At Deep South Graziers we are working to conserve Heritage Breed Cattle. Three of the four breeds we raise are listed as critical by the American Livestock Breed Conservancy (Florida Cracker, Pineywood, and Milking Devon) and the fourth(Scottish Highland) is recovering. All information on this page came from the ALBC. Many traditional livestock breeds have lost popularity and are threatened with extinction, because modern food production now favors the use of a few highly specialized breeds selected for maximum output in a controlled environment (feedlot). Much like man-made inventions, cattle have been upgraded, modernized, super-sized, and redesigned to improve the product. With an automobile, we can simply file a blueprint in a safe place. But with cattle, our original blueprint has almost become extinct due to crossbreeding, and if a catastrophic event occurred, we’d need to rebuild our cattle industry. Heritage cattle are the seed stock and a valuable resource for the protection of America’s and the world’s food supply. These traditional breeds are an essential part of the American agricultural inheritance. Not only do they evoke our past, they are also an important resource for our future(ALBC).
Chirikof Island (F)
Pineywoods cattle are an endangered landrace breed native to the Gulf Coast and Southeastern regions of the United States. They have adapted to thrive in this hot, humid climate and survive by foraging their beautiful forest terrain. These cattle are known to be hardy, intelligent and very good mothers; they are also prized for their alleged internal parasite resistance. Pineywoods cattle trace back to the animals carried with the first Spanish settlers during the 1500s. The Pineywoods developed as a breed in the Southeast United States, where heat tolerance was a prized characteristic. When European and African breeds were imported during the past two centuries, they replaced the landrace Pineywoods breed, so that only a few families maintained purebred cattle. These became the known strains, each with its own characteristics. Pineywoods cattle are known for their high tolerance to heat and humidity, resistance to parasites, fertility and longevity. These horned cattle can be found in any solid color or color pattern. Some strains have specific color patterns. They are a small breed, with cows weighing between 600 and 800 pounds, and bulls weighing up to 1200 pounds. Pineywoods cattle had occasional historic use as dairy cattle and oxen in the timber industry.(ALBC)
The Florida Cracker is one of the oldest breeds of cattle in the United States, descending from Spanish cattle brought to the New World beginning in the early 1500s. As the Spanish colonized Florida and other parts of the Americas, they established low input, extensive cattle ranging systems typical of Spanish ranching. The Florida Cracker and other breeds which developed under these conditions are called criollo cattle, which means “of European origin but born in the New World.” The Florida Cracker breed was shaped primarily by natural selection in an environment that is generally hostile to cattle. This has resulted in a breed that is heat tolerant, long lived, resistant to parasites and diseases, and productive on the low quality forage found on the grasslands and in the swamps of the Deep South. It was not until the importation of Zebus from India and the development of the American Brahman breed in the 1900s that the Florida Cracker had competition from other heat tolerant cattle. Not long afterwards, the development of parasiticides and other medications allowed British and European breeds to survive in the Deep South, and thus the Florida cattle industry was further diversified. This influx of new breeds very nearly caused the extinction of the Florida Cracker breed. By the mid1900s, the majority of purebred cows had been crossbred, first to Brahmas and then to British and European breeds. The Cracker cow provided the maternal ability and hardiness necessary for crossbreeding programs to succeed and the genetic distance between the Florida Cracker and other breeds created exceptional hybrid vigor in the offspring. The credit for success, however, was always given to the improved breeds, and the Florida Cracker was largely abandoned. It was only through the efforts of a few Florida families, stubbornly resistant to “progress,” that the breed survived in its pure form.(ALBC)
American Milking Devon
Devon cattle were developed in the Devonshire region of Britain. They were a true, tri-purpose animal good for milking, meat, and especially good at pulling. Even today teams of Devon oxen are highly prized for their intelligence and ability and are often referred to as the “thoroughbred” of working cattle.
The Devon breed has split into two major types. One type is being developed to be more of a beef animal, known as the Beef Devon, and the other type remaining true to the original tri-purpose type, the Milking Devon. The tri-purpose type has since vanished in Britain but has remained intact here in the U.S. thanks to devoted enthusiasts of the breed.
The Milking Devon is well known for its heat & cold tolerance, hardiness, and ability to survive on rough forage. They are long lived and have good temperaments with good training. Cows can produce up to 12,000 lbs of milk annually and are especially good mothers. There are an estimated 600 registered Milking Devon cattle left today.(ALBC)
The shaggy haired, long horned Highland is closely associated with the beauty, mystery, and romance of the Scottish Highlands. Underneath this dramatic appearance lies a useful and productive cattle breed. The Highland descends from the native cattle of Scotland and is named for the Highland region. The breed was shaped primarily by natural selection, and as a result it is best known for its survival qualities hardiness, maternal abilities, reproductive efficiency, and longevity. Highland cattle thrive on rough forage and in cold, wet climates. Like the other Scottish beef breeds, the Galloway, Belted Galloway, and Angus, the Highland is celebrated for the excellence of its beef.
The early history of the Highland is not well recorded, though the breed was improved and standardized during the 1800s. Improvement was made through selection alone; the Highland never had any introductions from other breeds. Cattle were raised in the Highlands and on the islands nearby. They were sometimes called kyloe cattle, for they swam across the straits (or kyloes) on their way to market on the mainland. The breed became well known in Scotland and England, and a herdbook was established in 1884.
Highland cattle were first imported to North America in the 1880s, and importations have continued throughout the 1900s. The breed has always had a small but loyal following, especially in the northern part of the United States and in Canada. It is only recently, however, that Highlands are achieving their greatest popularity. One of the breed’s assets is its foraging ability. Highlands consume a wide variety of pest plants as well as grass and can be used to improve pastures. The breed is considered a “light grazer” in Europe, used to manage and diversify marginal lands without the negative impact seen with heavier breeds.(ALBC)