Domesticating Bison for Survival
Cattle History in North America
Bison Crosses A.K.A. Cattalo or Beefalo
While some claimed to be “saving the bison” what they were actually doing was perpetuating their demise.
In the case of Charles Goodnight, he was a cattleman first and foremost. He loved animals and wildlife, he was extremely smart and always looking for solutions in any aspect. One of those solutions was the loss of cattle and cattle ranches in the harsh conditions of Texas. Losses were so great that he needed to find a way to make cattle hardier for the region. He felt the natural instincts have been bred out of them and they depended too much on humans to help them survive. That was his reason for wanting to enter the bison blood into the cattle gene pool. He never claimed to have succeeded in creating a new breed of cattle. But his experiments were interesting, not only to bison but to the cattle industry. He explored diseases, wool, milk nutrients, conformation, weight gain, habits, etc. It was always about the cattle. He never promoted crossing bison on cattle to save the bison as others did. He always kept his pure herd separate from his experiments. He even purchased new blood of pure bison for his herd. He had a great understanding of how genetics work both for his cattle and bison.
Another Plainsman (C.J. Jones) constantly promoted the crosses as being better than the real deal. While he wasn’t the first he was the most vocal and traveled. His goals seemed to be money and fame. Meat, hides, temperament everything was better with the crosses. He often claimed to have succeeded, when the truth was it failed as with all others who had tried. What his constant push of this cross did, ruined our bison then and today. A couple of years ago Arizona was contemplating the slaughter of the bison herd in the Grand Canyon left there by Jones. Luckily for them and Arizona, they did not.
I think originally, in the 18th century, crosses happened and it was thought to be a good use to replace oxen. Bison worked harder and were stronger, but the full breed was not able to be domesticated. Not really and never really are today. Harold Baynes was successful in training a team for cart, he spent a lot of time with the calves of Austin Corbin. Jones’s team never was trained but for lack of a better word “forced” into compliance. Often in images from the past, you will see nose rings and lots of tack. Jones took it a step further in using a windlass. The men of South Dakota on “Scotty’s” ranch seemed to get it done as well as some others. By what means I am not aware. It is rare to find a bison that is open to being trained for such work, they do happen but it is rare.
A NEW BREED OF CATTLE AN ORGANIZED EFFORT BEING MADE to CROSS WITH THE BUFFALO.
What Is Being; Done In the Famous Goodnight Ranch – Buffalo Half-Breed s Peculiarities of the Stock – Description of a Half-Bred Calf – Other Buffalo Ranches – An Important Innovation. (1887)
The movement to create a new breed of cattle, of which mention was made in the POST-DISPATCH some time ago,” said J. B. Hills of Council Grove, Kan., who is at the Laclede, “has already taken definite shape, and by this time next year or even sooner, we can tell whether the experiment will be a success or not.” The change in breed of which I speak is the crossing of the range cattle, or better still the half or thoroughbred Hereford with the buffalo. “As indicated in the article to which I refer, the trial will be made with buffalo cows instead of with buffalo bulls.
THE GOODNIGHT RANCH. “Charles Goodnight, the famous ranch owner and veteran cattle breeder of No Man’s Land, has for a number of years carefully preserved a herd of buffalo on one of his ranges, and from time to time has experimented with cross-breeds, but heretofore with poor success. Within the last two years, several others have joined with him in making the experiment, notably Col. C. C. Slaughter of Dallas and a ranchman near Colorado City. The want of success hitherto met with. far from discouraging the owners of the buffalo, has aroused them to new efforts, and last year a change was made which promises to add a most valuable element to the cattle product of the country. Instead of running buffalo bulls with the cows, buffalo cows were introduced, and the result has been most satisfactory on the small scale on which the experiment has been tried. The trouble with the cross between the male buffalo and the cow was that the calf generally died within a short time after birth, that those that survived were very often deformed, and that the dam seldom survived the birth. Examples of perfect animals from this cross are, however, by no means rare. Mr. Goodnight having several and Col. Slaughter at least one, which I have seen, while it is said on good authority that there is a ranch west of the Pecos in New Mexico where not only the half-breeds but four or five specimens of the quarter-breads, can be found.
