short, shiny hair coats during the summer months.

Coloration

Nearly any basic coloration except that of the gray coloration of Brahman cattle. The most common colorations include black, reds of various intensities with very dark red being somewhat undesirable (as an indication of Shorthorn breeding), brown (black and brown or red), brindle, yellow and very rarely a dilute black like that of a Simmental X Angus crossbred.

Spotting Pattern

Most spotting patterns are acceptable with the exception of a very definite indication of the SH, or Hereford spotting gene. While the SH gene may have been found in Florida Cracker cattle at the beginning of 1900, its presence in cattle in 1990 is almost certainly due to Hereford crosses and, therefore, few cattle with SH were admitted into the registry. Evidence of SH in an animal is an animal with almost no white on it except on the face. Cattle with the color-sided (white/roan over the back and/or rump) gene may have a nearly white face and not have the SH gene and are very acceptable. Spotting like that of Holsteins and other dairy breeds was accepted but not considered desirable. Such spotting did exist in the Barnes herd, which apparently was quite pure. No other spotting pattern was considered objectionable. It seems likely , however, that many of the old-time Cracker cattle were not spotted and Mr. James Durrance discriminated against cattle with white spots along their backs as he felt that such cattle were susceptible to cancers due to the intense sunlight in the Okeechobee area. Typical patterns that exist in the breed are due to the SP or lineback gene, which causes distinct spots or a lineback along the back of the animal and may result in an animal with distinctive body spotting along with colored legs, and to the Cs or color-sided gene, which produces a somewhat similar pattern except that the white areas usually will have roaned edges where the pigmented and white hairs are interspersed, also animals that are homozygous for Cs are nearly completely white, usually with pigmentation on their ears, muzzle and feet (the White Park pattern).

Evidence of Other Breeds

Florida Cracker cattle submitted for foundation animals which showed any evidence of Brahman breeding were eliminated. Evidences of Brahman breeding included large ears, any evidence of a hump, excess skin, especially in the throat, and a somewhat triangularly shaped head and horns that were excessively heavy at the base. Small, “crumpled” horns, similar to those of Jerseys were not considered desirable but did not result in their exclusion from the registry if they otherwise appeared to be Cracker cattle. Cows that too closely resembled various dairy breeds were not registered.

Muscling

Light to moderate muscling would be most typical of the breed. The Barnes line was selected for more of a beef-type conformation and animals with more influence of this line will likely be more muscular.

Head Type

The typical Cracker head is moderate in length, not extremely long like that of a Holstein or quite as short as that of a Jersey. The exception to this would be “Guinea” Cracker cattle, which have shorter heads as well as shorter legs. Even in most Guinea cattle, however, the head is not extremely short. Some “dish” to the head is acceptable.

Horns

This area probably is the most controversial, but the most typical (at least my favorite) type of horns on Florida Cracker Cattle go up fairly quickly from their bases and then tip back. Many of the older cows on Payne’s Prairie have this type of horns. This type of horns does not exist in Longhorn cattle and thus differentiates the breed from Texas Longhorn cattle. As mentioned earlier, they shouldn’t be too wide at their bases, but it seems that Guinea cattle may have wider horn bases. Certainly there likely were other shapes on the old-time cattle and I believe that only mild discrimination should be placed on horns that go out too wide from the head before going up. At this point it should be mentioned that bulls will always have wider horns than will cows although I believe that bulls with higher horns are more likely to sire daughters with high horns. Certainly cows and bulls with horns that do not turn up at all, or do so only far from the skull are not typical and probably have substantial Longhorn influence in them. This would be especially true for bulls with excessively heavy bases to their horns.

Guinea Cracker Cattle

Guinea cattle, as mentioned above, are smaller versions of regular Cracker cattle and have long existed in the population. At one time they were considered superior as they could maintain their body condition better during tough times due to their lower nutrient requirements (because of their smaller size). They will likely become somewhat popular as novelty animals and for persons who wish to maintain cattle on a small acreage. Care should be taken when mating Guinea bulls to Guinea cows as lethal “bulldog” dwarfs may result.