Catalo / Beefalo as known today.
……When I first learned of this crossing I became upset that they even tried. Then after reading hundreds of articles from the past, I learned that people like Charles Goodnight were doing it to save the buffalo more than anything. My impression is that their mission was to help domestic cattle, and if that worked, people would want to keep the bison around. After reading all these articles, I finally received my book – Heads, Hides & Horns published in 1985. The writer pretty much sums up my thoughts and feelings on the subject. Today; with all the talk about bison genetics, it bothers me that so much media, time and money is spent on purity, based on science that is under-funded and all too unfortunately and often, overstated. On one hand it’s good to know about, while on the other I think, and have evidence to support, that they are taking a challengeable thesis too far.
……We the people, that respect our bison and what was almost lost, know we are left with genes from post-bottleneck remnant herds. Our collective mission is to preserve what we were left with. We would never knowingly breed down, or away from bison. If we find a cattle marker or two in our herd, it’s a part of history, from over 100 years ago and the precious few bison-genes we are left with. A few web sites out there would have you believe that the only pure bison are the ones in Yellowstone and maybe a couple other public herds. They state percentages and numbers to defend a thesis more algorithmically possible than statistically probable. I can defend my thesis and perspective with the fact that not only has the entire YNP herd [not] been tested, but the entire existing bison species has been tested at less than one percent. Among that, less than one percent [.07% based on 500,000 head and 35,000 tested], less than one percent show – less than one point five percent cattle introgression or genes. You may be able to tell; I’m not a geneticist. I am, however, capable of simple math, and I am left thinking…..what’s the big deal?
……Today bison are numbering around 450-500,000 with ninety five percent of those animals being privately owned and managed. Approximately 20,000 head total are in public herds. Keep in mind that a percentage of the private herds are tagged as ‘ecological herds’ and managed for the purpose of conservation. Today; most private herds have yet to be tested for cattle DNA and the majority of Plains Bison in North America can be found in these private herds.
……The media likes to refer to our private or ranched bison as all or most having cattle DNA, yet all or most of these herds started from the original remnant herds of less than 1,000 head. The YNP bison herd started with 25 animals, of which [most] were donated from ranchers. With so much conflicting information out there and so much disputable premise, I felt the need for people to touch and feel the history that has become modern bison. I also hope that people will touch and feel [reason for caution] in chasing perception rather than reality by reading, in their words, the truth about the bum-steer of yesteryear. The burden of proof remains squarely placed upon science. We will continue to do our part, while we wait for science to have more facts, and breed bison to bison, only!
The conservationists have dropped the purity issue because in their own words, it’s not a big deal. From the American Bison Society conference last September quoting Peter Dratch with USFWS: Calling bison domestic animals is a mistaken notion because the process of domestication takes millennia. We’re early in that process and it may be reversible in some respects.
The Baltimore Sun Maryland June 21 1864
Heads, Hides and Horns by Larry Barnsness
Chapter 18 page 173
“The catalo will become very popular and valuable for the Western ranges”
“They might be put down as typical of American life…. they are the perfect animal for the plains of North America”
……On Friday, July 31, 1964 the Lethbridge Herald bore a headline “CATTALO EXPERIMENT ENDING HERD TO BE SLAUGHTER SHORTLY” the butchering of this heard in the next month ended a fifty-year Canadian experiment that had tried to cross Buffalo and cattle to produce a meat animal with the hardiness to live in Northern Canada. The butchering also and did the many dreams of producing magnificent catalo herds raised on the land once lorded over by their part grandfathers. But the Canadian catalo disappeared not because they starved in Arctic blizzard, not because men dislike their meat. No, they were hearty and tasty. The Canadian government killed off the new breed because ranchers didn’t need them: Herford and Angus breeds had proved tough enough for northern plains winters.
……A photograph accompanying the newspaper story shows to men clipping catalo hair samples to test for cold hardiness; the Canadians had crossbred to develop a warm, buffalo-hair winter coat on the catalo as well as to retain the cow’s small, thus frost- protected, udder. Below this photograph is another showing what the caption says are for catalo bulls; un-captioned I would have thought one a Polled Herford, the others also of domestic breeds. Where’s the hump that early cross breeders hope to plant on the back of domestic cattle to profit from pounds of extra pain choice cuts? Where’s the long warm hair? These aren’t the catalo that Texan Charles Goodnight tried to bring forth in the late 19th century. These aren’t the catalo that Kansan Buffalo Jones dreamed of when he coined the word back in the 1880s, although he first spelled it cattelo and, later, decided the word should retain only three letters for each family—catalo.
