The Beefalo has been around for quite some time. Back in the late 1880s, several early pioneers saw the hardiness of the bison as a very positive trait but also wanted the docile nature of the domestic cow.
They had hoped to have an animal that could handle the harsh cold winters and extremely hot summers, while also being more manageable.
Introducing the Beefalo
In the 1970s, someone decided to start marketing Beefalo. By the 1980s, the USDA recognized the animals as its own breed for a number of significant reasons. Of primary interest were the breed’s:
- longer reproductive lifespans
- smaller birth size for ease in calving (yet a rapid rate of gain with forage/roughage feeding without grains or hormones
- extreme climate adaptability (cold or hot)
- maternal instincts
- great milking
- high conception rates
- disease resistance
- superior carcass structure, quality and healthy meat
The nutritional values have shown that the breed’s meat has a superior vitamin level, higher protein, nearly 1⁄3 less cholesterol, 79 percent less fat and 66 percent less calories than conventional beef.
So, Beefalo show to be profitable in the pasture and healthy in the food market.
What Is a Beefalo?
A common misconception about the Beefalo is that it’s half cow and half bison. Those animals, however, are bison hybrids, also called Cattalo.
The USDA recognizes a fullblood Beefalo as containing 37.5 percent bison or 3⁄8 bison. Various domesticated cattle breeds are selected for desirable qualities to produce the remaining 5⁄8 heritage. Through all the crossing that was done to produce the breed, it was determined that this was the sweet spot, allowing all the best qualities of both animals to be present.
When you cross bison with domestic cattle, females from that cross prove to be fertile most of the time. Males, however, do not. The bison percentage had to be brought down to get a fertile male. The American Beefalo Association recognizes any animal containing 17 to 37.5 percent bison as a Beefalo.
A purebred Beefalo contains 34 to 37.49 percent bison, and if used on domestic cattle, will produce a halfblood Beefalo containing 17 percent or more bison.
Note: Any animal containing 17 percent or more bison will give you the hybrid vigor and nutritional value that you are looking for. A lot of beginning breeders started out with just a purebred or fullblood bull and breed it to their domestic herd. They kept those heifers slowly increasing their bison content of their herd.
So, you don’t need to start with a bison to get Beefalo.
To maintain the breed, the ABA requires that all fullblood animals be DNA-proven back to both the sire and dam. There are some breeders that focus on crossing bison with domestic cattle to provide new bloodlines. The fullblood Beefalo produced from these crosses also must be DNA-proven back to the original bison to maintain the accuracy of the breed.
This article originally appeared in the November/December 2022 issue of Hobby Farms magazine.