HYBRID BOVINES

AMERICA MAKES SOME NEW ANIMALS - By Frank Thone (Miami Daily News Record, 7th March, 1929):-

Crosses between cattle and the native bison, between cattle and long-haired yaks from the Himalayas, between Siberian reindeer and Alaskan caribou, between fat-tailed sheep from Persia and domestic sheep from England, are among the new citizens of the North American west. There won’t be any undesirable citizens among them. Such will be born, no doubt, but the breeder can weed them out as infants. They do not have a chance to survive, as did some of their human prototypes, who later succeeded in escaping even the sheriff’s six-gun or the ready noose of a vigilance committee. That is one advantage the animal melting pot has over the human one. The undesirable animal crosses are cither eliminated at once or survive only as caged up curiosities, to show breeders how not to do it next time.

THE secret behind the efforts of breeders to produce cattle hybrids of kinds that were never seen even in the prophetic dreams of Pharaoh is to be found in a climatic and geographic paradox. The “cow country" of our west is really not now cow country at all. At least it isn't in the modern economic sense; which considers bookkeeping more closely than it does romance. The breeds of beef cattle that have become standard in this country originated in western Europe, on rich pastures where blizzards never howled, and where there was shelter from even the relatively mild storms that did come. Their names tell that: Angus. Durham, Hereford, and so on. They have furthermore been bred in this country to meet the needs of the moderately humid east and not to face the sterner life of the thin-grassed western range where they must shift for themselves as best they can even when a “norther” catches them in the open.

The old Spanish cattle, famous in a thousand novels and movies as “Texas longhorns," came of a stock more easily adapted to drought and cold. But they were not shaped right for modern beef fashions, and had to give way before the eastern breeds which affected the boxcar silhouette, and carried more meat aft. Because these could not stand the climate so well and because they fell easier victims to the terrible tick-borne fever, stockmen early began casting about for possible hardy mixtures to add to their blood. The first possibility, naturally, was the native American buffalo, or bison. Most of these ancient “cattle of the Indians" had been wiped out in the terrible slaughter of the '80’s. but a few cattlemen, either more sentimental or more farsighted than their contemporaries, had kept small private herds going on their ranches. Here was a bovine stock inured to western range life, able to travel and feed at the same time, heedless of blizzards, resistant to disease.

SO they tried crossing bison and cattle. The results at first were not on unqualified success. Domestic cows bore calves in a fair proportion of cases, though frequently with considerable trouble, and at first the offspring were all heifers. It was thought that in such a cross bull calves could not be born alive. The trouble was, that though such hybridization had been tried sporadically for more than a hundred years, it had never been tried on anything like a large scale. Finally, however, Mossom M. Boyd, a Canadian breeder, succeeded in obtaining a bull that was almost one-half bison by mating a pure-bred bison bull with cow that was one-quarter bison. A number of other male calves with a high percentage of bison blood have been obtained. With these the experiments are being continued in Canada, where the shaggy mane of the bison is of especial value in protecting the animal against the blinding snowstorms that sweep the range. The great hump of flesh on the bison’s shoulders tends to be reproduced in the domestic-cross offspring also, so that Mr. Boyd has said, “It does not seem unreasonable, therefore, to suggest that the fur of the bison and his great back may be carried by means of selection without any diminution through succeeding generations of diminishing bison blood until the coat and hump have been practically taken from the bison and placed upon the back of the domestic ox."

CHARLES GOODNIGHT, a pioneer breeder of Texas, agrees with Mr. Boyd in his high estimate of the cattle-bison cross. "They are immune from all diseases as far as I have tested them,” he has stated. "They are much greater in weight, eat much less and hold their flesh better under more adverse conditions. They have a better meat, clear of fiber, and it never gets tough like beef. They have long and deep backs, enabling them, to cut at least 150 pounds more meat than other cattle. More of them can be grazed on a given area. They do not run from heel flies nor drift in storms, but like the buffalo, face the blizzards. They rise on their fore feet instead of their hind feet. This enables them to rise when in a weakened condition. They never lie down with their backs downhill, so they are able to rise quickly and easily. This habit is reversed in cattle.” The name of the final product of the cross-breeding of cattle and bison is itself a cross: “cattalo." Several spellings were put forward, but this one was accepted as standard by the American Genetic Association, of Washington, D. C.