……Perhaps Buffalo Jones’s catalo existed mostly in his dreams. True, he grazed catalo at his Garden City ranch but it’s doubtful if many of those he exhibited here were born of his buffalo. He’d gone to Colorado in 1883 to see of his first catalo and had come home scheming to crossbreed if he could produce such 1800 pound carriers of meat as he saw there. For this he caught Texas calves. He thought to produce a catalo adapted to differing climates, one-quarter buffalo for Texas and the South, one-half for Colorado and Kansas and three-quarter buffalo for farther north. He claimed that catalo outdid any beef animal in hardiness and meat production, but when he wrote about crossbreeding he shied away from facts; although he wrote most persuasively and lovingly of the beast, it appears his fame arose as much from his way with language as his way with buffalo.
……In 1877, typically slam-bang, he turned young buffalo bulls in with his Galloway cows, hoping for a hybrid calf crop— a wild hope, for these were scarcely bulls, they were the two-year-olds and yearlings he’d captured as calves on the Staked Plains in 1886. No calves resulted. The next year, 1888 he reported 80 or 90 pregnant cows– but only produced to live calves. Worse, 30 of the cows had died giving birth or before. But he cruelly kept on ”experimenting.” To him, at this time, catalo only resulted from a buffalo father and a domestic mother. He believed larger domestic cows would survive birth more successfully, ignoring the fact that hybrid calves are smaller at birth than either bisontine or taurine calves; when they continued to die, he went on breeding. In his haste, he had little other choice: a domestic bull stayed aloof from shaggy, wild-smelling buffalo cows.
……He now had to highbred heifers (a highbred is a 50-50 cross) that could bear no calves and tell two or three years old– and possibly, as hybrids, might prove sterile. Rather than wait he bought Sam Bedson’s Canadian herd of eighty-three animals and with it acquired 20 crossbreeds.
……Jones outbid the Canadian government for Bedson’s herd, pain about $300 ahead ($25,000 for the herd), and then hurried to ship it out of the country because of our rumor that Dominion might prohibit its “only herd” from leaving the country. (Hardly it’s only herd. Lord Strathcona had purchased twenty-seven of Bedson’s buffalo, given five to Winnipeg and the balance to Banff National Park, and wild buffalo lived in northern Alberta.) He now had a herd of 135, but sold twenty-four to J.E. Dooley for his herd on Antelope Island in Utah’s Great Salt Lake.
……Jones believed his new stock could produce catalo– a word to him that meant, now, the offspring of parents each with buffalo and domestic cattle blood in their veins (others thought of any hybrid as a catalo). The only catalo of this definition grazing on his ranch were those he had brought their from Canada, although his own stock had, the same year, produced two more hybrid heifers. In a few years his calves might produce a catalo mixture.
……But, as a victim of the recession of the early 1890s, he had to sell his herd five years after he bought it, in 1893 to Charles Allard and Michel Pablo in Montana. Jones, then, bred catalo for only six years or so, hardly enough time to allow him to become the catalo expert newspaper and magazine stories made him out to be, stories that held him up as second only to Buffalo Bill as an expert upon things western– especially buffalo things. Jones didn’t deserve his reputation as a catalo breeder; his bad luck cut off his breeding experiments, Buffalo Jones saved the Buffalo whose blood flows in many of the herds living in the United States today but crossbred few catalo.
……In his brief experimentation, he ran up against the major difficulties of crossing a buffalo bull and a domestic cow. First, too many domestic cows die; no cattleman can stay in business losing a third of his calf-bearers each season. Second, surviving cows often abort bull calves or bear them dead. Third, any live bull calf often proves sterile. Others experienced these difficulties: Charles Allard gave up trying to raise catalo on Flatheads Lakes Wild Horse Island, because he lost too many cows. About the same time in New Jersey, Rutherford Stuyvesant gave it up when nineteen of his Galloway cows died calving.
……P.E. McKilip in Kansas had quit after 10 years, for the same reason. Consequently, since cattlemen need a large calf crop (and a fertile one) to stay in business, western newspapers often discouraged catalo experimentation. The reverse cross, a buffalo cow with a domestic bull, has killed fewer cows and produced more fertile bull calves, but, in nineteenth-century experiments, domestic bulls usually met up with cows smelling of the wild and stayed away from them.
