HYBRID BOVINES

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.

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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