Sunday, November 04, 2007

The Florida Cracker Cattle Auction

I missed it last year, but this year I made it to the Florida Cracker Cattle Association's annual sale. I didn't go by Cracker pony like this cowboy, I went by JEEP. My adventure went something like this ...

I dallied a little yesterday morning, lingering over hot coffee and soaking in the 43 degree temperatures here in Pure Florida. Eventually, I realized it was past time to go and I dashed out and hopped into the almost topless, open JEEP for the ride down to Brooksville. The most efficient route would have been to head to I-75 through Williston, but that is SO not my way.
Efficiency, I mean.

Instead, I just headed south on US-19, knowing that if I just headed east somewhere between Crystal River and Weeki Wachee, I should get to the ranch where the auction was being held.

How to describe a Fall Florida day ? ... perfectly blue sky, chilly air, and best of all ... no humidity. The crisp air was blasting through the JEEP as I rocketed through Crystal River and east on SR-44. Delicious.
A quick stop in Inverness at the Wally World to get a western cut denim shirt ... when in Rome, y'all ... and then I was back on the road.

The auction started at 1:00 pm and by the time I got to I-75, it was pretty clear I was going to arrive either late or right on time. This IS my way, sadly. I'm rarely early anywhere.

Near Wildwood, I turned off of the main road onto a tiny road that paralleled the Withlacoochee State Trail, a fine rails to trails project. Like the sandhill cranes, beautiful lakes, and streams I had passed that morning, I had to keep going if I was going to make it on time. I passed the trailhead with only a side glance.

A sign, "Cracker Sale", told me I was there and I turned off the pavement into a long gravel drive that took me deep into a beautiful ranch.
12:55 pm ... I was actually early for something!
Of course if I had been there earlier, I could have had some of the lunch everyone was finishing, but food could wait ... in front of me were hundreds of cracker cows.

Just in front of the auction arena, I met Barbara Cairns, an artist and writer. She was very nice and we chatted about her painting and book, "Cracker Cow".
You can learn more about that at

Here are two typical cracker cows. I think the auctioneer said the calf was from this heifer, but I may have interpreted it that way. They were sticking pretty close to each other. I'm not set up for cattle yet back at Pure Florida Headquarters, so I was looking and learning on this trip, not buying.

Watching the auction, I was relieved to see that the calves were going for anywhere from $250 - $500, with lots of $300ish sales. I was afraid a rare breed might fetch ridiculous prices, but these seemed attainable.
(Note to self, switch Harley fund to Cow fund)

It was mostly, but not all cattle at the auction. There were a few Cracker Ponies in the mix too. This beauty was out on tether in the parking lot.

I was impressed by how mellow most of these FC cattle were, but occasionally one would get feisty and toss some dirt. This one butted his head through the gate bars and got stuck. Immediately these 4 hands gently, but firmly turned his head and backed the struggling cow out of harm's way.

Above are a few scenes from the auction. The auctioneer is the guy on the left, and the guy on the right with the excellent Sam Elliot style moustache is the master of ceremonies. They did a great job.

A few of you requested cow portraits. I had to shoot over and through bars, but the collage above is for you.
These Cracker cows have wonderful genetics. The colors are amazing ... chocolate, black, brown, white, brindle, spotted, ridgebacks ... just amazing variety.

The cow in the bottom right photo had enough and made an attempt to climb into the auction box, but thought better of it. I was kind of partial to the artwork on the Florida Cracker Cattle Association banner ...
After missing lunch and watching cows for a couple of hours, I was ready to eat one. I'm not much of a fastfood eater anymore, but I hit this Wendys as soon as I got back on the main highway.

With the auction over, I was ready to poke my way home on back roads. I told myself I'd go west on SR-50 only until I saw the first county road that headed west or north. I had not gone more than 5 miles when I saw the sign above and ... well, you know I had to pull in there. I needed chicken feed anyway.

I walked into the feed store to find a lady, a teen, and a man going over some old coins at the counter. They had a coin guide book and were trying to ID the coins. I grabbed the bag of chicken feed and walked up to the counter.
The lady was very pleasant. I told her about PF and that I wanted to photograph her sign outside. She thought that was great and as it turned out she's a fan of Cracker Architecture, so we talked about Cracker Houses a bit.

