Florida Crackers are perhaps the oldest breed of cattle in the United States, descending from Spanish cattle brought to the New World beginning in the early 1500s. Spanish colonization brought with it extensive cattle ranching. As the Spanish gradually departed Florida, many of their cattle were abandoned and forced to survive in the harsh Florida wilderness. Through hundreds of years of natural selection in the wild, the cattle became heat tolerant, long-lived, resistant to parasites and diseases, and able to thrive on low quality forage found in the grasslands and swamps of the Deep South. These cattle eventually became the basis of the growing Florida agricultural economy, where they were hunted and rounded up by the old Florida Cowmen "crackers" of long ago. The breed was nearly brought to extinction through crossbreeding, but was saved thanks to a few old Florida families who kept pure stock, and the eventual efforts of the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services and the Florida Cracker Cattle Association to promote the breed. Due to its resilience and small size, Florida Crackers make an ideal breed for small farms, ranches, and homesteads. They have long be renowned for their quality beef production. Here at Red Hills Ranch, we are also exploring the capacity of Florida Crackers for family dairy production, with the intent of establishing the Florida Cracker as a true dual-purpose homestead cow for hot climates.
Don't confuse this petite porker with the similarly named Guinea Pig! History has attributed many names to this breed, including the Pineywoods Guinea, the Forest Hog, Acorn Eaters, Yard Pigs, and Pasture Pigs. The American Guinea Hog is the original homestead farm hog of the Old South. It is likely a compilation breed from several European (English and Spanish) breeds brought to the New World during colonization. Over hundred of years of selection and breeding, the Guinea Hog truly became a uniquely American breed. For hogs, they are relatively small (<300lbs full grown) with a slow rate of growth. For this reason, they were left behind in the race towards commercialized pork production. They were on the verge of extinction by the late 1980s, but have since made a resurgence as people are rediscovering this amazing little pig. Their small size, friendly temperament, heat-hardiness, ability to survive on pasture forage, lard yield (important and useful for homesteads), large litter sizes, high quality pork, and relatively low destructiveness for pastures and fences make this little piggy the ideal homestead hog.
One of America's oldest chicken breeds, the Plymouth Rock was first bred in Massachusetts before the U.S. Civil War, and eventually entrenched itself coast-to-coast as America's favorite dual-purpose (meat and eggs) homestead chicken. Like other heritage breeds, their popularity declined with the movement towards poultry commercialization with distinct and separate efforts for meat and for eggs. Fortunately, this powerhouse breed has been brought back from the cusp of extinction. And it's a good thing they have. It would be difficult to imagine a better homestead chicken: They have calm temperaments, are heat and cold resistant, thrive on free-range foraging while also able to tolerate coop conditions, they have good mothering instincts so they can perpetuate their flock, they lay about 200 large brown eggs a year, have a long life, and produce a lot of meat with full-grown size ranging from 7.5 to 9.5lbs. They come in many colors, the most recognizable perhaps being the black and white "barred" pattern. Here at Red Hills Ranch, we have elected to raise White Plymouth Rocks and to selectively breed for heat resilience. We are the only breeder in Florida registered with the Plymouth Rock Fancier's Club of America!