Beefalo (American Bison-Cattle Hybrid)
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'Beefalo' are a fertile hybrid offspring of domestic cattle, Bos taurus, and the American Bison, Bison bison (generally called buffalo). The breed was created to combine the best characteristics of both animals with a view towards beef production.
The term Cattalo is defined by United States law as a cross of bison and cattle which have a bison appearance; however, in Canada, cattalo is used for hybrids of all degrees and appearance. In the U.S., cattalo are regulated as "exotic animals" along with pure bison, elk, and deer. Beefalo are primarily cattle in genetics and appearance with the breed association defining a full beefalo as one with 3/8 bison genetics while they call animals with higher percentages of bison genetics as "bison hybrids".
Accidental crosses were noticed as far back as 1749 in the southern United States. Cattle and buffalo were first intentionally crossbred during the mid-1800s. Charles Goodnight was one of the first to succeed and called his hybrid cattalo. After seeing thousands of cattle die in a Kansas blizzard in 1886, Charles Jesse "Buffalo" Jones also worked to cross buffalo and cattle with the hope that they would survive the harsh winters. He called the result "cattalo" in 1888. Mossom Boyd of Bobcaygeon, Ontario first started the practice in Canada. After his death in 1914, the Canadian government continued experiments in cross-breeding up to 1964 with little success. Lawrence Boyd continues the crossbreeding work of his Grandfather on a farm in Alberta.
It was found early on that crossing a male buffalo with a domestic cow would produce few offspring but that crossing a domestic bull with a buffalo cow apparently solved the problem. The female offspring proved fertile but rarely so for the males. Although the cattalo performed well, the mating problems meant that the breeder had to maintain a herd of wild and difficult-to-handle buffalo cows.
In 1965, Jim Burnett of Montana produced a hybrid bull that was fertile. Soon after, Cory Skowronek of California formed the World Beefalo Association and began marketing the hybrids as a new breed. The new name, beefalo, was meant to separate this hybrid from the problems associated with the old cattalo hybrids. The breed was eventually set at being genetically at least 5/8 Bos taurus and 3/8 Bos bison. A USDA study showed beefalo meat, like bison meat, to be lower in fat and cholesterol. The association claims that beefalo are better able to tolerate cold and need less assistance calving than cattle while having domestic cattle's docile nature and fast growth rate; they are also thought to produce less damage to rangeland than cattle.
In 1983, the three main beefalo registration groups reorganized under the American Beefalo World Registry. There are now 2 Beefalo Associations, the American Beefalo World Registry (ABWR) and the American Beefalo International (ABI). Beefalo raising has not become widespread. The high price of this meat, partly due to low supply, has done little to generate popularity. The ABWR reports registering 1000 head a year.