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What Is a Beefalo?

By Angela Farrer
Updated Jun 04, 2024
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A beefalo is an animal born as a result of cross-breeding between an American bison and a domestic cow. Various cattle breeds can successfully produce this kind of fertile hybrid. Although random beefalo births date back to the 1700s, these animals were first intentionally cross-bred during the 19th century when ranchers discovered the potential market for beefalo meat. Although buffalo and cattle belong to both a separate genus and a separate species, they still have enough compatible genes to be able to produce viable offspring. The red meat from one of these hybrids is noted for its lower amounts of fat and cholesterol; it also contains fewer calories while still retaining a rich beef flavor.

Several characteristics give the average bovid hybrid advantages over nonhybrid cattle or buffalo. These animals are generally heartier and able to thrive on a wider variety of grasses, including drier roughage during droughts. Unlike other cross-bred animals such as mules, beefalo are able to produce offspring. They are also better adapted to extreme temperatures; thicker woolly hair keeps them warmer in cold weather and a better ability to sweat cools them off in hot weather.

The advantageous traits of a beefalo make it an example of a hybrid vigor, which is an offspring that has a degree of superiority over either of its parents. The fact that these animals are able to reproduce also makes them exceptions to the scientific principle of Haldane's Rule. This rule of biology attempts to provide a systematic explanation for the occurrence of sterility among other types of hybrid animals.

American bison are not the only breeds used for this kind of cross-breeding. A zubron is a type of bovid hybrid that is born from the mating of a domestic cow with a wisent, which is a species of European buffalo with a few different characteristics. These animals typically have longer tails, somewhat larger horns, and shorter coats surrounding their heads. Wisents also differ in grazing and breeding behavior; instances of them mating with cattle are less common, making their zubron offspring somewhat rarer.

Although they are not classified as beefalo, many American bison are found to contain small amounts of genetic material from cattle. One exception is the Wind Cave Bison Herd, a group of genetically pure buffalo that has been purposefully bred as a preservation effort. The herd is one of the few remaining ones that roam free in North America after the buffalo nearly became extinct during the 19th century.

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Discussion Comments
By hamje32 — On Mar 10, 2012

@SkyWhisperer - I am sure some people might protest the hybrid breeding program, but this isn’t exactly human cloning. After all, this type of mixed breeding has been going on for centuries.

Now we have better technology to do it and I think we can reduce the risks of adverse side effects. I think if it results in a leaner, stronger animal it’s more than justified, and it adds a bit of diversity to nature!

Like many here, I’ve never tasted beefalo meat, but I did have buffalo steak once and it’s definitely leaner meat. It’s probably not for everyone but I liked it.

By SkyWhisperer — On Mar 10, 2012

I can see that I am not alone among people who have never heard of beefalo. It would help me if I could see some beefalo pictures.

Even then, however, I might not be able to tell the difference between a beefalo and a buffalo. I am not exactly an expert. I do wonder, however, how scientists decide which animals to mate together in these hybrid breeding programs.

Is it as simple as finding two species of animals with strong traits and then mating those species together to create a super hybrid? Don’t accidents sometimes occur? Does anyone raise ethical objections to this practice at all?

By myharley — On Mar 09, 2012

I live in the Midwest where we have cattle grazing all over the place. I have seen buffalo meat for sale in a few grocery stores, but have never seen beefalo.

How much more expensive is this than beef? When I see meat like this for sale, I often wonder what type of standards they are required to go through when processing and marketing their meat.

The USDA has strict guidelines for the food we are used to buying in our regular grocery stores. Are those people who market something like beefalo required to meet the same standards?

By golf07 — On Mar 09, 2012

I think there are many people who have misconceptions about what meat like beefalo would taste like.

Some people are reluctant to try anything different than what they are used to. We are so used to eating beef from cows, that we don't think anything about it.

Once when I was served a bison steak at a friend's house, I had no idea it wasn't a beef steak. I don't know if it was the way it was prepared, or if it was the cut of meat, but it was very tender, juicy and flavorful.

I think there would be a lot of people who would be hesitant to try beefalo meat. It would probably be more expensive than beef and that would also make it a hard market to get started in.

By sunshined — On Mar 08, 2012

I live in a state that has extreme temperatures in the winter and summer. Many years ago buffalo roamed freely in our state. Now you only see them if they are on some kind of wildlife preserve.

Currently our state has many farmers who raise grass-fed beef. Even with living here, I have never heard of beefalo. This sounds like a bovid hybrid that would do well in my area of the country, but I don't know anyone who raises them.

The next time I buy my organic grass-fed beef from my supplier, I am going to ask him if he has heard of them. It might be something he would be interested in raising.

By Mykol — On Mar 07, 2012
Since my husband is a hunter, I am used to eating different kinds of meat. I don't care for the taste of some game such as venison, but I really enjoyed the taste of bison burgers.

The meat is a little leaner than beef and I found the taste to be very similar. I have never tried beefalo though. I think the combination of bison and beef would be very good.

Many people discourage eating a lot of red meat, but I think if you can eat meat that is lower in fat and cholesterol, it isn't so much of an issue.

I wonder how long it will be before we start seeing beefalo for sale in our supermarkets?

By Mor — On Mar 07, 2012

@umbra21 - Yeah, the old time farmers weren't stupid. They did try to breed bison with cows, but unfortunately if you take a male bison and a female cow the result is often sterile.

It's only when you have a female bison and a bull that you can get fertile offspring.

And, that causes all kinds of problems, because female bison are going to be wild. Keeping only one male wouldn't be too difficult since you only need him to do one thing. Keeping a bunch of female bison who need to be moved around, bred, and so forth is much more difficult.

But, eventually they ironed out the kinks and ended up with quite a good breed. If it wasn't so expensive, I would consider running some myself, but I'm always worried about that kind of initial outlay, since if the animal dies, you're out uite a lot of capital.

By umbra21 — On Mar 06, 2012

I guess it's more because of the way it sounds than anything, but calling an animal after a kind of meat seems a little off to me.

I guess it's no different from the word chicken which is used to mean the bird and the meat. But, I like the term "cattalo" as in "beefalo cattle".

Otherwise I just imagine walking hunks of meat, rather than living creatures.

According to what I've read though, people used to call them cattalo, back when the research on them was just starting and there were all kinds of difficulties with the breed.

So, they switched it to beefalo in order to make sure farmers could distinguish between the successful hybrid and the not so successful first attempts.

By irontoenail — On Mar 06, 2012

I'm really surprised that beefalos are able to reproduce. I've always been taught that hybrid animals and plants are rarely able to do that. For example, when you breed together a horse and a zebra, the result is a sterile animal (which, to be honest, is why that's not done very often).

Mules are another example as they are the result of breeding a horse with a donkey and they are always sterile as well.

It doesn't surprise me that there is quite a lot of contamination in buffalo herds because of this. At one point they would have been competing directly with cattle all the time, and the cattle were allowed to roam all over the place. I'm surprised I've never heard of this before, in fact, since it seems like people settling the US would have taken advantage of this hybrid vigor before now.

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