……Earlier crossbreeders reported little of such breeding difficulties. Robert Wycliffe of Lexington, Kentucky, wrote Audobon in 1843 of his experiments. After purchasing, in 1813, two buffalo cows from a man who’d brought them from the Upper Missouri, he bred them to domestic bulls. He found the heifers fertile, but remained unsure if the “half-buffalo bull will reproduce again.” He developed some catalo striped like a zebra (in fact the coloration of catalo often runs to an “undesirable” brindle striping). Crossbreeding efforts had premeated much of the country east of the Mississippi throughout the eighteenth century. In 1750, Peter Kalm wrote that in his travels he met people who raised buffalo they’d captured and Carolina and southern Pennsylvania. Kentuckians kept cattle they claimed had descended from buffalo, animals that had the black horns and brown hooves and some of the buffalo hump, though they sported the varicolor markings of domestic cattle. Likewise, Albert Gallatin wrote of domesticated buffalo in Virginia and of fertile “mixed breed….. quite common in 1784 in some of the northern counties of Virginia… From all want a fresh supply of the wild animal, they have merged into the common kind. They were no favorites as they yielded less milk.” But, in the 1880s, 100 years later, a Nebraska and claimed 14 quarts a day from one cow that “almost all the cheese is made of buffalo milk” in this area. Also, James P Swain of Bronxville, New York, found that his catalo, a cross with Jerseys, gave milk with twenty-seven percent, almost-colorless cream. His catalo allowed a boy to handle them and stood calmly for milking. (Farmers preferred as milkers catalo cows with less than half buffalo blood.)
……Some early crosses may have come out about because of natural intermingling of cattle and buffalo (some people have contended cattle love to run off with the wild herds): artist Kurz heard “there are sometimes crossbreeds that are said to be very large splendid fellows” in the herds near Fort Union, Colonel Dodge saw some in the Republican River country about 1874, and Buffalo Bill Cody exhibited some creatures in 1888 he called catalo, captured, he claimed, near Zacateas, Mexico. But, such crossings seem rare. Charles Goodnight claimed they didn’t occur in the wild state. They are rare in the domestic state: Montana’s Spokane Ranch, which has run cattle and buffalo together for over twenty years, has experienced no natural crossings.
What’s all this Bull
About Crossing Bison and Beef?
Clearing up misconceptions about cattle genetics in today’s bison.
You may have heard comments on TV, or read stories
on the internet, that today’s bison herds contain
widespread cattle genetics. We want you to know the truth.
What’s behind these comments?
……To understand the full story, we have to go back more than 120 years. As the 1800’s came to a close, the American bison teetered on the brink of extinction. The more than 30 million animals roaming North America at one time had been decimated to he point where fewer than 600 remained alive. Roughly 25 remained in the newly- created Yellowstone National Park. The remainder wandered in isolated clusters across the prairies.
……Fortunately, five ranchers scattered along the Great Plains began to gather up those remnants and pulled the species back from the brink. Some of those ranchers experimented briefly with crossing bison with cattle in the hope of creating a hearty crossbreed. They discovered instead that the crossbred animals were highly infertile, had problems calving, and generally performed poorly. The ranchers soon dropped the experiment.
……In the process, though, some cattle genetics were introduced into some bison.
How widespread are the resulting levels of cattle genetics in today’s bison?
……We have to set the record straight. Some media stories refer to “widespread levels” of cattle genetics in the bison herds on private farms and ranches across the United States. Texas A&M University has conducted DNA testing on more than 30,000 bison in both private and public herds across North America. About six percent of those bison tested have shown evidence of cattle DNA. And, the level of cattle genetics in those bison average less than 1.5 percent of the genetic make-up.
Doesn’t crossbreeding still occur?
……There is an animal called a beefalo, which is the result of some modern crossbreeding However, those animals—and the meat they produce—are clearly labeled separately from bison or buffalo.
……The members of the National Bison Association are dedicated to maintaining the integrity of the all-natural buffalo. That’s why our members have adopted a code of ethics that specifically prohibits crossbreeding bison with any other species of animal.
Can’t you just weed out the animals with cattle genetics?
……Remember that all of the bison in the world today descended from the fewer than
600 left alive in 1894. That genetic pool is very important.
……Many ranchers today are testing their herds and culling the animals that have remnants of the cattle genetics. But, those ranchers are also taking care to protect the vital bison genetics that survived the “bottleneck” of the late 1800s