Hoof Care

Why Wooden Shoes on Oxen?

by Bill Speiden
Luke Conner and I met when he was five years old in the Virginia State Fair's Heritage Village. He and his family were re–enacting the 1776 era in a log cabin farmstead. I was re–enacting the same time period with my oxen. He fell in love with the oxen and has helped me for almost two decades at ox events in 12 states. We kind of adopted each other. Luke currently has two teams of his own oxen.
These wooden shoes provide temporary protection for oxen hooves.

Luke has learned from me, and others, the finer points of training and working a team. This article is about my teaching him hoof trimming and wooden shoe application. You know that some rural people in Holland wear or wore wooden shoes. Your oxen can also. Why? They help when you will be working short term on a rough gravel or concrete surface. For a weekend, it is not worth going to the expense and trouble of putting metal shoes on a team.

Luke had an ox event coming up last spring requiring his oxen to work a weekend on a rough gravel surface. He did not want to go to the expense and time to shoe his oxen with regular steel shoes, but he did want to learn how to trim his oxen’s feet and put wooden shoes on for temporary protection. He has seen me use wooden shoes as a short–term hoof protections protection on my oxen. (See Rural Heritage Holiday 2005 p. 40 article entitled “Big Hill”.) The week before his weekend appearance, he brought his oxen to my farm, where I have a hoof–trimming chute for my oxen. I gave him a lesson on trimming bovine hooves and how to apply wooden shoes. We decided we would make a photo study of the exercise for this article.

For a few decades now, dairy and beef farmers have been gluing a wood therapeutic shoe on a non–injured claw to take the pressure off a damaged or hoof rotted claw. This allows the sore claw to heal.

The same technology can be used to get your oxen safely through that weekend on a rough surface without acquiring sore feet. If you work on grass, smooth pavement or dirt, your oxen’s feet would not be hurt. Gravel or rough concrete can make their feet sore in a couple of hours.

So what to do?

  1. Process or gain knowledge of how to trim a bovine hoof or hire a professional to help you.
  2. Make your shoes after measuring your oxen’s feet for size.
  3. The easiest way to work on a bovine feet is to use a tilt table or hydraulic chute where he is confined and you have safe access to his feet. If you do not have access to either of these, a hoof–trimming chute will suffice. You can build on yourself, as I did.
  4. Trim/file feet so you can have clean surface hoof material on which to glue wooden blocks.

    Luke practiced on my ox Ruff, of my team Ruff and Reddy (see cover of Rural Heritage Evener 2009) before preparing his own team, Calvin and Hobbs, for wooden shoes.

    My chute incorporates a head restraint, bellybands (as a bovine will not stand on three legs long enough to trim and/or nail on a shoe). And individual hoof tiedown blocks (adjustable for different size oxen). The bellybands are raised and lowered via a handcranked boat winch. I use chain hold–downs on the blocks with the chain encased in a hose to protect the ox pasterns from injury. Front feet are placed on the blocks in a kneeling position. Rear feet are pulled back (using a cotton rope to minimize rope burn potential) using a rope rig/sling as shown in the picture. This way, all feet have their soles up to expedite filing, trimming, gluing and/or nailing on shoes.

    Note: always keep a bottle of Kopertox handy to disinfect and seal any accidental break through the hoof wall drawing blood. Should you see blood – do NOT go any deeper—you are past your limit. Minor abrasions immediately treated are usually harmless.