A more recent cattle hybrid than the cattalo, but one which has been more favorably received in the Texas area, is the cross between the humped zebu, or sacred Brahmin cow of India, with domestic stock, It was discovered that the zebu does not fall victim to the tick-borne cattle diseases that take heavy toll of the native stock of European origin. Since the zebu is more neatly related to domestic cattle than is the bison, the two species amalgamate more readily and there is less loss in breeding. Moreover, after a couple of generations a "grade" animal shows little sign of the Indian admixture, but looks very much like its European ancestors. This of course interferes less with conventional market requirements. For these reasons, males With Brahmin blood in them have come to be in considerable demand in th tick-infested parts of the southwest. Since quarantine regulations do not permit the importation of any more breeding stock from the Orient, there are relatively few full-blooded zebu bulls in Texas, and the highest proportion of Brahmin blood usually encountered runs from three-fourths to seven-eighths.

FROM a much more remote quarter of the world than the southwest, and closer to the zebu’s own home, a weird outcross has been reported to the American Genetic Association, although that organization discreetly declines to vouch for its authenticity. This is the offspring of a Philippine carabao, or water buffalo, which unlike our bison is a real buffalo. This animal looks as though it might have been sired by a zebu; at any rate, it is very queer looking for a carabao. But when all is said, the verdict will probably have to remain like that in many another doubtful case east of Suez: “the paternity remains in doubt."

Up in northern Canada, where the Dominion, government maintains the greatest bison ranch in the world, they have, been trying out another Asiatic animal as a possible contributor to the solution of the range cattle problem. This is the yak, a long-haired, brush-tailed, slow-moving, patient, stubborn animal from the cold, storm-swept plateaus of Tibet. The yak has to be patient, for his age-long owners and drivers have been the Tibetans. He has to be stubborn, or he could never have survived association with them. But what is more to the point, he can endure the worst winters in the world. As mates for the yak, the Canadians have brought in some Galway cattle — those rough-coated, hardy beasts than can thrive in the stormy west of Ireland country. The yaks and the Galways must have realized a mutual affinity bred of their respective upland homes, for they have taken kindly to each other, and the result of their union is known as the "galyak." an animal looking rather like a long-haired cow, but still swinging astern the long, white-ended, sacerdotal brush of a tail that is the pride of the yak.

THE galyak is the serious effort of the Canadian breeders, but they have also tried a cross between the yak and the bison. Only one of these hybrids has ever been produced, and it is certainly a most strange creature. In body outline it is intermediate between bison and yak. It wears its coat thick all over, yak fashion, instead of heavy in front and thin behind, like a bison. What it may be like in temperament must be a puzzle to its keepers; for the bison is an unstable, stampedable animal, while the yak wouldn’t go faster than three miles an hour if you built a fire under it. But whatever may be the use or interest of this yakson or bi-yak, whichever you may choose to call it, certainly its zoological cousin, the galyak gives promise of being un animal of real value on the northern Canadian range.

BISON/DOMESTIC CATTLE HYBRIDS

Among bovines, American Bison bulls (American "Buffalo") have been crossed with domestic cattle to produce Beefalo and Cattalo. These are very variable in type and colour depending on the breed of cattle used e.g. Herefords and Charolais (beef cattle), Holsteins (dairy) or Brahmin (humped cattle). Generally they are horned with heavy set forequarters, sloping backs and lighter hindquarters. Beefalo have been back-crossed to Bison and to domestic cattle; some of these resemble pied Bison with smooth coats and a maned hump. The aim is to produce high protein, low fat and low cholesterol beef on animals which have "less hump and more rump". Although Bison bull/domestic cow crossings are more usual, domestic bull/Bison cow crossings have a lower infant mortality rate (cow immune systems can reject hybrid calves). Modern Beefalo include fertile bulls, making the Beefalo a variety of "improved cattle" with a dash of Bison.

From The Royal Natural History, edited by Richard Lydekker and published 1894: In captivity the America bison breeds freely, not only with its own kind, but with other species of cattle. In the United States a herd has been established by crossing bull bison with domestic cows; the cow bison not producing a hybrid offspring. This hybrid race is perfectly fertile, either with itself or when again crossed with domestic cattle; and it is considered that a strain of bison blood will lead to the cattle in the North-Western States being better enabled to withstand the blizzards of those districts.

There were suggestions of crossing the beefalo to Cape buffalo. Below are images of bull and cow cattalos (from "Wonders of Animal Life" edited by J A Hammerton (1930) and Newnes Pictorial Knowledge (1936).