“The difficulties in the way or this cross were too great to render the animals of any practical use, owing to the very small number that arrived at maturity, but the experiments made by Mr. Goodnight with buffalo breeding cows have proved that no such difficulties are to be feared in this direction. He has about ten half-breed calves at the present time, all of which are strong, healthy animals, and weigh from fifty to one hundred pounds more man the ordinary calf of the same age.
A HALF-BREED CALF. “I myself saw one of them and would know at a glance that it had buffalo blood in it. The young heifer was about 4 months old and exhibited plainly the heavy shoulders, sloping back: and light flanks of the buffalo, although these features were not nearly so pronounced as in the full-blooded animal. The light mane of the buffalo cow was indicated by a ridge of hair along the shoulder and neck, not unlike a mule’s mane, and while the animal did not show an unmistakable hump. Its shoulders were far heavier and thicker than those of the ordinary cow. The hide, while lacking the long hair characteristic of the buffalo was not nearly so smooth, although much finer than the ordinary cowhide. The color was of the buffalo dun, with no suspicion of the brindled hue of the cattle. The horns which had just begun to show had the black tips of the buffalo horns, but were not sufficiently developed to convey an idea of what they would look like when fully grown. I examined the animal, especially with a view to its beef and was more than pleased with the result. While the cuts from the flank may not be quite as good as those of the present breed of cattle, those from the hump ribs will be far better than anything we now can get, the flesh lying in thick masses along the backbone from the neck to the fifth or sixth vertebra. I have often eaten these hump ribs taken from the purebred buffalo and can speak from experience when I say that the best tenderloin does not at all compare with them. If introduced into the market the beef from the half-breed steer will beyond question be regarded as the best produced, and will not only be used largely at home but will be exported, as it is a variety that has no parallel in the world. Goodnight said that he had eaten the beef from a yearling half breed and that it was like roast beef with a game flavor.
OTHER BREEDERS. Encouraged by the success of the few experiments already made.” Mr. Hills continued, “a number of ranchmen have bought two or three buffalo cows, and one gentleman in southern Kansas is the possessor of over twenty, from which he expects to raise half breeds. I saw a letter from Northern Dakota which gave an account of a similar experiment there, the little black mountain buffalo replacing the plains animal, which is to be the oasis or the southern departure in cattle breeding. It is not yet known whether or not the mixed breed will retain the hardihood of the buffalo, but if it does the problem of successfully raising cattle on some of our cold Northern ranges will be solved. The matter will be called to the attention of the Cattle Convention to meet here next month and will attract an amount of attention that will surprise all except the few who have studied the matter. I am not inclined to be over sanguine, but unless some unforeseen difficulty should arise within five or six years the United States will have a breed of beef cattle unlike anything else in the world.”
A couple of years after this article, Jones sent a telegraph to the Texas Cattle Raisers meeting, of which Goodnight was a prominent member and promoter. Jones made his claim about his cross being a great source for cattle and bison.
It fell flat.
Sioux City Journal
Sioux City Iowa Jul 28, 1892
Fort Worth Gazette: Charles Goodnight of Goodnight, Texas has for thirteen years been cross-breeding the full blood buffalo with domestic cattle, and they make an excellent cross. He has bred the full blood but rarely, preferring the cross. The cross results in a fine closely built 700 to 900-pound beef of fine quality. The coat is not so thick; he claims but is superior quality and makes a fine robe. There is much uncertainty in breeding and as a proof he says that out of thirty-two buffalo cows, he only raised eight calves. Another fact is they only breed in alternate years. In answer to the question as to which made the better cross, he replied that he had not yet been able to cross a domestic bull with a full-blood buffalo cow. The value of a thoroughbred buffalo bull said he, varied and there was no stipulated price fixed. As for himself, he would not part with one at any price. Mr. Goodnight says he will breed sixty buffalo cows this year and will attempt to cross his bulls with a large number of native cattle.
The Los Angeles Times Los Angela California Dec 9 1894
A Texas Buffalo Ranch
Mr. Charles Goodnight’s Experiment in Inbreeding.
