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?
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.
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.”