WISENT/DOMESTIC CATTLE HYBRIDS

The Zubron (below) is a hybrid between a domestic cow and a Wisent (European Bison, Bison bonasus). As such it is analogous to the American Beefalo or Cattalo. The first Zubrons were created by Leopold Walicki in 1847, although earlier natural hybrids might have occurred where cattle were introduced into the Wisent's habitat. After World War I, the Zubron was considered as a possible replacement for domestic cattle as they were durable and resistant to many cattle diseases. They also thrived on poor pasture, in harsh weather and with minimal husbandry. After World War II and between 1958 and the late 1980s, Zubron herds were bred and maintained by the Polish Academy of Sciences in various laboratories, notably those at Bialowieza and Mlodzikowo. The aim was to create a hardy and cost-effective replacement for cattle and although this aim was achieved, the breeding experiments ceased in the late 1980s. there are only a few remaining Zubrons and these can be found at Bialowieski National Park. Zubrons are heavy animals and larger than Wisents. The males weigh up to 1200 kg and females weigh up to 810 kg. First generation Zubron males are infertile and cannot be used for breeding, but the females are fertile and may be bred back (back-crossed) to either Wisent or to domestic bulls. Males from these back-crosses are fertile.

BISON/WISENT HYBRIDS

There have apparently been hybrids between the American Bison and European Bison (Wisent)

BISON SUB-SPECIES HYBRIDS

A herd of hybrid plains bison x wood bison apparently lived wild in the Yukon, Canada. The Wood bison is a distinct subspecies that almost became extinct in the 20th century. In an attempt to save the Plains bison subspecies, between 1925 and 1928, thousands of Plains bison were released into Wood Buffalo Park (a preserve for the Wood buffalo subspecies). They readily interbred and produced a 12,000 strong herd by 1934. The Wood bison was apparently hybridised into extinction, though a small genetically pure herd was recovered from an isolated area in 1959 and is now being kept isolated from introduced Plains bison.

BISON/YAK HYBRIDS

The Bison (American "Buffalo") has also been bred with the domestic Tibetan Yak to create the Yakalo.

YAK/DOMESTIC CATTLE HYBRIDS

In Nepal, Yak/Cow hybrids are bred using Yak bulls on domestic cows or, less often, domestic bulls on Yak cows. The Yak-Cow females are fertile, the males are sterile and the meat is considered superior to beef. In Nepalese, the hybrid is called a Khainag or Dzo (male)/Dzomo (female). A Dzomo crossed with either a domestic bull or yak bull results in an Ortoom (three-quarter-bred) and an Ortoom crossed with a domestic bull or yak bull results in a Usanguzee (one eighth bred). As a result, many supposedly pure Yak and pure cattle probably carry a dash of each other's genetic material. The Zopkio (also from the Nepal region) is a sterile first generation male crossbreed of a yak and a cow usually used as a beast of burden. Testing of the Nepalese Dwarf Lulu breed, a humpless form of Bos taurus type cattle (i.e. "domestic type"), found them to be a mix of European cattle, zebu and yak.

According to the “Illustrated Natural History” by the Rev JG Wood (1853, 1874): The natives of the country where the Yak lives are in the habit of crossing it with the common domestic cattle and obtaining a mixed breed.

From The Royal Natural History, edited by Richard Lydekker and published 1894:There are also many crosses between the Yak and ordinary cattle, some of the breeds being without horns. These half-breeds have the advantage of being able to withstand much higher temperatures than the pure yak; and they may be met with carrying burdens in the hot valley of the Indus, between the town of Leh and Kashmir.

This photo from the early 1900s depicts a cavalry soldier in the world's only oxen-cavalry on the frontier between India and China. His mount is a yak/cow hybrid.

In August 2007, the Washington Post reported that 2 US farmers were breeding "yattle" in Purcellville and hoping to sell the meat as a lower-fat alternative to beef. The farmers have nicknamed their hybrids Frankensteers. The hybrids are 50% yak and 50% beef cow and have long faces, low-set ears, thick coats and tails, and oddly angled horns. They also inherit some yak behaviour - charing as a group to within several feet of intruders before halting and lowering their shoulders. Being cold-climate animals, yaks have their fat concentrated on the outside of their bodies, not throughout their bodies. Consequently their meat is low-cholesterol but tends to be slightly tough for western tastes. It is hoped that the hybrids have more palatable meat. In January 2010, Agri-View (a Wisconsin-based agricultural newspaper) carried an article about the "Green Bay Yakkers", 2 brothers who farm pure Yaks. They are personally opposed to breeding hybrids to produce marbled meat (domesticated yaks already carry some cattle blood).

Tumennasan, K, Tuya T, Hotta Y, Takase H, Speed RM, Chandley AC. "Fertility investigations in the F1 hybrid and backcross progeny of cattle (Bos taurus) and yak (Bos grunniens) in Mongolia." Cytogenet Cell Genet. 1997;78(1):69-73.

WATER BUFFALO/DOMESTIC CATTLE HYBRIDS

Water Buffalo and Domestic Cattle cannot hybridize; the embryos fail around the 8-cell stage. Numerous records of cross breeding between various species of wild cattle in captivity are given by A.P. Gray (1954), the water buffalo not being included.

