Ranching in Florida; The Florida Cow
- September 27, 2023
- Marisol Tarango
You have heard of the Florida Man, but let me introduce you to the Florida Cow.
The first cattle in Florida were essentially feral cattle roaming around in the wild swamps and prairies of Florida. They were eventually domesticated over time, becoming known as Cracker Cattle. After the civil war, these roaming herds were gathered and driven to southern ports in Florida to be shipped to Cuba. As time went on, new breeds of cattle were brought into Florida to either replace or to improve herd genetics of the local cattle. Today these cracker cattle are not as common, but there will always be the old granny cow who still has a flare of that wild breed in her speckled hide.
While there are many breeds of cattle in Florida that are used for beef, one thing in common is that they are all influenced by the Brahman or other Bos indicus breeds (the big grey cattle with big humps and cute floppy ears, and the black eyes that either have the look of death in them or are just asking for a scratch.). Having some DNA from these types of cattle is necessary in Florida because of their heat tolerance. It can be commented that “a cow doesn’t have enough “ear”” (meaning not enough Bos indicus to withstand the heat) or that “a cow has too much “English”” (meaning too much European breeding and not enough influence of heat tolerant breeds). However, this heat tolerance breeding does come at a price.
For some reason these heat tolerant cattle tend to be hot headed when put under pressure, and any cattleman knows that a Florida cow under pressure is a desperate animal that is willing to take desperate measures. One of the desperate measures that Florida cattle are willing to take is jumping out of the pens. I have heard stories of full-grown bulls clearing a fence twice as tall themselves with the ease of a deer and the athleticism of an arena jumper. I have personally seen countless cows jump out of the pens because they decided that they were just done, not angry, just done. It was not uncommon when my siblings and I were younger for all of us to be holding our breath while we tried to get the jumper into the hopper and onto the trailer without her jumping out of the pens so we could take her to the market. I am of the mind that if a cow even looks like she is thinking about jumping, she should be on the next trailer to the market. Nothing tests the trust between a father and daughter more than a pen full of 19 F-1 tiger stripe heifers that had been entrusted with the daughter, and the first day 2 jump out. After a 3-day hunt, the wilder one of the two heifers is roped and loaded in the trailer, but is, to the daughter’s surprise and against her better judgement, deposited back into the pen with the rest of the herd. (Geraldine actually turned out to be a great mom and is not a habitual jumper.) Jumping is not the only danger with these cattle. Nothing will teach you to climb a fence faster than a mad Brahman heifer who does not want to go through the chute. A funny quirk to these giants with anger management issues is that they sometimes get so angry they just lay down, wherever they are, like a two-year-old pitching a fit.
I can remember when I was about 13, my sister, my cousin, and I had gone to work with my dad on a ranch that had a purebred Brahman Bull. When it was his turn to go down the chute, my dad called for us to be quiet and still, but he didn’t have to. Nothing will quiet three giggling preteen girls faster than a Gray Brahman Bull so big that he has to squeeze through the chute and shakes the wooden catwalk that they are standing on. But Brahman bulls are actually the biggest babies. Most of the ones that we had growing up loved to eat out of our hands; we had one that loved cupcakes specifically. It is quite a sight to see a grown bull eating a pink cupcake. Another Brahman bull, that we got as a yearling, we called our baby brontosaurus because the night we got him he kept crying in his pen and sounded like something from Jurassic Park. It is also very startling when a yearling bull comes out of the bushes while you are trying to fix fence in the dark and starts to follow you around, even if he is only trying to find a friend.
Florida cows really aren’t terribly different from other cattle, you just have to know how to read them and feed them. But it does feel very validating when you hear northern cowboys say you have to “watch out for those long-eared cattle.” It makes you feel like you might actually not be paranoid about the heifers trying to ram you.
About Marisol Tarango
Marisol lives on her family’s ranch in Central Florida where she grew up working cattle and horses with her dad and four siblings, while being homeschooled by her mom. Today she balances her life between working on the ranch, working as a church secretary in...