Goodnight a little station on the Fort Worth and Denver railroad. In Armstrong County, in the Texas Panhandle, is the home of Charles Goodnight, who is quietly but earnestly and persistently conducting an experiment in the crossing of an American buffalo with native cattle, so far without completely successful results, but certainly with very interesting ones.
Mr. Goodnight has a little home ranch of about 70,000 acres. This is his garden. His real ranch, where he does his business, is the Quitaque, some distance away, where he has about 400,000 acres under fence. It is at his little garden, or truck patch that he has his buffalo experimental station.
Several years ago, when buffalo were more plentiful in Texas than they are now, the cowboys working for Mr. Goodnight would often “rope” a buffalo calf and bring it home. These were turned into an inclosure, and, though little attention was paid to them, they formed the nucleus of the herd now on the ranch. As the wild buffalo began to disappear these became of greater interest, and six or seven years ago Mr. Goodnight began in earnest the attempt to produce a new and distinct breed by crossing buffalo and meat cattle, and trying to perpetuate this type of inbreeding.
There are now on his ranch about twenty-five or thirty full-blood buffalo and as many half-breeds. Most of these full-bloods probably all of them were calved on the ranch. Indeed, the herd are the product of the calves roped and brought in by the cowboys in the late 70s which grew up and multiplied by the regular and natural process. They are fine-looking animals. Old buffalo hunters say they never saw finer ones when these animals covered, the Texas prairies by millions, which is conclusive evidence that civilization is not fatal to the propagation of the buffalo. He needs only to be protected and given a fair show, and in time there is no reason why there should not be as many buffalo on the prairies of Texas as there were twenty years ago.
The crosses are, however, of the greatest interest. It was Mr. Goodnight’s desire to establish a type of cattle with the valuable robe, the thrifty rustling qualities, the weight and general characteristics of the buffalo. He has bred “black muleys” to the buffalo bulls the cattle being chiefly Polled Angus the result is an animal with the light hindquarters and heavy shoulders of the buffalo, the shaggy head and the long, woolly hair so desirable in buffalo robes being reproduced almost as perfectly as in the parent bull. The tail is long and flat like a mule’s tail. Horns are absent when bred to muleys. In two or three cases where the mothers were Texas cows, the horns were like buffalo horns, but some longer. One peculiar animal, which is out of place outside of a sideshow, is the offspring of a buffalo bull and Texas cow, which has black and white stripes running around the body like a zebra’s.
Mr. Goodnight finds his chief trouble in breeding the crosses. In fact, with a very few exceptions, he has found it impossible to get offspring from the half-breeds. He is not discouraged, but will preserve in his efforts, and feels confident that he will at last establish a new race of cattle in Texas.
The half-breeds are heavier in weight than the average cattle, are better rustlers, and keep fat through cold weather and hard rustling that thin the others and often result in heavy fatalities.
The Fort Worth Record FTW Oct 1901
Kansas City Star: Charles Goodnight head of the famous Goodnight ranch at Goodnight Tex is at the Midland hotel. This veteran plainsman is probably doing more than any one man in the United States In the preservation of the American buffalo from extinction Mr. Goodnight is one of the few men who has taken the facilities and understands how to make these wild cattle of the prairies multiply and prosper. He has become distinguished for his large herd of buffalo “There are about fifty pure-blooded buffalo in my herd” said Mr. Goodnight this morning “Besides these, I have a large number of mixed stock buffalo crossed with cattle but I keep the pure blood separate from all the others. Yes, I think I have had better success with my herd than almost anybody. Three-fourths of the buffalo which I have sold have died. I’ve sold a great many to cities and to parks. Buffalo breed very slowly, about once in two years. My herd has not decreased any.” “How do you care for your buffalo?” was asked “By just letting them alone,” said Mr. Goodnight “They won’t live if they are penned up. They’ve got to have all the room they want.”
“How much land have you for the fifty buffalo?”
“Two sections, or about 1300 acres,” said the plainsman. “This ground is used almost exclusively by the buffalo herd. I have a few elk among them. Sometimes the elk and the buffalo fight. But this is only during the breeding season. The elk are usually the winners. I had one elk killed by a buffalo. The elk, however, didn’t have his horns. It was during this season just after he had shed the horns. But when his horns are hard the elk is too much for the buffalo. The buffalo doesn’t know how to get through the network of horns, and besides the elk is tricky. He is a more clever fighter than the buffalo.”
