Jonathan Ahl / Harvest Public Media
Bison produce very lean meat, but they are wild animals that can be difficult to raise on a farm. Cattle are very tender, but their meat can be high in fat and not very healthy.
That’s why advocates of a cross-breed – called Bifalo – say they have what the future holds for U.S. meat production.
“Like we say, when they made the buffalo, they turned out to be futile but maintained the bison’s fat-freeness, so maintained the good qualities of the bison,” said Kelly Deutsch.
She and her husband, Andrew Deutsch, run an A&K ranch in Raymondville, Md., Where they have about 25 buffalo women who try to make calves every year.
Cattle are bred to incorporate more cattle characteristics than bison. The American buffalo association states that buffalo with 37.5% bison genes is considered the perfect blend for a full-blooded cow and herd. But cattle with 18% less bison gin are labeled as purebred cows.
Although there have been some unintentional cross-breeding between cows and bison for centuries, it was not until the 1970s that a reliable, fertile cross-breed was created. The goal was to turn the bison’s lean flesh into an animal that could grow as easily as a cow.
Dietsches found that case. When they lived in New Jersey, they raised cattle, but after moving to the Midwest, they moved to Bifalo.
“I like to do buffalo because it’s a lot easier to work with them,” said Andrew Deutsch.
But it’s the quality of the meat that will bring more ranchers to the board, according to John Fowler, a board member of the American Buffalo Association.
“If I can get someone who has a crossbred flock and puts a bull in his flock and gives him some meat to eat, he will be sold. He will want to produce cows,” he said.
Jonathan Ahl / Harvest Public Media
Fowler, who also raises cattle in northern Missouri, calls it an improved animal compared to cattle. The US Department of Agriculture has certified buffalo to have high vitamin levels and high protein content, with about one-third less cholesterol, 79% less fat and 66% less calories than conventional beef.
But Befalo has opponents.
“We just don’t think there should be a buffalo,” said Martha McFarland, Iowa Practical Farmers’ Advocacy Group Farm Effectiveness Coordinator. He also raised cattle and bison, but said he would never mix the two.
“Nature has done a good job in producing bison. It is a wonderful animal that is good to eat, and it does not need to be mixed with cattle and weakens the genetic lineage of the bison.”
Yet McFarland is sympathetic to beef producers, who are trying to raise, promote and sell a niche meat, just as he did with Bison.
“It’s often hard to find that middleman to bring my meat to the grocery store. I’m not part of this huge, mechanical system,” he said. “My challenge is that your average consumer just wants to go to the grocery store and get some food and get done with it.”
Kelly and Andrew Deutsch sell most of their beef at three farmers’ markets, where they find loyal customers who prefer lean meats. But buffalo is not available in many grocery stores, and it costs more than beef, mainly because it comes from smaller producers.
Nevertheless, dieters are optimistic about the future of specialty meats. Andrew Deutsch points to new leadership on the American Buffalo Board, as well as a growing American interest in where their food comes from.
“It’s competitive, but it’s much better than before,” he said. “They have some new people [on the board] That’s a pretty good idea. They really got there. They have a Facebook page and you can find cows all over the country. “
Jonathan Ahl from Missouri reports St. Louis Public Radio And Harvest public media, A collaboration of public media newsrooms in the Midwest. It reports on food security, agriculture and rural issues.