In “Out of Africa”, the African memoirs of Baroness Karen Blixen (1885-1962) published in 1937, Blixen writes: ”My manager during the war had been buying up oxen for the army. He told me that he had then, down in the Masai Reserve, bought from the Masai a number of young oxen, which were offspring of Masai cattle and buffalo. It is a much debated question whether it is possible to cross domestic animals with the game: many people have tried to create a type of small horse fitted to the country, by breeding from zebra and horses, though I myself have never seen such cross-breeds. But my manager assured me that these oxen were really half-buffalo. They had been, the Masai told him, a much longer time growing up than the ordinary cattle, and the Masai, who were proud of them. were by this time pleased to get rid of them, as they were very wild.” Blixen continues that these oxen were intractable and could not be broken to harness.

There were suggestions of crossing the beefalo (American Bison/Domestic Cattle hybrid) to the Cape buffalo.

ZEBU (INDIAN HUMPED CATTLE)/EUROPEAN DOMESTIC CATTLE HYBRIDS

In "The Variation Of Animals And Plants Under Domestication" Charles Darwin wrote: "Bos primigenius and longifrons have been ranked by nearly all palaeontologists as distinct species; and it would not be reasonable to take a different view simply because their domesticated descendants now intercross with the utmost freedom. All the European breeds have so often been crossed both intentionally and unintentionally, that, if any sterility had ensued from such unions, it would certainly have been detected. [...]The late Lord Powis imported some zebus [Indian humped cattle] and crossed them with common cattle in Shropshire; and I was assured by his steward that the cross-bred animals were perfectly fertile with both parent-stocks. Mr. Blyth informs me that in India hybrids, with various proportions of either blood, are quite fertile; and [...] are allowed to breed freely together."

Bos primigenius (aurochs) and Bos longifrons (Iron Age ox) both refer to the ancestors of domestic cattle, now considered to be the species Bos taurus. the term Bos primigenius is still used to indicate the wild species aurochs.

This article in the Weekly Freeman's Journal, 23rd March 1912, is actually about cattle hybrids, as well mentioning the inability of another paper to distinguish between the zebra and the zebu: WONDERFUL HYBRIDS. We read the following item of news in an agricultural contemporary:- “Herr Hagenbeck, the eminent zoologist, has obtained some wonderful results for the hybridisation of animals. Among his successes are those obtained by crossing the African N’dama cow with the zebra and the European cow with the zebra. One of the progeny scaled two thousand two hundred pounds, and was larger than its parents. It has been proved that such hybrids can resist the diseases which affect European stock, and among the advantages are quick fattening and a plentiful milk supply.” This is the first we have ever heard of a bovine-equine hybrid, something exactly analogous to a cross between a cow and an ass. Wonderful man, Hagenbeck! Or perhaps instead of zebra we should read ZEBU, which would make all the difference.

It is also mentioned (minus the zebra!) in various papers including the Luton Times and Advertiser, in February 1913. KAISER AS A FARMER. The Emperor said experiments in crossing European cattle with the Indian zebu (bos indicus, kind of cattle with a hump over the shoulders), which resulted in the production of a hybrid which His Majesty calls bos indicus major, were also very promising. Herr Hagenbeck, of Hamburg, had bought a number of the Emperor's hybrid bulls for use she Colonies.

ZEBU (INDIAN HUMPED CATTLE)/YAK HYBRIDS

Testing of the Dwarf Lulu breed, a humpless form of Bos taurus type cattle (i.e. "domestic type") in Nepal, found them to be a mix of European cattle, zebu and yak.

INDIAN HUMPED CATTLE/GAUR & BANTENG HYBRIDS

From The Royal Natural History, edited by Richard Lydekker and published 1894:

Gayal [Bos frontalis] will breed with the humped cattle of India, and the product of such a union born in the London Zoological Gardens was again crossed with a bull American Bison. […] The domesticated race [of the Banteng (Bos sondaicus)] breeds freely with the Indian humped cattle.

MISCELLANEOUS HYBRIDS

The only bovid crosses that are known to be fully fertile are Bos Taurus (common cattle) x Bos indicus (zebu) and Bison bonasus (European bison) x Bison bison (American bison). Crosses involving the yaks or gaurs result in fertile females and sterile males. The mithan or gayal (now classified as Bibos frontalis) may be a domesticated form of the gaur. Gaur bulls and domestic mithan cows commonly interbred, but the fertility of the offspring was not recorded. Bali cattle may be domesticated forms of the banteng. There is no record of interbreeding between mithan and wild banteng, mithan and Bali cattle, or Bali cattle and banteng. Bali cattle are crossed with zebu, but the fertility of the offspring is not recorded.

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