Pineywoods cattle are a rare-breed landrace of cattle that are descended from the original Spanish stock left along the Atlantic and Gulf Coasts of Florida, Georgia, Mississippi and Alabama by the Spanish explorers in the early 16th century. The breed was historically cultivated by the Florida crackers, Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi.
Origins and Development
Spanish explorers in the 1490s and 16th century brought to the new world breeding stock of small, hardy cattle which were able to survive the sea crossing. Some were released deliberately, trusting that their survival instincts would allow them to survive and reproduce. Thus months or years later a ready food source would be available. Pineywoods (also called woods cattle and Rakestraw), Florida Crackers, Corriente, and Texas Longhorns all descended from the same original Spanish stock (also called Criollo cattle).
In time, these Spanish cattle acquired different names from the localities where they were concentrated. The name pineywoods was derived from their location in the Pineywoods of southern Mississippi.
The Pineywoods survived and adapted to their new home. For the first 350 years in the new world they lived in the wild. The ones moving west into Texas evolved to a plains habitat and developed wide sets of horns characteristic of the longhorn breeds. Those remaining in Florida, Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi had to survive in thick woods and brushy areas. This environment favored small, nimble animals with slender horns allowing passage through narrow brushy trails. Since the mid-1800s they have live in semi-wild conditions on very large family ranches along the Gulf Coast.
Early settlers and Native Americans used the cattle as oxen, meat, milk, hides, and as a trading commodity. During the early 19th century the Choctaw Indians began migrating west in search of agricultural opportunities and brought livestock, including Pineywoods, with them. History tells us only a limited number of livestock was brought west during the great Indian removal of the 1830s. Many people and livestock were lost due to the harsh traveling conditions before reaching Oklahoma. Presumably therefore the majority of Spanish type livestock were introduced to Oklahoma prior to the 1830s.
Pineywoods numbers began a decline in the late 19th century and early 20th century, displaced by improved English and European cattle in the southeastern United States. As the overall popularity and abundance of Pineywoods declined, only a few families continued to keep purebred herds. During this time the agricultural programs of the land grant universities were promoting highly bred domestic cattle and saw these as inferior “scrub” animals. The effect of these programs was to endanger the Pineywoods existence as a breed. As time passed, these herds became isolated from one another to the point that each herd has become a unique and self-contained strain.
In 1999, some estimates were that the herd had shrunk to fewer than 200 breeding animals. The Pineywoods Cattle Registry & Breeders Association (PCRBA) was formed to preserve the breed. PCRBA members are dedicated to preserving the Pineywoods breed, viewing them as a national resource, and attempt to keep them in natural conditions.
Pineywoods cattle are listed on the "critical" list by the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy (ALBC). The conservancy’s definition of critical is fewer than 200 North American annual registrations and an estimate of fewer than 2,000 global population. Less than 1000 head of pure stock, but not necessarily registered, have been located by the Pineywoods cattle registry.
The pineywoods cow is well known in some areas and has some impact on more general culture.
The Pineywoods cattle have been developed largely through natural selection. They developed natural resistance to most diseases, insects, and parasites of the region and are able to forage on rough vegetation that commercial cattle will not touch. Even though they graze grass like domestic cattle, Pineywoods also browse on brush and tree leaves and twigs like goats. This makes more efficient use of the land than domestic cattle who will graze only selectively on non-native grass.
Pineywoods are also “dry land” cattle and have evolved to avoid predators by spending only a minimum of time at their water hole. This makes them very low impact cattle, as they do not contribute as much to bank erosion and fouling of streams like most domestic stock.
Pineywoods are noted for their ability to survive and reproduce under the often-harsh conditions of the South, withstanding high temperatures and high humidity. These American breeds have important qualities, such as fertility and longevity, that are lacking in the Brahman, Zebu, and other heat-tolerant cattle commonly used. They require no assistance with calving. They are very self-sufficient due to their varied foraging habits, low birth weights, gentle disposition and hardiness. The Carter strain in particular is noted for its excellent mammary system, reproduction, longevity, docility, self-sufficiency and calving ease.
Pineywoods are generally red, brown, or occasionally black and white, spotted, or speckled. They often resemble the related Texas Longhorn and Florida Cracker cattle in color. Compared to the Texas Longhorn, the horns of the Pineywoods cattle are small to medium in length and tend to curve inward or upward and can ward off most dogs and predators. Mature weight ranges from 600–1000 pounds, occasionally larger depending on the environment. The smaller structure and horn size has been retained to meet the needs of farmers and loggers of southern Mississippi.
Despite their apparent advantages, at least in some regions, the term "pineywoods" has come to mean a thin, bony, or poor looking cow.
The various races, strains, or sub-breeds are identified by the names of the families who owed the land where the herds ranged: Holt in Georgia, Barnes in Alabama, and Conway, Bayliss and Carter in Mississippi. All are Pineywoods but the animals on each farm evolved under slightly different conditions and can be recognized by differences in color, shape, and size. Some of the family strains have been selected for specific colors or patterns. For example, Conway cattle are red/white in various patterns; Holt cattle are nearly all black/white spotted to roans; while the Griffin strain tend to be yellow.
The Carter strain began to be developed in 1850, by William Carter of Perry County, MS. No outside genes have been introduced to the herd since 1895. The Carter family owned a dairy and selected their cattle for milk production. After 1942, which marked the end of their dairy business, using the same strain of cattle, they began selecting stock for beef quality.
- "Pineywoods Cattle Registry & Breeders Association". www.pcrba.org. Retrieved 2016-04-24.
- Cultural reference: pineywoods cow babysuit: http://www.belleanddean.co.uk/organic-pineywood-cow-white-baby-bodysuit-p-31.html
- Dictionary of American Regional English. By Frederic Gomes Cassidy, Joan Houston Hall Published by Harvard University Press, 2002 ISBN 0-674-00884-7, 978-0-674-00884-7, page 168
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