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Hello to all! I've introduced myself here last year although I rarely post. I have enjoyed all the many posts from you.
I am from Michigan but my wife and I and our two young children are currently living as missionaries in a very rural West African bush village in the country of Togo. The natives here are primarily farmers. We live in the tropical region and receive about 70 inches of rain a year. We are currently in dry season and the rains will start again in earnest in mid April, give or take. They last until late October. We usually have a relatively dry August. This makes for two growing seasons a year. So yes the crops grow well as do the weeds and the bush. The farm plots are very small. They would average maybe half an acre in size or less. This time of year, they are all burned off; as well as new plots of bush that also get "slashed and burned". That is the only way for them to return the massive amount of plant residue to the soil. For example; if they farm a certain plot for 4-5 years in a row, they will let it sit idle for one year. In that one year of sitting idle, the bush will grow impenetrably thick and will easily reach 12 feet high.
All farming is done by hand. In our part of the country, animals are not employed. The village youth boys use big hoes to turn the soil and make ridges throughout the small plots. The corn is then planted along the top of the ridge. They plant the kernels about 12 in. apart and 3-4 per hole. They come along later when the corn is mid-calf-high and place a small amount of commercial fertilizer at the base of the plants and then cover the fertilizer with a skiff of soil. Of course using these farming methods, their harvests are very minimal. Due to the extreme poverty they live in, insecticides are often not used and the results are disastrous. For all the back breaking labor required to get the corn to harvest stage in 2016, they were poorly rewarded as worms got in the ears of the corn before they realized it and the damage was already done. Anyways, a whole report could be written on the farming methods used here and the problems they face just trying to feed their families.
I grew up on a dairy farm and was actively involved in the day to day operations until 2007 when I sold my share of the herd and opened a bakery/restaurant in our local town. (I was able to find someone to take over the restaurant when we came to Africa in 2013.) So the cows are still in my blood.
Years ago I was just a youth at the Ag Expo in East Lansing when Dick Rossenberg had "Marco" and "Polo" there, his team of oxen. He was there with Tillers International and was showing what oxen can do. I was intrigued! After the demonstration, I hung around and started asking him questions. He so kindly took time to explain to me how I too could train a team of oxen. I was pumped! I went back to the dairy farm and started training two of our heifer calves with a lead rope. It was just as easy as he had said. To this day, I'm grieved to say I did not stick with it. As a 14 or 15 year old lad, I had lots of other interests and I never did make a yoke and hitch them to anything.
Well, fast forward to 2017 and here I am in a bush village with the opportunity to be able to help these folks improve their farming methods. I have been thinking a lot of how much even one steer could help them. We have lots of Fulani (a nomadic tribe who used to be mainly in the desert) herdsmen in our area who roam with their cows. I do not know the name of the breed but they have a hump similar to a brahma. They have long horns as well. Upon visiting with these herdsmen numerous times, I've found that there are three breeds here; only one of which is suitable to train as an ox. The others are simply too high strung is what they told me. Right now in the midst of the dry season the price for bulls has really fallen. In fact, they tell me I could buy an 8 month old bull for the equivalent of $100. This almost half price for what would be considered normal. Needless to say, I am extremely tempted to! In fact I believe I just might. (I'll keep you posted if I do.) Here is my question; the two bulls that Isaaca, my Muslim friend, wants to sell me seem too old to me. He thinks I could train them well! They appear to be well over a year old and their horns are 9-12 inches long. They have not been castrated yet. They seem a little too big and wild to start trying to train them to be oxen. He has some younger bulls in his herd that have horns maybe 2-3 inches long and are not nearly as big and wild looking as the bigger bulls. I would guess them to be 6-9 months old.
So finally here is my question; how old is too old to start trying to train an ox? I believe I will start with one instead of trying to train a team. I would love to be able to show them how that its very possible to train an ox and that it would help tremendously in their farms. I await any feed back from any of you!
Thanks, Keith

NoraWI says 2017-02-15 18:59:32 (CST)

I am not an expert on this but from what I have read, oxen training has to begin as early as possible... a month or two old is not too soon. An intact horned bull is not only not appropriate for training, but I would think even dangerous. Besides, if these people can't even grow enough food for their families, what will they feed their animal? I can see them slaughtering and eating their prospective ox in no time flat.

1 year ago via Forums | Front Porch Forum

JerryHicks says 2017-02-16 05:15:56 (CST)

Kieth, I don't know much of anything about oxen, other than I've thought many times that it would be fun to train a yoke of them. They are the perfect draft animal for your climate, and much cheaper to keep and maintain than horses or mules. That being said the closest I've come to working oxen is reading about them in Drew Conroy's book Oxen, a Teamsters Guide and I would highly recommend it to you.
He states that it is common in many African countries to break older animals to yoke, though it isn't the best or easiest way of taming oxen. He goes on to say that breaking older animals is best left to those more experienced with oxen. If you have access to milk, the ideal would be to raise a pair of bottle fed calves. They would then become more dependent on you at an early age They are easier handled. You could start halter training them right away, then getting them used to walking together in the yoke and then finally getting them used to pulling, starting with a very light load and slowly increasing it. Ideally, they would never find out what their limit is, and so would always be willing to start a load. Once you get them pulling, do you have access to a plow? or do you plan to make an ard type plow? If you can find a six in or so turning plow, that would probably be best to start with. That would be what would be a one horse plow here. It would be good for a small plot, and probably best for a small pair of steers. If you can get that book, again, I highly recommend it and if possible I'd send you a copy.

