Larry Hacker and his daughter Penny Knuckles are active Beefalo breeders in Arkansas.
A Beefalo is considered a heart-healthy beef because it is low in fat.

Three generations of the Hacker family are working together in the Beefalo breed 

Promoting the Beefalo breed via shows, selling breeding stock and marketing the beef is what Larry and Nelda Hacker and their family have been doing for several years in the Lincoln, Ark., area.

The Hackers and their daughter, Penny Knuckles and her husband, Mike, and their son David Hacker and his wife, Lisa, own three farms each: Done Rovin’ is Larry and Nelda’s ranch, while Done Rovin’ 2 belongs to Penny and her husband, Mike, and A Thousand Hills farm is owned by David and Lisa Hacker. 

All together, their land totals 550 acres; another 30 acres are leased. There are 300 cattle – 90 percent are Beefalo. 

Larry and Penny own a few other breeds, including Scottish Highland. Beefalo, however, is the main venture.

“It is heart-healthy meat,” Penny said.

“Its has less fat, calories and cholesterol than traditional beef. A lot of times it is even as low as fish and chicken.”

Beefalo can be any breed of cattle that is three-eights North American Bison and five-eighths domestic bovine.

“We like them,” Larry said. “They’re docile.”

A retired military man who had a 28-year career in the U.S. Army, Larry grew up in Illinois and was familiar with the farming life. He and Nelda moved to Northwest Arkansas in 1990. Nelda was raised in Lincoln. Larry’s involvement with Beefalo, however, was going on while he was still in the military. He had ranches while stationed at Fort Campbell and Fort Knox, Ky. In fact, he brought 32 of the Beefalo cattle to Arkansas with him.

The couple then spent several years raising Beefalo in the Lincoln area before their son and daughter decided to move up to Arkansas from Texas with their spouses and buy ranches. The family spends a lot of time showing and promoting Beefalo across the United States. 

Penny serves on the board of directors of the American Beefalo Association and as vice president of the South Central Beefalo Breeders Association. Larry is vice president of the MidAmerica Beefalo Association. Penny and Larry are also members of the Michigan Beefalo Association. 

“I buy animals from a lot of my friends up in Michigan,” Penny explained. “It supports them as well. Whatever we can do to support Beefalo we try to do.”

The Hackers and Knuckles sell several bull calves a year to breeders, while keeping a handful of bulls for their own breeding program. They also use some artificial insemination so they can use semen from deceased bulls to improve the current bloodlines. Bred heifers are also sold, while 20 to 30 are held back yearly as replacements.

Meat from steers and other heifers is sold at the Fayetteville Farmers Market and marketed online. Lisa is in charge of Facebook marketing and advertising.

The meat is low in fat, so it does not need to be cooked for a long time, according to Penny. She recommends cooking it medium heat for half the time it takes to cook traditional beef.

It tastes like beef, but some consumers have noticed a little bit of a difference. 

“Some people say it is a little sweeter,” Larry said. 

Beefalo are few and far between in Arkansas, where there are only four to five breeders, and Larry Hacker and his family have been a big part of the Beefalo scene in the state.

Larry said the disposition of the breed is a positive trait.

“They’re so easy to work with,” he said.

Another attribute of Beefalo is low birth weight, Penny said. Even so, the pasture for first-calf heifers is well within viewing distance of the Hacker’s and Knuckles’ homes so they can keep an eye on them.

Bulls are let in pasture with cows each year around the first of June, while they are let in a pasture with heifers in early May to allow for better weather when they calve. Penny has land in Summers, Ark., where she breeds cows all year round. 

“That way, I have show stock at different ages,” she said.

The pastures around the family’s farms, which are not really rocky, lend themselves to cows being able to stay in the herd for many years. 

“Our cows last 12 to 14 years,” Larry said.

The family tries to promote the breed to the next generation, give back to the community and create a sense of responsibility in youngsters, so they provide one heifer and a steer each to several 4-H kids in the area every year. The kids take care of the animals – from walking the animals to feeding and grooming them. They then show them at the Washington County Fair in Fayetteville. The Hackers have been doing this since 1992.

The family’s cattle are represented at several shows throughout the year: The Kentucky Beef Exposition in Louisville, Ky.; the Missouri State Fair in Sedalia, Mo.; the Four States Fair in Texarkana, Ark.; and the East Texas State Fair in Tyler, Texas. Promoting the breed and winning some awards – last year, they won supreme reserve grand champion bull and grand champion junior heifer at the Missouri State Fair – is a way to showcase their stock and connect with other Beefalo owners.

It’s all part of the big picture: Making Beefalo more prevalent in the country. Besides that goal, Penny said she has fun at the shows and raising the cattle.

“I love their babies. The day they’re born, everybody gets a name and a number. A lot of the time, I pick out the ones I’m keeping right away,” Penny said. “I can just about walk through the pasture and know who everybody is.”

A few minutes after she said that, she is in the pasture calling their names as they gently approach us. The pasture is damp from rain, the sky is blue, and the sun is shining. Just another day at the Beefalo ranch.


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