The short answer is: For the African genetics.
To expand on that, we chose to stock the Blue Head almost totally with cattle that can trace their
ancestry back to Africa. Originating in the harsh climate of northern Africa they were taken to Europe by
Moorish invaders in the middle ages and then brought to the New World by the Spanish explorers in the
early 1500’s. From then until around 100 years ago they were virtually the only breed of cattle in Florida
and have adapted to survive, and even thrive, on just what Florida grows. As a product of the
wilderness they do well where more refined, “bred up” cattle have to be pampered.
We wanted cows with a mature body weight in the 800 to 900 lb range, genetically adapted to a
subtropical environment that can thrive with little or no supplementation, able to raise a calf every year
for many years and of Bos Taurus origin. While, in modern times, Bos Indicus (Brahman and Brahman
crosses) have become predominant in Florida we are convinced that to do well with minimal inputs the
tropically adapted Bos Taurus cattle, which includes Crackers, Corrientes and Longhorns, are preferable.
What is today known as the “Cracker” breed is the Florida strain of the cattle of Spanish origin that
includes the “Corriente” of Mexico and the “Longhorn” of the American Southwest. We needed 4,000
head to initially stock the ranch and finding that many Florida Cracker cows that could be purchased
wasn’t going to be possible so we opted to also buy Corriente and Longhorn cows as well as a few
crossbreeds, some with Brahman influence.
Most of our cattle are horned. We find this to be of substantial benefit on the infrequent occasions that
they are in the pens. Two or three times each year we have to put all the cattle through the cowpens
for such activities as to separate the calves from the cows at weaning time, to take the bulls out at the
end of the breeding season or when we brand and vaccinate the calves. We commonly work 2,000 or
more in just a few hours and horned cattle don’t crowd together. Because of the horns they keep plenty
of space around themselves and the stress of being in a small pen or alley is greatly reduced. Polled
(hornless) cattle jam together more closely and suffer more from the heat.
An unexpected trait we’re finding in these cattle is that they tend to spurn the bagged mineral
supplements that most cattle, especially in high rainfall, leached soil environments like Florida tend to
crave and indeed, nearly require to thrive. Our cows were all purchased in September and October of
2015 from all across the southern tier of states, Florida to Texas and as far north as Colorado and
Oklahoma. For a few months they gobbled the mineral mixes we provided about as fast as we could
haul it to them but in the early summer of 2016 they began to leave more and more in the tubs until, by
fall, they completely ignored it. This has continued right up to the present. Initially worried that surely
they must be lacking in at least some of the minerals necessary we have become convinced that they
are finding what they need in the forage they consume. These cows are browsers almost as much as
grazers and eat a little of everything, including many shrubs and forbs normally considered to be toxic to
cattle. They are constantly moving to fresh feed in new pastures. A few are “improved” with near
monocultures of introduced grass species but, more often, have a wide range of native grasses, shrubs,
forbs and trees and apparently our cows are meeting their mineral requirements by eating just enough
of plants that contain what they need. We still offer them some commercial mineral from time to time
but they continue to turn their noses up at it.