Did you ever notice how small the cows in old cowboy movies are compared to the horses, Colin Furness asked. That's because in America, Hereford cattle were bred to be bigger and meatier over the years.
But Colin and his wife, Kelly Furness, think that good things come in small packages. They breed miniature Herefords on their ranch in Zolfo Springs.
"They are very rare in Florida," said Kelly of the small breed as the couple zipped up to an enclosure of young cattle in their four-wheeler. "Most people hadn't heard of them up to and including our veterinarian," she added.
Modern Hereford cattle measure about 58 inches from the hip to the ground, according to the Furness's website, www.crackercrossing.com. Classic Herefords that were brought over from Herefordshire, England, measure about 10 inches shorter. The Furness's miniatures measure 43 inches or less from the hip to the ground. They also have small Cracker and Crackerford cattle on the ranch, called IdleWild.
Smaller animals means lowered costs of feeding them, less land needed and a more docile animal, explained the Furnesses, who moved to the area from Ft. Lauderdale 10 years ago to enjoy a rural lifestyle. Although neither comes from an agriculture background (Kelly is a retired high school art teacher and Colin was an international rep for allergy laboratories), both loved horses and wanted a small herd of beef cattle to take advantage of their agriculture exemption.
While the little cows make great eating, the Furness's cattle are more like pets to them. The friendly animals ran up to the gate looking for a bucket of treats. Some didn't even mind a bit of petting. Each animal sports an ear tag where its name is written. Katie is in charge of teaching the younger calves like Etta, April and Winston how to behave in a herd.
"We've never had an excessive amount of cattle that we needed to cull our herd," Kelly explained. Although some of their clients do slaughter the cattle, the Furnesses said many of their clients also become attached to the docile animals and consider them to be a part of their family and their farm.
"They are special creatures. Each one has its own personality. We're not breeding cattle for market," said Kelly, a Jacksonville native.
"Most people, when they see them, it's an instant love affair," added Colin, who is originally from Hertfordshire, England.
After raising two sons, the couple is now enjoying their animals as well as running Heartland Treasures, an antique and consignment furniture store in Sebring. Kelly owns the business, which specializes in "quality, unique items, not exclusively antiques," she emphasized.
The store serves as an outlet for Kelly's artistic side. Even as a teenager, the former art teacher enjoyed restoring and renovating old furniture. For fun, she has decorated a lampshade with old buttons, some of which have sentimental value, like the buttons off of her children's clothing. The button lamp, tucked away in a cozy nook of the store, is a popular conversation piece, but it's not for sale, Kelly said.
The Furnesses have friends that keep a lookout for items that reflect the style of the store. Items reminiscent of grandma's house, strikingly unique items, and funky pieces like the enormous wood-carved throne in the back all fit the bill.
"I feel strongly about keeping stuff out of the landfill that doesn't belong in the landfill," added Kelly. "We are a disposable society," and older furniture is often of better quality, she continued.
They also "upcycle" old, obsolete items like sewing cabinets and TV entertainment centers. Kelly said she installed a sink into one sewing cabinet to turn it into a wet bar.
"It's definitely a creative outlet for me," she said.
The couple's love for unique and rare items extends to Colin's cracker horse. One of the original breed of Florida cracker horses left over from the Spanish settlers, Banjo is one of only 1,000 or 1,200 registered animals of the breed. It's a passion of 54-year-old Kelly and 64-year-old Colin to protect the endangered animals.
As for their little cows and bulls, the couple is proud to have helped grow the miniature Hereford breed's presence in Florida and happily shared that some of their clients are also helping to expand the charming breed's presence across the state.
Colin warned visitors not to bring a trailer when they come unless they are planning to buy, because they will end up buying.
"It has happened every single time," smiled Kelly.