What do you get when you cross a cow and a bison? No, this isn’t the opening line of some corny joke. It is an introduction to a curious animal with an even more curious name: the Beefalo.
Beefalo, also known in Canada as Cattalo, result from the cross-breeding of domestic cattle (Bos taurus) and the American bison (Bison bison). This hybrid was first noticed in 1749, but intentional cross breeding did not happen until the mid-19th century. Today, the Beefalo standardization is set at 3/8 (37.5%) bison and 5/8 (62.5%) domestic cattle.
Colonel Samuel Bedson is recognized for the first to intentionally crossbreed for Beefalo. In 1880 he started a herd of hybrids on his ranch in Winnipeg. Naturalist Ernest Thompson Seton described the animals:
“The hybrid animal is [claimed] to be a great improvement on both of its progenitors, as it is more docile and a better milker than the Buffalo, but retains its hardihood, while the robe is finer, darker and more even, and the general shape of the animal is improved by the reduction of the hump and increased proportion of the hind-quarters.”
Early experiments in crossbreeding showed that crossing a male bison with a domestic cow would produce few offspring. Changing the parentage resulted in a dramatically different outcome, however.
The Beefalo got a boost in the United States after an 1886 Kansas blizzard destroyed thousands of cattle. Charles “Buffalo” Jones, a co-founder of Garden City, Kansas, also worked to cross bison and cattle at a ranch near the future Grand Canyon National Park, with the hope the animals could survive the harsh winters.
Today, the American Beefalo Association (ABA) heavily markets its animals. The ABA website proclaims the benefits of the Beefalo:
Beefalo will also “wow you” … in its sustainability and production efficiency. Both producers and naturalists are amazed at the documented 40% less cost and input than the conventional beef animal. The incredible vigor of the bison breed and its ability to adapt, and thrive, to living conditions here in the US cannot be matched by the European bloodlines of traditional beef breeds. They are ideal for grass-fed, all-natural, organic and hormone-free meats while requiring less production costs. In addition, Beefalo takes 30% less time to cook and 1/3 less heat to cook. A healthier beef for you and your world.
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