A DESIRE to run cattle on a small rural block in the Whitsundays region prompted the establishment of an unconventional operation, which is the only one of its kind in North Queensland.
Christine della Valle realised that to run a commercially viable herd on her modest 105 hectare block, in Preston on the Proserpine River, she would needed to think outside the box.
As a biologist, with a keen interest in genetics, Ms della Valle decided to try her hand at breeding 'Beefalo,' a hybrid between a bovine and a Bison, or American Buffalo.
"There was an American bloke who came to Australia to advertise the Beefalo, and because I'm into genetics and we weren't big enough to make a profit with normal cattle, I thought that sounds like an idea."
Ms della Valle travelled to Colorado in the US where she learned about the breed.
"The fascination of crossing two different species had me hooked."
For the last 20 years she has continued to refine her herd to become one of the best-regarded Beefalo breeders in Australia.
She began breeding Beefalo in the late 1900s, using imported Bison semen artificially inseminated into Droughtmaster cows. Ms della Valle imported full blood Beefalo semen, which had 37.5 per cent bison content.
Ms della Valle said the resulting Beefalo meat was a lean, yet tasty alternative to traditional beef, which had added health benefits.
"Why you do it is for the meat. You get an animal that behaves like a bovine, not a wild animal like a bison, but the meat is like bison, it is very lean, it is non-marbled but tender, it has the cholesterol level of fish and actually contains Vitamin C and Omega 3s.
"It's a healthy meat that tastes fantastic, and basically that is the goal of the breed."
Ms della Valle said to be classed as Beefalo, the beast had to have at least 17 per cent bison content.
"To get Beefalo meat it needs to be over 17 per cent bison content, below 17 per cent it gets lost and it's back to normal beef.
"The normal way of breeding Beefalo is to get the semen, then AI your cattle, then you get the F1 for the meat.
"I also purchased some Bison weaner girls from Victoria because I wanted new genetics, by breeding down from 100 per cent Bison to full blood, I had two avenues."
Ms della Valle said about 70 per cent of the time a bovine cow that had been inseminated with Bison semen would abort the fetus due to the foreign proteins in the uterus. However, this happened far less regularly when bovine bulls were put over Bison females.
Ms della Valle said Beefalo could be produced using any cattle breed, from Angus or Charolais, to hardy breeds like Droughtmasters and Brahmans better suited to the tropics.
In the early 2000s, Ms della Valle built up her herd and had 40 breeders, each producing about one calf a year.
She marketed a paddock to plate business and sold the meat at markets in Airlie Beach and through North Queensland retailers.
Her older cows or those that were not performing were sent to the meatworks when they reached 400kg live weight.
Ms della Valle has scaled back her operation to run about 20 breeders, and sells the live animals direct to the public, either for consumption or to add diversity to their own herds.
But she said breeding Beefalo is not without its challenges, and the unique herd was not for everyone.