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The History of Beefalo
When white Americans first started to live in the Western part of the country Bison (incorrectly called buffalo by the French) numbered in the millions. Herds of them could stretch for miles and hunting them was like shooting fish in a barrel. Native Americans had whole cultures surrounding the bison and used them for meat and pelts. Early settlers ate them as well and because of this only dairy cows were needed in the beginning settlements. Bison numbers plummeted when the railroads were constructed out West and people could slaughter them at will from the safety of the train, without ever using an inch of their carcass. The whole species was soon decimated to a tiny population. It is at this time beef cows had to come in to replace them on the food chain.
The first recorded bison domestic cow cross occurred by accident in 1749 when a wild bison bull managed to get a domestic cow pregnant. Despite these occasional accidental breedings the beefalo still had a ways to go before it was to be considered something to purposely breed. The first concentrated effort to breed these hybrids was during the 1800's when Charles Goodnight decided he wanted a domesticated beef cow capable of withstanding harsh winter conditions that were known to kill regular cows. He crossed bison bulls with domestic cows with some success but not nearly enough to sustain his breeding program. He crossed domestic bulls with wild bison females and had a far higher birth rate. He called his hybrids Cattalo but they had some major flaws. Their temperaments tended to be more aggressive, taking after their mothers, and the males born to this first generation were all sterile, something that was considered a great financial loss. He did breed successive generations to more domestic bulls in an attempt to curb this problem but the male offspring continued to be infertile until the third or fourth cross with bovine when the percentage of bison genes they carried dwindled to 1/8 or 1/16. By this time they had lost much of the positive characteristics of the bison that Goodnight was trying to imbibe them with. It doesn't appear he ever tried to breed his hybrids back to bison bulls. After all these problems he was forced to stop his pet project but others continued in his absence, including but not limited to the Canadian government and small subsidiary ranchers. Again the Canadian government and ranchers crossed their hybrids back to domestic cows.
A break through was made when Jim Burnell entered the scene in the 1940s. He tried a different method, breeding his first generation hybrid females back to a bison bull. By 1957 he had success with a fertile bull who was 3/4 Bison. Jim didn't continue this project but instead sold the bull and two others to Bud Basolo who vowed to continue the program. Historians think it was Bud who gave the new breed of cattle the name Beefalo, as they were crosses between beef cows and Bison.
Bud was said to have created 17 or 18 of these fertile bulls who were mostly 5/8 bovine and 3/8 Bison. In this manner he created a breed of large docile cows who produced a good amount of meat and was far hardier then their bovine competitors.
Currently Beefalo are considered their own breed and have two registries in their name. A beefalo is now described only as an animal who is 5/8 Bovine and 3/8 Bison.
Why Beefalo are Bred Today
Beefalo are gaining some popularity today as they are bigger then traditional beef cows and hardier to extremes in weather. Their offspring are also smaller at birth which means they don't have as many birthing problems as traditional beef cows. Their meat is said to be lower in fat and cholesterol and higher in protein. They are for all intent and purposes a near perfect meat animal. I have not found any accounts suggesting they were ever used for dairy or fiber purposes.