Mr. Goodnight is recognized as one of the leaders in the improvement of the native range cattle. He says that there are now practically none of the old stock of long horn range cattle on the Western ranches, that the Herford’s and the “black cattle,” the Aberdeen Angus, will take their places.
“The black cattle and the Herford’s are the best for the range,” said Mr. Goodnight, “because they are good hustlers. The short horns are good beef cattle: they can’t be beat if you can take care of them, but they can’t hustle as well for themselves on the range as the Herford some ‘black cattle,” and I believe that the “black cattle” are bigger than the Herford’s.”
It was suggested to Mr. Goodnight that there was not much demand in the market now for feeders, and he was asked what the result of this condition would be.
“The feeders will have to be kept over or sacrificed,” he said. “The range is in good condition and the feeders can be kept over all right. They certainly won’t be any cheaper next year than they are now.”
Mr. Goodnight will probably return to his home tomorrow or Wednesday. He has been one of the most prominent cattlemen of the West or more than twenty-five years.
The Los Angeles Times
Los Angeles California Oct 11 1901
THE STOCK RANGE. Notes from Washington, D. C.
The views of Charles Goodnight of Goodnight, Tex., regarding the immunity of the buffalo and its crosses, are of value, as probably no other man in this country has had the same experience with wild and captive buffaloes. He writes to Dr. Victor A. Nogaard. chief of the pathological division, Bureau of 2 Animal Industry of the Agricultural Department, a letter of interest to all cattle men in view of the dread in which blackleg is held by all. Mr. Goodnight writes as follows:
“I have been satisfied for the last ten years that buffaloes are not susceptible to blackleg, but have not felt disposed to give it to the world as a whole, as it may yet develop. I was among the wild buffalo for several years where they were immensely numerous and many thousands were of the proper age to take it. I have now been breeding them about twenty years, and I am quite positive no case of blackleg occurred during that time, and up to this writing it holds good to those that are only one-fourth blood. I will this year have several head of calves only one-eighth blood, and I shall give them every chance to take blackleg in order to test them, although I think they are immune. I have been trying for several years to establish a race of cattle from the buffalo. So far I have only partially succeeded. When this is done it will be the greatest thing for the cattle industry of America. They have some characteristics that are very valuable to this interest. Besides their great weight and the extra quality of the meat, they are, first, most probably immune from blackleg; second, they never eat loco; third, they never lie with their back downhill, which causes much loss in weak cattle; fourth, they do not go in bog holes; fifth, they have the greatest dungs on any animal; sixth, they put on more flesh for what they eat than other animals.”
The Journal of Heredity CROSSING BISON AND CATTLE (images of crosses)
First Cross Dangerous But Results are Better in Each Succeeding Generation – Hope of Taking Fur and Hump of Bison and Placing Them
Upon Back of Domestic Ox. Mossom M. Boyd, Bobcaygeon, Ontario, Canada
Catalo / Beefalo as known today.
The bum-steer of yesteryear; and the burden of proof. (image)
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. See Domesticating Bison
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 websites 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! Apr 17, 2015
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.
By Maktin S. Gakretson
EXPERIMENTS in breeding and producing the Catalo (a cross between the American Buffalo and domestic cow) have been indulged in by numerous individuals with more or less success for a great number of years. The earliest account we have is that of Peter Kalm,* who states that in 1750 the calves of the wild cows and oxen which are to be met with in Carolina and other provinces south of Pennsylvania, had been obtained by several people of distinction, who brought them up among the tame cattle. When grown up, he adds, they were perfectly tame, but at the same time, very unruly. They likewise copulated with tame cattle.
