Beefalo vs Buffalo

European Bison
Szczepan Klejbuk/

Written by Colby Maxwell

Updated: August 20, 2022

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Beefalo may not seem like a very original name, but these hybrid animals are unique to the United States and have been bred for a few hundred years, often accidentally. On the other hand, buffalo, otherwise known as the American bison, have roamed the American west for significantly longer. Today, we will look at these two animals and explore their convoluted and interbred history. Let’s compare: Beefalo vs Buffalo!

Comparing a beefalo and a buffalo

BeefaloBuffalo (American Bison)
GeneticsHybrid cross between a cow and an American bison.Heaviest extant land animal in the United States. Belongs to the Bison genus and the Bovidae family.
AppearanceMore similar to a cow than a buffalo. Lack a hump but have fie, dark hair across their bodies.Large, hairy, and tall bovids. Small curved horns with a large back hump. Elongated faces with wide noses.
Nutritional differencesLower in fat and cholesterol than typical beef.Leaner, finer marbling, and softer meat. Up to 25% fewer calories and lower fat.
Size900-2,000 lbs.Plains bison: 700-2000 lbs.
Wood bison: 1,000-2,800 lbs.
Populations and breeding programsThe American Beefalo Association oversees populations.Only four genetically true American bison herds left.

The 5 Main Differences Between a Beefalo and a Buffalo

The main difference between beefalo and a buffalo is that beefalo is a hybrid between cattle and buffalo. In contrast, buffalo is a species of bovid native to the Americas.

As the name suggests, beefalo is a cross between standard cattle (beef) and buffalo (a nickname for the American bison). When combined, they create the beefalo. Still, there is a difference between beefalo and a 50/50 cattle-buffalo cross since beefalo needs to be exactly 3/8ths American bison and 5/8ths cattle.

Buffalo isn’t a hybrid species, but their distinct species of bovid that has lived in the Americas for some 400,000 years. Although almost wiped out, there are few wild populations still left. Additionally, breeding programs with domesticated bison are also present. The American bison is part of the hybrid mix used to create the beefalo.

Let’s look at these differences, plus a few more, in detail below!

Beefalo vs Buffalo: Genetics

Beefalo (Bos taurus X Bison bison)

Beefalo is a cross between a cow and a buffalo.

The beefalo is a hybrid cross between Bos taurus × Bison bison, otherwise known as domesticated cattle, and the American bison (or buffalo). To be classified as a beefalo, the hybrid needs to be an exact mix of 3/8ths American bison and 5/8ths cattle. This mix gives the beefalo the “ideal” traits of both breeds.

The buffalo isn’t a hybrid but one of the native bovid species that has historically inhabited North America for 400,000 years. As colonists spread west, cattle would accidentally or intentionally be bred with the native American buffalo.

Beefalo vs Buffalo: Appearance

American bison in the middle of the road

The American bison is also known as the American buffalo.

Despite being a cross between two species, beefalo primarily look like their cattle counterparts. They have large, thick bodies with defined muscle and short fine hair and are officially classified as a breed of cattle.

Buffalo are bovine in appearance but have an extremely large hump on their backs, thick neck and chap fur. and small curved horns near their ears. They seem to be more “front weighted” than a cow, as their shoulders and heads are much larger than the rest of their bodies.

Beefalo vs Buffalo: Nutritional differences

Beefalo vs Buffalo

Beefalo meat is leaner than standard beef but not as lean or tender as buffalo meat.

The beefalo is a decent nutritional mixture of both species, and its meat is leaner and less fatty than standard cattle breeds.

Buffalo meat is widely consumed and is often touted as a less calorie-dense food than cattle. This is mostly because of the minimal fat content and thinner marbling, and it’s also known to be softer and more tender than standard cattle.

Beefalo vs Buffalo: Size

Two wood bison bulls fighting each other in the snow.

The largest bison can weigh more than a ton.

The beefalo is comparable in size to some of the larger cattle breeds. The cattle crosses used generally set the size of the resulting offspring. Larger cattle result in larger beefalo, generally weighing between 900 and 2,000 lbs.

Buffalo are some of the largest bovids on earth, only behind the Asian gaur in weight. There are two subspecies of American bison, the woods and plains bison. Woods bison are larger than the plains bison, with weights averaging 1,000-2,800 lbs and 700-2,000 lbs, respectively.

Beefalo vs Buffalo: Populations and breeding programs

Beefalo vs Buffalo

The American Beefalo Association is the registering body for beefalo in the United States.

Beefalo aren’t a popular cattle breed, but there is still oversight. Most organizations managing the breed combined in the currently recognized American Beefalo Association and act as the registering body for beefalo in the US.

Buffalo live in the wild and are bred domestically for meat production. Only four herds exist in the United States that cattle haven’t been genetically altered. Domestic buffalo farms can be found all over the country, with an estimated 500,000 being bred for commercial uses yearly.

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About the Author

Colby is a writer at A-Z Animals primarily covering outdoors, unique animal stories, and science news. Colby has been writing about science news and animals for five years and holds a bachelor's degree from SEU. A resident of NYC, you can find him camping, exploring, and telling everyone about what birds he saw at his local birdfeeder.

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