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The Beefalo, A Hybrid Blend Of Cows And Buffalo

The beefalo was no accident.

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Rachael Funnell

author

Rachael Funnell

Writer & Senior Digital Producer

Rachael is a writer and digital content producer at IFLScience with a Zoology degree from the University of Southampton, UK, and a nose for novelty animal stories.

Writer & Senior Digital Producer

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This is a beefalo, mix of cow and buffalo

Beefalo are no ordinary cattle.

Image Credit: Image credit: Karl Young via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Beefalo are a domesticated breed of cattle that was created with a little bit of encouragement from humans in the 1960s. Made up of part bovine, and part bison, the goal was to create a “superior” cattle that combined the milking ability and general ease of domestic cows, with the hardiness and meat quality of bison.

Also known as cattalo, the hybrids were dreamt up in the southwest US – part of a nation where more than half of the beef consumed is eaten by just 12 percent of the population.

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Beefalo seemed like a smart move because it produced more cost-efficient animals that were easier to manage and sell, but it came with its downsides.

Captive animals eventually escaped, and at one point it was thought around 600 beefalo were roaming free in the Grand Canyons North Rim. While a lucky escape for the hybrid cattle, it had a negative impact on the local environment as the animals wrought havoc on the region's grassland ecosystem, drinking already limited water supplies and destroying ancient stone ruins (bison have a tendency to rub themselves against standing structures).

If you’re wondering why beefalo and not cowson, the buffalo Bison bonasus are also known colloquially as European bison. As herd animals, they can live in mixed or solely male groups, and they’re the heaviest wild land animals in Europe.

It’s been a rough ride for bison, a group of animals that were deprived of their habitat by humans that hunted them to near extinction in the past. By 1927, there were less than 50 European bison left, surviving only in zoos, but now Rewilding Europe states there are around 8,500 animals, 6,200 of which are living in the wild. Having disappeared from the wild in the 20th century, parts of Europe are now welcoming back these animals – and for some, it’s been an especially long time.

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In July 2022, three female bison made history after being reintroduced to a reserve in Kent, UK, making them the first wild-roaming bison in Britain for thousands of years. Come October of the same year, they were making history again as they welcomed the pitter-patter of baby bison hooves.

As for wild beefalo, there were concerns following the surprising discovery of a female cow who had escaped from a farm to start a new life with a herd of 50 bison in Poland. Were she to breed with her newfound brethren, a baby beefalo was on the cards, but surviving the process of giving birth to a hybrid animal that could one day be larger than yourself isn’t always guaranteed.

Speaking of peculiar hybrids, did you hear about the first documented case of a dog-pampas-fox blend? She was 50 percent pampas fox, 50 percent dog, 100 percent one-of-a-kind.

An earlier version of this article was published in September 2023.


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  • Beefalo

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