Hanging on the wall behind her was a Florida Cracker T-shirt for sale, so I had to buy one of those to go with my chicken feed. After a nice conversation, I headed back out.

I swear I met the friendliest people on this road trip.

I wound my way back to PFHQ very slowly through beautiful rolling hills and mostly woods and farm scenery.
It's so nice to go with no schedule, I didn't have to be home at any particular time or at all if I chose. Mrs. FC was at the UF Gator game with her brother and Junior was at the movies with friends, ... nobody was depending on me to be anywhere.

I stopped at every trailhead and park that I passed and gathered a few more photos for future posts as I stretched an hour and a half drive into 5 hours.

At one of those trailhead kiosks, I think I caught a glimpse of a future cattle baron.


roger said...

the harley would be a bit inappropriate for herding cracker cows. you'll need a cracker pony for sure. how big a herd ya goin' for pardner?

SophieMae said...

Now that's my idea of the perfect day! I just love that part of Flarda. I really wanted to go check out the sale, as well, but there were just too many other things going on closer to home. We ended up at the caverns' festival, which I'll have to post about this evening. It was pretty cool, but not nearly as cool as cracker cows and horses.

Gotta love that Sam Elliot 'stache. If I had crushes, he'd be THE one. 8-}

Looking forward to the day your name is spoken along with the likes of JB Starkey and Bone Mizzel.

robin andrea said...

Now that's a long and satisfying day. You are definitely an adventurer, heading out on country roads with only directions in mind. It's a great way to stumble on to gems like Florida Cracker Farm and Pet Supply. I think Ms Sara N Dipity rides with you everyday.

Brenda said...

Quote," I think the auctioneer said the calf was from this heifer, but I may have interpreted it that way."
Unless cattle in Florida are different than in Canada, a heifer is an female animal that has not yet calved. So, the calf would not have been from her or she would have been called a cow rather than a heifer. Just my thought, I could be wrong.

pablo said...

Dude, you should totally grow a handlebar mustache like the cowboy in that photo.

Floridacracker said...

startin' out very small and learning as i go. i have some fencing to do first.

Well, I had to Google J.B. Starkey and wow! That's a preserve I have to go see ... 18,000 acres!
Goin' to NPR on the 18th for the dedication of a county park named after my wife's father.
How cool is that? Waaaaaay cool.

It's the only way to fly.
It makes me wonder about how much I'm missing when I can't do that.

I've never been shy about appearing ignorant :)
Thanks for the correction, I need to bone up on my cattle vocabulary!
Welcome to Pure Florida!

Maybe when I take this beard off in the spring!

threecollie said...

We call them heifers until they have their second calf, so it easily could have been hers.
Great post! Cows are so much better than Harleys, quieter, gentler, smell better, don't use fossil fuels, I could go on and on. lol, Oh, wait a minute, I often do.

Thunder Dave said...

Nice hat! But do ya have the boots to go with it?

SophieMae said...

way WAAAAAY cool! Mrs PF must be busting her buttons. There's a park in Largo named after one of my second cousins... or is it first cousin twice removed? Or...???

Bet Mrs PF knows all about JB. When we lived in NPR, we used to love driving through the city's well field. It's now Jay B Starkey Wilderness Park. If you have time while you're down there, you should check it out.

smilin-buddha said...

Hey PF. I got a extra Harley book You want it its yours. Email me a shipping address. I figured you can used it for dreaming purposes. I would go with the cow. Todd

Tmshaffer at

Floridacracker said...

Thanks, of everyone who graces PF, I thought you would get the biggest kick out of this post.

I haven't done boots yet ... such a sneaker guy.
Djoo deprune yet?

She is! She wants to canoe down from her Daddy's park to her brother's house on the river. I like that idea.

Floridacracker said...

Smilin B,
Thanks pal! I really am partial to the Kawasaki Vulcan 500 Ltd ... and cows of course.

Danielle Blogging for Balance said...