  5. For glue, I use an acrylic powder (J­61PB Technovit Powder) mixed with J–61LB Technovit Liquid, both made by Jorgensen Laboratories under the brand name “JorVet.” Mix to a soft paste consistency and apply quickly to both hoof and shoe. Place shoe on hoof, hold in place while spreading excess glue around the outside of the shoe and for reinforcement. In 2–3 minutes, the glue sets up, so do not be slow. Note& Place front shoes on so that they do not stick out of the back of the hoof risking being stepped on by the rear feet.
  6. Repeat the above for all four feet. Note: When the ox is released from the hoof blocks, he is usually lying in the bellybands as if he is unable to stand. It may take a few minutes for him to realize he is still alive and can stand on his own feet.
  7. If properly applied, the wood shoes will stay on until worn out or for a couple of weeks or more. The life of the shoes is dependent on: (a) The type of wood used – pine does not wear as well as oak, (b) His activity level and (c) The type of surface on which he is walking.

cutting out wooden shoes wooden shoes
Shoes are cut out and the underside of the shoes are scored to provide more surface area for glue adhesion.
shoeing stock
Shoeing StockIllustrations by Bethany Caskey
shoeing stock end view

I have tried thick stair step vinyl and tire tread cut to ox shoe size and shape. The vinyl and tire tread shoes stayed on only an hour up to a day or two. They are too flexible, and walking on them breaks them from the hard acrylic glue which is harder than the hoof material. Metal shoes glued on do work on horses, and probably would for oxen. However, the epoxy glue is very expensive, and the hoof must be absolutely free of foreign material. Metal shoes might work on oxen with practice.

On three adventures on trails in the West, I have shod my oxen with regular iron shoes nailed on (see Rural Heritage Spring 2000, p. 57, article entitled “Traveling With Oxen”). The wooden blocks glued on is an easy way to get through a gig for a week or more should a shoe be lost.

Of the 16 shoes we glued on Luke’s team, one front shoe came off in five days. The rest were still on after one and a half weeks. During the next two weeks, four more front shoes came off by themselves. At three and a half weeks, Luke wanted to remove the eleven remaining shoes. All eight of the rear shoes were still on, as were three of the eight front shoes.

glueing wooden oxen shoes
Glue is applied on the sides of the shoes to better reinforce the shoe strength.

The front shoes remaining showed most wear on the outside of the outside claws. At three weeks, one ox hoof showed some separation of glue from hoof. This separation may have contributed to some soreness in the oxen’s hind foot and beginning signs of minor hoof rot visible on removal of the shoes at three and one half weeks. For the final removal, Luke worked his oxen heavily on pavement for half–hour intervals for a total of one hour for each ox, turning frequently. This procedure not only was a good schooling exercise, it also loosened the shoes enough so that two came off on their own. The other 9 came off easily from a hit with a hammer and chisel between the glue and hoof. Some of the acrylic glue clung to the hoof wall, but most of the glue stuck to the wood and left the hoof bottom free from glue.

One unexpected problem Luke experience happened when loading his oxen into a wet slippery trailer floor. They slipped and became loading shy until Luke put straw down on the floor. Moral of that story: Keep your trailer floors dry. On my trips west with my oxen, the metal shoes I had on them had cleats, so even if the gooseneck floor got a little slippery it was not a problem. But with six inches of sawdust and eight inches of straw for the cross country trip, the potential problem only occurred a the rear of the gooseneck where the bedding was scuffed out with frequent unloading.

Note: Need to trim: When does an ox need hoof trimming? Not being a favorite part of the hobby, I try to avoid trimming their hooves as long as possible. I rarely have to trim my oxen’s feet before 8 to 10 years of age. The secret is in picking calves showing a tendency for strong pasterns. As soon as the pastern becomes weakened, the ox will start to walk more on his heels, allowing the toes to grow out. Brown Swiss are known for strong pasterns, probably because they are large cattle and natural selection encouraged the genes for strong pasterns to hold up their weight. Any breed can show weak pasterns at birth, so try to choose calves showing strength to start with. Proper pasterns are not too straight, nor are they too “giving.”

Learn from a knowledgeable person before trimming their feet. Enjoy your oxen and keep them foot healthy.rh horse logo
Bill Speiden, “adopted” grandfather and Luke Conner, “adopted” grandson.  
This article appeared in the February/March 2013 issue of Rural Heritage magazine.

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