About a year and a half ago this magazine published an
article by Elsie M. Banks about an unusual breed of
livestock: the American Beefalo, a 3/8 bison and 5/8
domestic cattle hybrid.
Well, Ms. Banks’s informative story created such a stir
that the folks at the American Beefalo Association have
been swamped with letters from “practically every
state in the union, every province in Canada, various parts
of Mexico, and as far away as Spain and England.”
So, in an attempt to get the word out to as many
“alternative cow” enthusiasts as possible, George E.
O’Connor — Executive Director of the ABA — has
provided the following beefalo facts to answers the most frequently asked
questions about these magnificent hybrid cattle.
Question: What are the main advantages of
raising Beefalo instead of “standard” livestock?
O’Connor: A Beefalo’s 3/8-bison,
5/8-bovine parentage provides the hybrid with the most
favorable genetic traits of both the American bison and
domestic cattle. According to ranchers who raise them, the
prolific crossbreeds are hardier, are more economical (and
less care-intensive) to nurture, and produce meat
that’s superior to that of the common cow.
To be more specific, bison-crossed livestock inherit the
foraging ability of their free-roaming ancestors, and thus
can feed entirely on available hay and grasses, efficiently converting pasturage to weight gain
without requiring extensive grain supplements. In
fact, tests by the ABA have shown that hybrids raised
solely on roughage rations actually outgain both
Beefalo and domestic cattle that have been fed on
grain. This distinctive Beefalo trait can add up to a
saving of about 10¢ for every pound the beasts put on!
In addition, the rugged critters are able to withstand
extreme cold (thanks to their thick “buffalo robes”) …
yet — like their native American forebears —
Beefalo perspire through the skin and thus maintain a
constant “cool,” even during the sultry summer months.
The hybrids are also valued for their high degree of
fertility (they mature younger and breed earlier
than do standard cattle) and their lack of
reproductive problems. Beefalo calves are born easily
— and usually without any assistance —
requiring no special “infant” care from the homesteader.
The rugged young “percentage-bison” are smaller (tipping
the scales at 40 to 60 pounds at birth) than newborn
domestics, a characteristic that lessens the birthing
hazard to the Beefalo mamas … and the foraging “babies”
rapidly gain weight, generally reaching 800 to 900 pounds
in 10 to 12 months! Furthermore, the animals live longer
than do most standard cattle, and Beefalo bossies have
a longer productive life.
Finally, Beefalo meat is tender, more flavorful (and a
little sweeter), and — believe it or not — more
nutritious than the table fare from a common
steer. The “Beefalo brand” has 4 to 6% more protein and
only a fraction of the cholesterol of supermarket steak … and less fat means less waste, less shrinkage,
and less time in the oven (which — in turn
— produces a household energy saving!). Any way you
look at it, it’s a better “beef” buy!
Question: We’re interested in building up
a Beefalo herd. How do we get started, and does the ABA
have a list of available breeders or of farmers who
O’Connor: Ranchers already owning domestic
cattle can obtain semen from full-blood Beefalo bulls and
artificially breed their standard stock to produce a
half-blood (or 19% bison) Beefalo. Then, by breeding the
hybrid females back to full-blood bulls for two or
more subsequent generations, pureblood Beefalo
(approximately 38% bison) can be obtained. And, for those
farmers who are not set up to artificially inseminate their
cows, the ABA keeps a record of registered “percentage”
bulls that are available for breeding to domestic cows.
In addition, folks who are not yet in the cattle business,
or those Beefalo enthusiasts who would like to get a
quicker jump on the upbreeding process, may want to
buy percentage Beefalo stock. The ABA does not
give out the names of breeder members who have excess
cattle to sell, but if you write a letter of inquiry to the
organization, we will have breeder-members in your area
Question: What is the average purchasing
price of Beefalo calves?
O’Connor: The hybrid stock are generally
sold at weaning age (when they’re about 205 days old),
at which time the cost for a half-blood Beefalo heifer is
around $1.00 per pound or $500 to $600 per head. (Cattle
closer to purebred are usually a little more expensive.)
The purchasing price for older animals is
determined each year by the Kentucky National Beefalo Sale.
Recent market figures ranged from $1,150 to $4,000 a head, depending, of course, on the age of the beast and the
percentage of Beefalo in its blood.
Question: Does the ABA have a purebred
association in which Beefalo can be registered?
O’Connor: Yes, the American Beefalo
Association is an active, growing organization that
registered over 10,000 “percentage” Beefalo cattle in its
first five years of recording. Not only does the ABA
register purebred Beefalo stock, but it also has
an Ancestry Record that lists the breeding of
other part-bison livestock.
Question: Are Beefalo suitable for
O’Connor: The hybrid bossies are usually
extremely good milkers (when crossed with dairy stock),
producing yields with a high butterfat content (their
production is partially dependent upon the milking record
of the domestic ancestor). One ABA member found that his
crossbreed cow gave 40 pounds of milk per day, with an
admirable butterfat content of 6.5%, while his
purebred Jerseys averaged 5.5 to 6.0% butterfat. And the
taste test? The bison ancestry imparts a slightly
sweeter-than-usual flavor to the rich, creamy drink.
Question: Where can Beefalo meat be
O’Connor: Currently, the demand for the
“buffalo beef” far exceeds the supply. Those people who are
fortunate enough to live near a breeder can sign up —
through the ABA — for the Breeder Home Freezer Sales
The outlook for future Beefalo supplies, though, seems
overwhelmingly optimistic. More and more folks are becoming
aware of the distinct advantages of the hardy and
free-foraging gentle giants. The small amount of labor and
cost required to raise the critters make them perfect stock
for ranches of any size, while the superior quality of
the beef and milk — as well as the high sale price
that surplus cattle can demand — makes the hybrid
ideal for a land-limited homestead. In short, it appears
that the American Beefalo is here to stay and will
soon be available to farmer and supermarket consumer alike.
EDITOR’S NOTE: An in-depth information packet on Beefalo
can be obtained from the American Beefalo Association,
addition, a year’s subscription to the association’s
bi-monthly magazine, Beefalo Nickel, is available
for $10 ($14 outside the U.S.).