You won't believe this...oh of course you will....I have the same Florida Crackers Pet and Supply photo in my photo file...just waiting for an opportune time to post it ;)...great minds and all that. I love this post...and now I know that you are an expert. As my husband and I were traveling down 486 the other evening I mentioned that it was time for the cows in the pasture to be heading home...he made fun of me and mentioned that they don't 'go home'..they stay in the pasture all the time. Now...since you are now a cracker cow expert tell me....don't cows go in the barn in the evening?? They don't stay out in the field 24/7 do they????? I am now going to have to post my cracker photo just for you ;)

Danielle Blogging for Balance said...

Okay, I couldn't help myself...I had to post my photo ;)...BTW...we went fishing off Ft. Island Gulf today and my daughter caught a hammerhead kidding...we were so excited...she truly almost fell out of the boat trying to haul it in...catch and release of course but it was so awesome!

Cathy S. said...

How many horses were there? My dream is to someday own a Florida Cracker horse. I have come close twice and then, rethought it. As my husband says, I can't ride two horses at a time. I think it would be so cool to use in my work. I wonder if I can deduct the expense? FYI, the Florida Cracker Horse association usually has an auction in the spring. As for J.B. Starkey, I had the priviledge to interview three generations of that family when I was in graduate school. The patriarch was the nicest man and always remembered me when he went to my father in laws car dealership to get his car serviced. After they downsized the ranch selling off a portion to SWIFMUD, they turned the remainder into an eco tourism site. You could take a tour of the ranch in an old schoolbus wiht the top cut off. I learned a lot about the terrain of my home state taking their tours and even went twice to ride horseback on the ranch. Once was a moonlight ride and we saw a cow give birth. Their ranch was the first time I saw a Cracker horse. The Starkeys are Floridians at their finest even though now they are having to develop their property to keep up with taxes, etc., they are doing it their way as a planned development and taking into account the environment. Good people. Thanks for the memories. Next year, I have to go to the auction and take a horse trailer!

OldHorsetailSnake said...

Very nice, FC. But: Is ridgeback a color? I always thought it was a back. Ho ho har de har har.

Great post, kid.

Floridacracker said...

Too funny about the sign! And too cool about the catch and release of the hammerhead! Any pics?
I am so not an expert on cattle ..."All hat and no cattle" is how the saying goes.
My buddy Three Collie of Northview Diary is the bovine boss. She could chime in on that cows go home question with authority.
I'm guessing they often do, but I'm a greenhorn.

Cathy S,
Thanks for that background! This is such a neat chain reaction to Sophie's comment ... gotta love the blogosphere.
I had no idea that so much of the Pith floodplain was protected. It's a very pleasant discovery for me.
When I was dating the future Mrs. FC, there was a "Boot Ranch" near NPR. Was that part of the Starkey property?
I hope you get that Cracker Pony someday.

Thanks for calling me "kid".
Some of them were a solid black with a brown ridge of hair down the back ... don't know if ridgeback is an official term or not.

Sharon said...

OHH!!!! I want a cracker pony! And in the cow collage, I LOVE LOVE LOVE the one top right. :) Sounds like an awesome day. I'm the exact same way, I love to meander and take the scenic route. Sometimes drives my all-about-efficiency hubby crazy. ;)

Floridacracker said...

Well, when you get that place in the country ...
I knew the top right cutie would be the winner. Those whiskers and soulfull eyes are a proven combo.

Sharon said...

Trust me, I'm already working that angle :) So is my daughter, it would be both our dreams come true.

Leslie said...

You probably already know this, but not only are Florida Cracker endangered (they're on the American Livestock Breed Conservancy's "critical" list), they're also one of the breeds designated as "tasty" but the Slow Food Ark of Taste.

I think dairy cattle come home (to be milked) and beef cattle stay out 24x7. My dad's family has always had a few head of angus (beef cattle) and they go where they want, 24x7.

Floridacracker said...

Best of luck on that quest.

Yes, I used to be a member but am not presently. I didn't know about the Slow Food Ark of Taste though. Thanks.
I think your dairy/beef cattle comment is the way it is here too.

Ol' Lurker said...

"Harley fund to Cow fund" - good choice, FC. You can eat a cow, but a Harley will stain your teeth.....

Floridacracker said...

Yes, and don't forget the bugs in your teeth a motorcycle provides.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the information about the auctions very helpful.