1 year ago via Forums | Front Porch Forum

K.C. Fox says 2017-02-16 09:33:44 (CST)

My grandmother said that they put a yoke on 2-4 week old calves and never let them go without a yoke the rest of there life. they made different sizes of yokes for them as they grew. she said that was the easiest way to train an OX. the children used the smaller calves in play or chores as children do. older ones were harder to break but they did break them to.

1 year ago via Forums | Front Porch Forum

JHItch says 2017-02-19 15:41:02 (CST)

Keith, I am going to give you a brief description of my training experience and then I will make my suggestion. The decision of having an ox is entirely up to you.

I have trained and have helped my mom train several milk cows of many different ages. I have halter trained several calves(Bulls and Heifers, horned and none horned). I have taught at least one to wear a harness and haul some light brush. I have trained many goats to milk. I have trained many goats to wear a harness and have taught some to haul a few things. At the moment I am training my first horse. I do intend to ride her and teach her to pull.

Continue to next post.

1 year ago via Forums | Front Porch Forum

JHItch says 2017-02-19 16:04:00 (CST)

As far as methods go I'm sad to say that the method that I use I discovered only recently and most of the animals that I have trained were trained before I discovered the method.
I use the Downunder Horsemanship method. This method works for horses, cattle, and goats. Age is not an issue. Horns are not an issue either. Cattle do have a higher tendency to be aggressive when they have their horns. If you were to disbud an adult it may not be as aggressive outwardly but it will probably push into your space more subtly. Maybe I should just say that disbudding an animal isn't going to train your animal for you. The key is to move the animals feet forwards, backwards, left, and right.

1 year ago via Forums | Front Porch Forum

JHItch says 2017-02-19 16:27:28 (CST)

I highly recommend this method but if you can't get it. I completely understand and I advise that you do your research and wisely make your decisions about what method you use or if you choose to pursue this plan of yours or not. I think that it is a good idea to use oxen. I would advise you to try to find a harness over a yoke but if not, then a neck or shoulder yoke over a head yoke and any of these over a simple rope around the neck. This list is in order of most comfortable and efficient to the least. Yes harnesses are the most complex but they are the most comfortable and you get the most amount of work out of them.
If you have any questions just ask.


1 year ago via Forums | Front Porch Forum

Keith L. says 2017-02-23 04:58:47 (CST)

Thank you all very much for your responses! Thanks for suggesting that book, Jerry. My brother and his wife are coming to spend a couple weeks with us in the latter part of March so I plan to order it and have them bring it with them.
Nora, I was worried about the 2-3 ft. long horns that the adults have as well. But all of Togo, I have never seen a dehorned cow. In northern Togo, we see primarily a single ox working. A team in rare. The folks simply cannot afford a team. Also feeding them isn't such a problem. For one thing, an animal is of tremendous worth to an African. I see people going hungry and suffering before they will butcher a goat or sheep, much less a cow. For them, an animal is a prized investment. After corn and millet harvest, the stalks get cut and gathered and stacked for cow feed during the dry season. They have no other use for the stalks. If they don't have animals to feed them too, they simply burn the fodder.
Josie, thanks for your your replies as well. I definitely will research your advice about the harnesses vs yokes. The thing is, even a lead rope or halter I would have to fabricate. A yoke would be the easiest to build. Also thinking of the future for when my time is up over here and I come back to Michigan in late 2018, that the natives can carry on with the materials that are locally available. For lead ropes, they bore a hole in the septum of the nose and run a rope through there and then tie it around the back of the head. It stays there forever and never gets taken off. Then the drover always keep the tail of that rope in his hand to control the animal. But the thing I have witness many many times is simply a poorly trained animal that works because he'll get beaten severely if he refuses. I see yokes of oxen who are fighting each other in the yoke and either both are pulling away from each other as hard as they can or else they are both push towards each other.
So they do use oxen here, just not at all in our region of the country. For one thing as this would used to have been considered rain forest region before the last couple decades of deforestation, there are lots of trees that grow quickly. They cut them down every year with their machetes and turn the soil around them and never remove the stumps and roots. I have been clear with the natives that I've been working with that that will be necessary. So I'm still not sure which way I'll go; to buy and train or to leave well enough alone!
There is a government program that sells plows and simple tillage equipment. I'll try to attach a picture of a plow that is used here.
Thanks again to all for your encouraging words!

1 year ago via Forums | Front Porch Forum

Vicki says 2017-02-25 08:45:38 (CST)

Keith, how very wonderful and exciting a life you have chosen! I have been training oxen since 2000 and I have trained oxen and farmers I northern Uganda with Tillers' International project there. We trained 2 and three year old bulls! The cattle are very small, however. I can say that if you get young calves, it it "easier" to train them, and you have the advantage of more physical restraint if you can still muscle them around when necessary. But in east Africa, the tradition is to start with more mature yet young bulls. Castrating will help of course with temperament. The biggest factor I would look for in your position, is young animals which have been handled gently. Buying some crazed critters with rope burns or panga marks all over them from an auction --not advised. If you have local people who are pastoral, they will likely be cattle-saavy, and maybe drive and handle herds in rather low-stress ways. I would tryto get cattle from gently handled herds. I recommend a slightly dropped hitch neck yoke,becaue that is the most efficient design. You can easily fashion bows from PVC tubing if that is available. Tillers has info on this, Tim Harrigan has a video of this. I can send pics and talk you through it. Dick Roosenberg has retired, but he is still somewhat involved, especially in Africa projects. You know Dick got started with oxen as a Peace Corp worker in west Africa? What you are doing and thinking is right on target. I wish I could come over and help for a few weeks. Please keep in touch. Let us know what's going on.

1 year ago via Forums | Front Porch Forum

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