Beefalo are a fertile hybrid offspring of domestic cattle (Bos taurus), usually a male in managed breeding programs, and the American buffalo (Bison bison), usually a female in managed breeding programs. The breed was created to combine the characteristics of both animals for beef production.
Beefalo are primarily cattle in genetics and appearance, with the breed association defining a full Beefalo as one with three-eighths (37.5%) bison genetics, while animals with higher percentages of bison genetics are called "bison hybrids".
Accidental crosses were noticed as long ago as 1749 in the southern English colonies of North America. Beef and bison were first intentionally crossbred during the mid-19th century. 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 "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. 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 crossbreeding up to 1964, with little success. For example, in 1936 the Canadian government had successfully cross-bred 30 cattalos. Lawrence Boyd continues the crossbreeding work of his grandfather on a farm in Alberta.
It was found early on that crossing a male bison with a domestic cow would produce few offspring, but that crossing a domestic bull with a bison 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 the breeder had to maintain a herd of wild and difficult-to-handle bison 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 five-eighths Bos taurus and at most three-eighths Bison bison. A United States Department of Agriculture study showed Beefalo meat, like bison meat, to be lower in fat and cholesterol. The association claims 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[by whom?] to produce less damage to rangeland than cattle.
In 1983, the three main Beefalo registration groups reorganized under the American Beefalo World Registry. Until November 2008, there were two Beefalo associations, the American Beefalo World Registry and American Beefalo International. These organizations jointly formed the American Beefalo Association, Inc., which currently operates as the registering body for Beefalo in the United States.
Effect on wild American bison conservation
Creating the Beefalo has proven to be a serious setback to wild American bison conservation. Most current bison herds are genetically polluted or partly crossbred with cattle. There are only four genetically unmixed American bison herds left, and only one that is also free of brucellosis, the Wind Cave bison herd that roams Wind Cave National Park, South Dakota.
Dr. Dirk Van Vuren, formerly of the University of Kansas, however, points out that "The bison today that carry cattle DNA look exactly like bison, function exactly like bison and in fact are bison. For conservation groups, the interest is that they are not totally pure."
The term cattalo is defined by United States law as a cross of bison and cattle which have a bison appearance; in Canada, however, the term is used for hybrids of all degrees and appearance. In the U.S., cattalo are regulated as "exotic animals", along with pure bison and deer.
- American cattle
- Bovid hybrid
- Haldane's rule
- Wind Cave bison herd
- Antelope Island bison herd
- "Charles Jesse "Buffalo" Jones". Kshs.org. Retrieved 2009-10-02.
- "The Story of Cattalo". canadiangeographic.ca. May 2011.
- "Cattle Developed for North are Part Buffalo" Popular Mechanics, December 1934 article-photo bottom-left of pg 863
- "ABWR". ABWR. Archived from the original on 12 October 2009. Retrieved 2009-10-02.
- "Strands of undesirable DNA roam with Buffalo, By Jim Robbins, 9th January 2007, The New York Times". Wildcattleconservation.org. Retrieved 2009-10-02.
- "Polzhiehn, R.O., C. Strobeck, J. Sheraton, and R. Beech (1995). Bovine mtDNA Discovered in North American Bison Populations. Conservation Biology 9:6; 1638-43". Links.jstor.org. Retrieved 2009-10-02.
- "Halbert, N.D., Ward, T.J., Schnabel, R.D., Taylor, J.F and Derr, J.N. (2005) Conservation genomics: disequilibrium mapping of domestic cattle chromosomal segments in North American bison populations. Molecular Ecology (2005) 14, 2343–2362". Animalgenomics.missouri.edu. 2009-02-12. Retrieved 2009-10-02.[dead link]
- "Halbert, Natalie Dierschke (2003) The utilization of genetic markers to resolve modern management issues in historic bison populations: implications for species conservation Ph. D. Dissertation, Texas A&M University, December 2003" (PDF). Retrieved 2009-10-02.[dead link]
- Catherine Brahic (October 15, 2008). "American icons aren't the animals they used to be". New Scientist. Retrieved 2015-01-07.
- "Code of Federal Regulations (9CFR352.1) rev 2004. — "Catalo or Cattalo means any hybrid animal with American bison appearance resulting from direct crossbreeding of American bison and cattle."". Access.gpo.gov. Retrieved 2009-10-02.[dead link]
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