Gallatin also says that they were not only domesticated, in Virginia, but were bred to domestic cattle, and that the mixed breed was fertile. As some doubts were raised on that point, he further states, writing some years later, “I must say that the mixed breed was quite common in 1784 in some of the northern counties of Virginia and that the cows, the issue of that mixture, propagated like all others. No attempt that I know of was ever made to tame a buffalo of full growth, but calves were occasionally caught by the dogs and brought alive to the settlements. A bull thus raised, was for a number of years owned in my immediate vicinity by a farmer living on the Monongahela adjoining Mason and Dixon’s line. He was permitted to roam at large, and was more dangerous to man than any bull of the common species, but to these hulls, he was most formidable, and would not suffer any to approach within two or three miles of his range. Most of the cows I knew were descended from him. From a want of fresh supply of the wild animal, they have merged into the common kind. They were no favorites as they yielded less milk. The superior size and strength of the buffalo might have improved the breed of oxen for draft, but this was not attended to, horses being almost exclusively employed in that quarter for agricultural pursuits.”
There is but little in these two accounts that would tend to show with what buffalo these crosses were made, but it is not at all unlikely that they were the buffalo that ranged over the Eastern States from Georgia to Northern New York, and were quite numerous in Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Virginia at the period mentioned in these accounts. These buffalo were said to be of a different type, and much larger than the western plains bison. –American Bison Society 1915
The Baltimore Sun Maryland June 21, 1864
1908 Arizona Catalo Brand C. J. Jones- “Buffalo Jones”
The Dayton Herald
Dayton, Ohio March 5 1923
Cattle of an entirely new species are being produced on the pasture lands of Texas. What part they will play in improving the food supply of the nation remains to be seen. The new species is called the “vernier.”
To obtain them, domestic cattle are crossed with the bison or American buffalo. The progeny of this cross is known as the “cattalo.” Then the cattalo is bred back to one of the parent stocks to produce what is known as the “vernier.”
It is claimed that this animal retains much of the hardihood of its wild ancestors. It can stand more drought and cold, get along on shorter grass and in winter will paw off snow from its feeding place, as do horses. If it has these qualities it may well play an important part in the development of the semi-arid lands, enthusiasts say. As an experiment it is interesting, to say the least, it opens up other fields for experimentation.
As population grows and food supplies become scarcer doubtless this new work will be undertaken. Probably the animal world will respond as fruitfully and readily as did the plant and vegetable world to Burbank when a genius of his talent and industry concerns himself with it. In the suggestion they have of this time, the Texas experiments are interesting, even if they are not convincing or conclusive.
1923 Post Card from Afton Oklahoma Ranch
The Butte Miner
Butte, Montana Nov 12, 1925
NEW CATTLE BRED FROM THE BUFFALO
Cow and Yak Crossed With American Bison to Increase Meat Supply.
Arctic explorers have been emphasizing for years that there is wealth in raising animals in the great northlands.
Now comes word that the Canadian government has appreciated the possibilities of its vast northern territories as stock lands and in Buffalo park at Wainwright. Alberta is carrying on a daring experiment of crossing the American bison, or buffalo, with domestic cattle. The result of the cross, says the Popular Science Monthly, is a valuable new breed of hardy cattle called the “catalo,” that will range wild in the north.
Feeding themselves, great herds of cattaloes, it is expected, will Increase at no expense, as long as the northern plains remain unsettled, repeating the history of our own prairie buffalo. It is too cold in the north for ordinary domestic cattle, unless shelters are provided for them and they are fed artificially. Buffaloes, however, will thrive in these regions, foraging for themselves and needing no shelter.
The experiments in Alberta seem to have resulted in an animal possessing the hardiness of the buffalo, yet carrying on its back a larger supply of meat. This is far more pleasing food, it is claimed, than the buffalo of pioneer days in America. Angus, Shorthorn, and Hereford cows were used In the first mating with the buffaloes.
Experiments now are being made, too, in crossing the buffalo with the yak, a draft animal from Asia. Yaks are splendid range animals capable of withstanding the effects of long, rigorous winters in the open, and at the same time, they are domesticated. Their meat, except that it is finer grained, is almost identical with beef. The natives of Asia have crossed the yak with domestic cattle successfully for many years. Now, this yak-cattle hybrid is being crossed in Canada with the bison.
Less than 20 years ago the Dominion of Canada had but a handful of buffalo and. as in the United States, it was feared these fine animals would become extinct. Today purposeful breeding has increased the number to more than 11,000. The government has spent $2,000,000 in its project to stock the plains with buffaloes. Its new scheme to set loose herds of cattaloes with valuable meat and hides will make up in a few years for this expense. It is thought and will assure an ever-growing source of revenue.
