Oxen Cattle That Pull

Any bovine that has been trained to pull is a "draft ox" or "bullock." If you have 2 or more of these trained cows, you have a "yoke" or "pair" of "oxen." Technically, a steer calf, yearling steer, 2-year-old, or 3-year-old can be pulling, but it's not until the animal is practically mature at 4 years that it fully qualifies to be called "ox."

draft Breeds: Any gentle breed of cow can be trained to pull. Usually people work with steers from a large dairy breed, such as Holstein, because they're easy to get hold of. The Charolais, a French variety, are very large, powerful animals that were traditionally used as oxen in that country. They aren't terribly bright but are of a peaceable nature. Best of all are the water buffalo.

Oxen vs. draft Horses: Farmers argued for generations over whether bovines or horses were better as draft animals. Jared von Wagenen, Jr., wrote in The Golden Age of Homespun of "great patient brutes with hooves that grip the earth, mighty shoulders, heaving flanks, and drooping heads, placid eyes, and spreading, gleaming horns—the glorious ox team." Draft horses are more popular in the United States, to the point where the knowledge of how to train cows for draft work has teetered on the brink of extinction. A wonderful book called Animal Traction by Peter

Watson (1981, revised 1983) offers solid information on every aspect of using oxen for cultivation. Advantages of Oxen for Draft Work

1. Many a pioneer family whose cow pulled their 2-wheeled oxcart or wagon were grateful that she also gave milk and gave birth to calves.

2. Oxen use a far less complex and less expensive, less perishable, harness than horses. They simply have their wooden yoke which is low-cost and easy to make and lasts a lifetime. The yoke gets directly attached to the tongue of the farm implement or wagon, or to a chain that is attached to their load. In the woods, there is no need for whiffletree or trace chains, only the chain going to their yoke. The traditional wooden ox yoke is cheaper than horse harnesses, although the old-timers sometimes harnessed with leather rather than yoked their oxen—and considered them less hard on harnesses than horses!

3. Oxen are generally less likely to jerk and startle than horses, more gentle and docile by nature.

4. A typical ox is heavier than a typical horse, with more pulling power. Von Wagenen wrote, "It was in the rough, hilly sections that oxen were found in the greatest numbers and lingered longest." But that is hotly disputed; I've heard elsewhere, "It takes 2 yoke of cattle to do the work of one 1,200-lb. team of horses."

5. The pioneers considered oxen to be better among stumps and stones than horses.

6. Oxen can be shod, but aren't as needy of it as horses. And don't shoe your oxen until they're at least 4 years old because before that their hoof isn't strong enough yet for a nail. And, once shod, an ox holds a shoe longer than a horse. (If oxen are worked a lot, they need shoes. A horse takes a single shoe per foot. An ox requires 2 shoes on each foot, 1 for each half of their cloven hoof. A horse will allow its foot to be picked up and held; an ox usually won't easily cooperate, but it can be done.)

7. Oxen are claimed by their owners to be healthier than horses. The old-timers believed oxen could do more work on a diet of plain hay and pasture than a horse.

8. The price of a potential draft cow is less than that for a draft horse—bull calves are cheap to get if you have milk cows.

9. Oxen are good in deep snow.

10. An old, or retired ox can be converted to hamburger for the family Old horses get sold for dog food, but are not eaten at home.

11. Oxen are more patient and less likely to injure themselves. (Horses are faster.)

(For all the good things about draft horses, see The Draft

Horse Primer by Maurice Telleen.) Resources

Association of New England Ox Teamsters works to preserve New England traditions: Linda Wilbur, Secretary; 603-357-4197; 989 Old Walpole Rd., Surry, NH 03431; [email protected]; home.attbi. com/~cynthia 123.

