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In the early days of Florida, when the land was still wild and unfenced, there were a few animals that the Florida Crackers depended on for living and working in the untamed Florida landscape. The Florida Scrub Cattle, also known as Cracker Cattle, roamed the vast palmetto prairies that covered the undomesticated land of Florida. The Florida cowmen depended on their faithful Cracker ponies and cow dogs to round up the wandering cattle to be used and traded.

 

Florida Cracker Ponies

Cracker ponies were an important part of the Florida Cracker lifestyle. Cracker ponies were descendants of the horses brought to Florida by the Spanish in the 1500s. The horses ran wild throughout Florida’s range and developed into the breed that was used by the Florida cowmen in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

The Cracker ponies were given many names, including Florida Horse, Woods Pony, 

Marshtacky, Seminole Pony, Prairie Pony and Florida Cow Pony. The breed existed in all 

colors, most often in solids and in grey. It was a small breed, only about 13.5 to 15 hands, and weighed 700 to 1000 pounds. Despite their smallness, it was a very hardy breed. Their small size also made them perfect for navigating Florida’s rough landscape.

The breed was almost bred out of extinction after the 1930s, when larger horses were required to rope and hold the new larger breeds of cattle. In the 1980s, action was taken to restore the breed by raising horses from Cracker pony bloodlines that had been maintained by Florida ranching families.

 

Florida Cracker Cows

Florida Cracker Cows were descendants of the Spanish cattle brought to Florida in the 1500s. In the late 1800s, northern European beef and dairy cattle were imported into the South and crossbred with the Spanish cattle to introduce what is known as Cracker cattle. The Cracker cattle herds roamed the Florida prairies and unfenced land across the state.  

The Cracker cattle that were herded by the pioneer Florida cowmen came in every color and were a small, wiry and bony breed. The Cracker cattle had long, sharp horns that they used to protect themselves from the Florida wildlife. They went by many names such as Piney Woods Cattle, Florida Scrub Cattle and Florida Native Cattle. The breed was well accustomed to the heat, insects and humidity of Florida and fed on the scrub of the lowland areas.

In the mid 1900s, the Cracker cattle were bred with the larger Brahman cattle and were almost bred out of existence. With the help of the Florida Cattlemen’s Association and the Commissioner of Agriculture in the 1960s, action was taken to restore the breed. Cattle were donated to the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services by Florida families who had maintained herds of Cracker cattle. In 1989, the Florida Cracker Cattle Breeders Association was established, and today several Cracker Cattle herds exist across the state.

 

Florida Cow Dogs

Florida cowmen depended on a good cow dog. It was said by many that a well-trained cow dog was worth the work of several cowmen. The first stock dogs were brought to Florida by Hernando De Soto in 1539. By the time of the pioneer cowmen, there were many mixed breeds of cow dogs. Most cow dogs were part hound dog, bulldog, cur, leopard or Australian Blue Heeler.

It was the cow dog’s job to roundup the herds of cattle. When a cow escaped, it was the dog’s responsibility to return it to the herd. Some cow dogs, called catch dogs, would hold a cow by the nose, ear or leg until the cow was roped and branded. The work of the cow dog saved the cowmen much time and many miles of chasing runaway cattle. When not out cow hunting, the cow dogs served as family watchdogs and protectors of the homesteads. The Florida cow dogs were an important part of the early Floridians’ lives; their loyalty and hard work benefited the pioneers on the range and at home.