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!