background_fid.jpg
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations
WBOI is working with our engineers and streaming service provider to address an ongoing streaming issue experienced across our platforms. We apologize for the continued inconvenience.

Beefalo, a bison-cattle hybrid, is being touted as the healthy meat of the future

This hybrid bull, which lives on the A&K Ranch near Raymondville, Mo., will be part of the process to create beefalo that are 37.5% bison, the magic number for the best beefalo meat.
Jonathan Ahl
/
Harvest Public Media
This hybrid bull, which lives on the A&K Ranch near Raymondville, Mo., will be part of the process to create beefalo that are 37.5% bison, the magic number for the best beefalo meat.

Bison produce very lean meat, but they are wild animals that can be difficult to raise on a farm. Cattle are very docile, but their meat can be high in fat and not very healthy.

That's why proponents of a crossbreed — called beefalo — say they have what should be the future of U.S. meat production.

"As we like to say, when they created beefalo, they bred out the meanness but kept the leanness of the bison, so kept the good qualities of the bison," said Kelly Dietsch.

She and her husband, Andrew Dietsch, run A&K Ranch in Raymondville, Mo., where they have about 25 beefalo females that they attempt to calve every year.

The bovine is bred to include more cattle traits than bison. The American Beefalo Association says beefalo with 37.5% bison genes are considered full-blood beefalo and the perfect mix for the breed. But bovines with as low as 18% bison genes are labeled purebred beefalo.

While there was some unintentional cross-breeding between cows and bison over the centuries, it wasn't until the 1970s that a reliable, fertile crossbreed was produced. The intent was to get the lean meat of bison into an animal that could be raised as easily as a cow.

The Dietsches have found that to be the case. They used to raise cattle when they lived in New Jersey, but switched to beefalo when they moved to the Midwest.

"I like doing the beefalo because they are a lot easier to work with," Andrew Dietsch said.

But it's the quality of the meat that will bring more ranchers on board, according to John Fowler, an American Beefalo Association board member.

"If I can get a person who has a crossbred herd and put a beefalo bull in his herd and have him eat some of the meat, he's sold. He'll want to produce the beefalo," he said.

Kelly and Andrew Diestch look out at some of the beefalo they are raising on their 650-acre farm.
Jonathan Ahl / Harvest Public Media
/
Harvest Public Media
Kelly and Andrew Diestch look out at some of the beefalo they are raising on their 650-acre farm.

Fowler, who also raises beefalo in northern Missouri, calls it a superior animal compared to cattle. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has certified beefalo as having higher vitamin levels and more protein, while having nearly one-third less cholesterol, 79% less fat and 66% fewer calories than conventional beef.

But beefalo does have its opponents.

"We just don't think there should be beefalo," said Martha McFarland, farmland viability coordinator for the advocacy group Practical Farmers of Iowa. She also raises cattle and bison, but said she would never mix the two.

"Nature did just fine producing bison. It's an excellent animal that also is good to eat, and mixing it with cows is not necessary and weakens the genetic line of the bison."

Yet McFarland does empathize with beefalo producers, who are trying to raise, promote and sell a niche meat, just as she does with bison.

"A lot of times it's hard to find that middleman to get my meat into the grocery store. I'm not part of this huge, mechanized system," she said. "My challenge is your average consumer wants to just, like, go to the grocery store and pick up some food and be done with it."

Kelly and Andrew Dietsch sell most of their beefalo at three farmers markets, where they've gained loyal customers who have come to prefer the lean meat. But beefalo isn't in many grocery stores, and it also costs more than beef, largely because it comes from small producers.

Even so, the Dietsches are optimistic about the future of the specialty meat. Andrew Dietsch points to new leadership on the American Beefalo Board, as well as Americans' growing interest in where their food comes from.

"It's competitive, but it's a lot better than it used to be," he said. "They have some new people [on the board] that have a lot of good ideas. They are really reaching out there. They have a Facebook page, and you can find beefalo all over the country."

Jonathan Ahl reports from Missouri for St. Louis Public Radio and Harvest Public Media, a collaboration of public media newsrooms in the Midwest. It reports on food systems, agriculture and rural issues.

Copyright 2022 Harvest Public Media

Jonathan is the General Manager of Tri States Public radio. His duties include but are not limited to, managing all facets of the station, from programming to finances to operations. Jonathan grew up in the south suburbs of Chicago. He has a B.A in music theory and composition from WIU and a M.A in Public Affairs Reporting from The University of Illinois at Springfield. Jonathan began his journey in radio as a student worker at WIUM. While in school Jonathan needed a summer job on campus. He heard WIUM was hiring, and put his bid in. Jonathan was welcomed on the team and was very excited to be using his music degree. He had also always been interested in news and public radio. He soon learned he was a much better reporter than a musician and his career was born. While at WIUM, Jonathan hosted classical music, completed operations and production work, was a news reporter and anchor, and served as the stage manager for Rural Route 3. Jonathan then went to on to WIUS in Springfield where he was a news anchor and reporter covering the state legislature for Illinois Public Radio. After a brief stint in commercial radio and TV, Jonathan joined WCBU in Peoria, first in operations then as a news reporter and for the last ten years of his time there he served as the News Director. Jonathan’s last job before returning to Tri States Public Radio was as the News Director/ Co-Director of Content for Iowa Public Radio. During Jonathan’s off time he enjoys distance running, playing competitive Scrabble, rooting for Chicago Cubs, listening to all kinds of music and reading as much as he can. He lives in Macomb with his wife Anita and children Tommy and Lily.