By Larry Hacker
Some time ago, a neighbor dropped in at our farm to see some of the Beefalo that he had been hearing about. As we looked over a group of heifers grazing nearby, he commented that they were pretty good-looking animals, but that he had really come to look at BEEFALO! I explained that he was looking at a selection of Beefalo, ranging from about 18 percent bison to about 36 percent bison.
“But where is the hump?” he wanted to know. “Where is the shaggy hair and the uniform brown color? If it looks like a cow, eats like a cow, acts like a cow and bawls like a cow, why bother with Beefalo?”
Just what are the advantages of Beefalo over ordinary bovine animals? Perhaps we should start with a definition. A Beefalo is a hybrid cross between a bison and a domestic beef cow and contains between 17 percent and 37.5 percent bison blood. The intent in raising Beefalo is to combine the most favorable traits of the bison with the most favorable traits of a domestic bovine animal in order to produce a genetically superior animal capable of efficiently producing higher quality red meat.
The bison ancestor of modern Beefalo is a vigorous, rugged, hardy, healthy product of natural selection of the fittest animal to survive. The bison is an efficient grazing animal willing to eat almost anything. Obviously, the bison likes the “good stuff”-tender young plants, high in energy content; however he will readily clean up the “tough” forages, to include many weed varieties that domestic cattle avoid. This foraging ability is passed on to his Beefalo descendants.
No veterinarians were available to assist buffalo cows in delivering their calves. Therefore, by natural selection, easy calving cows survived. The rest perished. The bison ancestors passed along this easy-calving trait to the Beefalo. Average calf size depends, of course, on many factors, including nutrition, the domestic breed background, season of the year, etc., but the average Beefalo calf probably weighs between 50 and 75 pounds.
You will recall that bison herds were vast. Therefore, to obtain adequate forage they were constantly on the move. The bison baby had to be on its feet quickly, learn to nurse promptly and have sufficient stamina to keep up with the moving herd at a very young age. Beefalo babies inherit this stamina from the bison ancestors. It is not unusual to see a Beefalo calf one hour old already with a belly full of milk, dashing around his mother with his tail in the air.
The American bison ranged over much of the North American continent-from the hot, dry Southwest to the bitterly cold plains of the northern United States and Canada. Unlike the bovine species, the bison has sweat glands to help him stay cool in the hot summer sun. He also has an extremely dense hair growth, with 2 to 5 times as many hair follicles per square inch of hide as do domestic cattle. The Beefalo hybrid animal inherits the dense hair coat and the sweat glands of his bison ancestors. Therefore, the Beefalo is readily adaptable to extremes in climate. Now don’t get me wrong; Beefalo enjoy shade trees in the summer and protection form the worst of winter weather. But they adapt to extremes much more readily than their bovine ancestors.
The bison grew well on a diet consisting entirely of forages. He produced very lean meat, almost devoid of intramuscular fat. The Beefalo hybrid animal inherits this ability to convert forages into lean, tender, juicy, tasty meat that is decidedly lower in calories due to the reduced fat content. An added benefit is that with lower fat content, there is a MUCH lower cholesterol content in Beefalo beef than in domestic beef. The U.S. Department of Agriculture-approved laboratories have determined that Beefalo beef rivals fish and skinned chicken in cholesterol content.
Meat packers find that there is very little waste when processing the Beefalo carcass due to the very thin external fat covering. A packer in Kentucky told me that when he processes an average 1200-pound steer, from 50 to 100 pounds of waste fat is tossed into the fat barrel. He says that almost no fat is discarded from an equivalent Beefalo carcass.
Well, you say, if the bison heritage of the Beefalo can do all these things, why not raise bison and forget Beefalo?
The Beefalo animal inherits some mighty important traits from his bovine ancestors as well as from his bison ancestors. First of all, consider the physical structure of the bison. Some say he is “all hump and no rump.” The best steaks and roasts-the expensive cuts-come from the hind quarter of the beef animal. The bison carcass contains a very high percentage of its mass in the front quarters which contain the chuck cuts and meat suitable for ground beef-the cheap meat. The Beefalo animal inherits its physical structure from its bovine ancestry, thereby significantly enhancing its carcass value over the bison.
The bison is basically a wild animal! Experienced buffalo ranchers will state that you can drive a buffalo anywhere he wants to go and keep him anywhere he wants to stay. They are extremely hard to pen. They are aggressive and, some say, born destroyers of gates and fences. Beefalo, on the other hand, inherit the bovine temperament. They act like their cow relatives and are easy to handle and work with.
Another distinct advantage of the Beefalo is its growthiness. The average bison calf may weigh only 350 pounds at one year of age and does not reach sexual maturity until the age of two. The bison heifer normally produces its first calf as a three-year-old. The Beefalo inherits its rapid growth from the bovine side. Beefalo calves grow as fast as bovine calves, reach sexual maturity as yearlings and produce their first calf crop as two-year-olds.
The Beefalo animal is bred and selected to take advantage of the best traits of both its bovine and bison ancestors. The Beefalo is small at birth, grows rapidly, matures early, is easy to handle, and produces excellent quality table beef on a forage based diet. The meat is very low in fat and cholesterol, while retaining its tenderness and excellent taste.
Investigate Beefalo! Perhaps you should be raising Beefalo animals and consuming their superior beef! For more information or to contact a breeder near you, or call 1-800-BEEFALO