Beefalo are a fertile hybrid offspring of domestic cattle, Bos taurus, and the American Bison, Bison bison (generally called buffalo in the US). The breed was created to combine the best characteristics of both animals with a view towards beef production.
Beefalo are primarily cattle in genetics and appearance, with the breed association defining a full beefalo as one with ⅜ (37.5%) bison genetics, while they call animals with higher percentages of bison genetics "bison hybrids".
Accidental crosses were noticed as far back as 1749 in the southern English colonies of North America. Cattle and buffalo 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 Jesse "Buffalo" Jones, a co-founder of Garden City, Kansas, also worked to cross buffalo and cattle at a ranch near the future Grand Canyon National Park, with the hope that 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. 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 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 ⅝ Bos taurus and ⅜ Bison 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. Until November 2008, there were 2 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.
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