Santa Ana Register
Santa Ana, California Mar 2 1929
America Makes Some New Animals (rest of the story)
The peculiar creature at the right . . . looks like the sacred zebu of India but has three sixty-fourths cattle blood. It’s parents are sketched above and at the right.
By Frank Thone
In the old west, the hard-riding, hard-hitting, hard- drinking west, where you called a man “pardner” on sight and bought him a drink, it was not considered good form to have curiosity concerning where a man came from, or to inquire overmuch into his ancestry or antecedents.
On Ogden Standard Examiner, Dec 7 1930
Canadians Raise Cattalo,
Half Cow, Half Buffalo
TORONTO- Cattalo, a hybrid animal resulting from the cross-breeding of buffalo and domestic cattle, promises to become a reliable source of meat in northern Canada where domestic cattle, because of severe climate conditions, have found it hard to exist.
Possessing some of the characteristics of both cow and buffalo, the new type of animal has the meat qualities of beef cattle, and, like its buffalo forbearers, is hardy enough to find its own food even in the coldest weather.
The latter quality is highly desirable and cattle for the far north. By hunting their own food, the cattalo save settlers the labor of feeding them hey all winter. They can be left out to graze without fear of their becoming lost in the heavy snows.
The cattalo is the work of years of experimenting by the Canadian government. Owing to increased population in northern parts of the country, cattle for meat became necessary. And, because ordinary beef animals couldn’t withstand the rigors of northern winter, cross-breeding was started with buffalo and cows.
DIFFICULTY TO BREED
at first, the direct breeding between buffalo sire and domestic cow involved a number of difficulties. The buffalos showed a dislike for mixing with cows, and often times when breeding was successful, the calves were born dead, or males born were found to be sterile.
This difficulty necessitated bringing into the picture an animal closely akin to both buffalo and domestic cattle. This is the yak, from the steppes of Siberia and Tibet. The yak acts as the intermediate stage in the process of developing cattalo.
The hide of the cattalo is somewhat similar to that of the buffalo. It is heavily-haired and durable, making a warm cover. It is believed that the hide of this new animal will be used to take the place of buffalo robes which have almost become extinct during passing years. A great percentage of meat is carried in the hump of the cattalo, like that of the buffalo, although the hump of the former is not so pronounced as that on the latter.
YET ONLY EXPERIMENT
While the raising of cattalo is not yet an industry on the same scale as that of cattle raising, experiments are going ahead by the government, notably at Wainwright, Alberta, on the large buffalo park there. It takes a number of years for results.
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 herd 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 permeated 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 Zacatecas, 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-NBA Content
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 the 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
Barnyard Basics: Cattalo or beefalo: Bison crossbreeding
By HEATHER SMITH THOMAS Feb 22, 2019
(extract – full article)
There are a few scattered reports of ranchers dabbling in crossbreeding during the early 1900s.
A few other ranchers had successful crosses, and during the 1920s the Canadian government (Experimental Farm Service) began an extensive project to try to develop hybrid strains embodying the desirable characteristics of bison (hardiness, longevity, thriftiness, etc.) with the best features of domestic beef cattle. At first, the experimental crossing was done at the Buffalo National Park at Wainwright, Alberta, until the “cattalo” herd was moved to Manyberries, Alberta, in the late 1940s. The crossbreeding efforts continued into the 1950s at the Range Experiment Station at Manyberries.
One of the main problems they encountered was lack of fertility in the males. In 1951, the manager of the Manyberries station said that this low fertility persisted into the next generations even when the bison blood was reduced to a low percentage; only a few of the male “cattalos” were fertile.
Numerous independent experiments with crossing bison and cattle took place over the past century, and some early attempts were more successful than others. Many of the hybrid animals produced were infertile, however; they could not produce offspring themselves. For a while some people thought that this cross was sterile — like the mule — but numerous innovative breeders proved otherwise.
Special thanks to Heather for her work and allowing me to share this.
Heather Smith Thomas and her husband raise beef cattle and horses on a ranch in the mountains near Salmon. To contact her or order her books — which include “Horse Tales,” “Cow Tales” and “Ranch Tales” — call 208-756-2841 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.