BerryBrook Ox Supply sells ox equipment: new and used yokes, bows, ox shoes, goads, whips, logging equipment, horn knobs, horn weights, yoke hardware, books, videos, etc. Their newly manufactured logging/farming fore cart and logging scoot are of good quality and reasonably priced: 603-335-4475; 394 Meaderboro Rd., Farmington, NH 03835; berry [email protected]. Drew Conroy teaches dairy farm management at the U. of New Hampshire, Thompson School of Applied Science, 291 Mast Rd, Durham, NH 03824-3562; 603862-2625; [email protected]. He's the expert on training and using oxen as draft animals who wrote Oxen: A Teamster's Guide. Mid South Ox Drovers Ass'n is for people interested in cattle trained for draft purposes (oxen). Demonstrations and newsletter available. Midwest Ox Drovers Ass'n holds a wonderful annual meeting and has a regular newsletter ($10) focusing on education and sharing info: c/o Jeff Hieb, 1119 Portier St., Green Bay, WI 54301; 920-468-6420; [email protected]; www.execpc.com/~hiebej/. Tillers International: Take a "Yoke Building and Fitting Workshop," the "Ox Driving Workshop," or one of the many other relevant classes in nonelectric skills offered by Tillers International; 616-344-3233; fax 616-3443238; 5239 S. 24th St., Kalamazoo, MI 49002. They also sell ox-power publications and products: The Pride and Joy of Working Cattle, successful techniques for ox training, by Ray Ludwig; and In Praise of Oxen, by Terry James and F. Anderson, photos of Canadian teams. Membership in Tillers gets you the Nigh Ox, their newsletter. Other ox books from Tillers include Advanced Training of Oxen; Training Young Steers; Selecting and Teaming Oxen; and info on how to build an ox yoke, cart design, single-cow yoke design, yokes, yoke rings, and training videos. training Oxen: Begin training with calves, so they have a long time to get used to all that is involved. The old-timers looked for an animal with ambition and that "light-footedness." True draft breeds or dairy breeds are preferred for their docility, once steered. The old-time English Devon was treasured for its draft ability. Von Wagenen wrote that "the breed had a certain snappy activity and light-footed-ness." Nowadays Devons are rare; and Holstein steers make fine oxen, too. Oxen are normally used in a set of 2.

Oxen can be trained to work by voice commands, combined with a prod or whip used by a driver who walks next to them, or to work using a harness and bit and driven with reins like a horse team. In either case you start by getting them used to wearing a halter and teaching them to lead. To drive using a bit and reins, train like a draft horse. Work with them at least half an hour a day. If you work right before their dinner, it ends their labor with a food reward. Voice Commands. Traditional names for a yoke of oxen are "Tom and Jerry," or "Buck and Bright" or "Pat and Mike," or "Duke and Dine." The traditional voice commands are "gee, gee" for "go right" and "haw, haw" for "go left." "Whoa" means "stop." "Ged-dup" means "go." ("Go" sounds too much like "whoa" to use.) "Back" means reverse, back up. You can habitually combine a command with the animal's name: such as "Gee Pat" to go right, "Haw Mike" to go left. Training them, like horses, to wear a bridle with bit, combined with the yoke, allows the driver more precise control, but the beauty of using voice commands is that it leaves your hands free and you don't have to worry about reins.

It takes considerable time and effort to get those 4 terms drilled into them. Teach them to obey voice com mands using ropes that force them to do what the voice command means. Or to teach "whoa," step right in front of the animal while pulling hard backward on its halter at the same time you say the word. You repeat that over and over until the animal does it without the halter pull or the rope (classic Pavlovian conditioning). Cows are brighter than you might think, but, still, they are creatures of extreme habit. What they've learned is what they know. That's why from the first day you assign 1 of your pair to be the nigh (left) ox, and the other to be the off (right side) ox. From then on you always yoke them that way. Otherwise they're "backwards," and oxen yoked backward will be very confused! If your nigh ox, for example, dies, replace it with another trained nigh ox—or train a green steer. Don't try to use an off ox there. The old-timers in New England usually called that nigh ox, "Buck," and the off ox "Bright." That way they knew which side an ox was trained for by his name. Gad. The voiced command is supplemented by the "gad" or "whip," traditionally a 4- or 5-foot length of narrow hardwood sapling with 2-3 feet of thin leather strap attached to the end. Let me make it clear that the gad is used for touches to get Buck and Bright's attention, to direct and manage them, rather than to punish. Some teams, in some circumstances, work fine with only voice. Yoke. The traditional hitching system is based on the yoke, a large carved wood shape that fits over each animal's neck and is held there from underneath by a U-shaped bow under the cow's neck. To see how a yoke is made, check your local pioneer museum! You can make a yoke by cutting it out of a block of wood with a chain saw and trimming with a knife. The bow under the cow's neck can be made of any strong, flexible wood, steam-bent into that U-shape.

You'll be putting them into a series of yokes, of ever-increasing size, as they grow. To fit them properly with a yoke, start by tying them up standing parallel and with their sides 6 inches apart. Measure the distance between their necks and build their yoke accordingly. When they've grown enough that their sides are rubbing, it's time for a bigger yoke.

A modern variation is a bridle and bit on the animals by which they are directed from behind with reins just like with harnessed horses, but combined with a yoke. Training Oxen to the Yoke. At the center of the single yoke that binds them together there is a metal ring. You fasten the tongue of the farm implement that they are to pull there, and that's it. While still young, they can pull a pole with something noisy attached to it to help them develop calm nerves—later a light sleigh or cart. At 18 months old they can start more seriously working. For tough work like plowing, even 4 yoke of cattle might have been combined in the old days.

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Responses

  • Gabriel
    How to train oxen to a yoke & voice commands?
    5 years ago
  • tecla
    How to make a ox drover whip?
    1 year ago
  • mark
    How to make an oxen yoke?
    10 months ago
  • ALEM
    How to build an ox yoke?
    10 days ago

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