‘Beefalo’ vs. Buffalo

  • Some American bison are contaminated with cow genes. The genes are left over from the early days of cross-breeding. (Photo by Paul Frederickson, Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

In iconic images of the Great Plains, you always see the land dotted with bison. Those bison helped make the prairies what they were. But the bison that you see on prairie preserves today are not exactly the same as the ones that once roamed the plains. The Environment Report’s Charity Nebbe has more:


We have a handful of ranchers to thank for the fact that we have any bison today. At one point there were only about a thousand and now there are half a million. Bob Hamilton is the Director of the Tallgrass Prairie Preserve in Oklahoma. He says the ranchers who saved the bison also put them at risk.

“Part of their motivation was also to see if they could cross breed bison with domestic livestock to see if they could produce a hardier winter resistant ‘beefalo’.”

The beefalo were not hardy and the ranchers abandoned their project, but the cattle genes remain. Bob Hamilton’s herd consists of 2,700 bison. Thanks to genetic testing, Hamilton has been able to weed out all of the bison carrying the most damaging kind of cattle DNA. But, there is some genetic material he just can’t get rid of. Chances are, there will always be a little bit of beef in the buffalo.

For the Environment Report I’m Charity Nebbe.

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