When the Spanish first traveled to the New World they knew that they had to quickly create supplies of food along their travel route or they would soon starve in the hostile wilderness. So, they hit upon an innovative strategy. At points along the coast of what is now the Southeast United States they would off-load cattle, pigs, and sheep, leaving them to fend for themselves in the steamy forests. Most of these animals died from disease, predators, or starvation, but a few had the genetic gifts that allowed them to survive. And, over a period of hundreds of years, ‘land races’ emerged that were exquisitely adapted to their local environments. Pineywoods cattle are one of those breeds.
As their name suggests, pineywoods cattle adapted to the coniferous forests of the Southeast. Virtually immune to heat, humidity, and biting insects, they possessed the unusual ability to eat low-quality forage—including pine needles that would kill most cattle—and gain weight. Pineywoods give birth without assistance and remain productive for a lifespan that can be decades long. They became an ideal animal for the homesteads of early settlers in the Southeast, where eventually they were bred for meat, milk, and as draft animals to clear and plow the small garden patches that were hacked from the wilderness.
A few herds of pineywoods cattle remain in the United States. Some of the herds have not had new bloodlines introduced for more than a century. During the Civil War, one rebel owner of pineywoods cattle sent his 16-year-old son alone into the uncharted wilderness to live with and protect a herd for more than a year as he dodged Union soldiers bent on finding and killing the cattle. No new bulls have been introduced to that fugitive herd since they emerged from hiding at the end of the war.
Today, pineywoods cattle exist in small, scattered herds throughout their former range. These beautiful and resilient animals retain the traits that made them valuable centuries ago, and beef from pineywoods is considered a delicacy. Greenfire Farms maintains a pure and productive herd of these remarkable cattle.