Oxen






Many Uses for a Single Ox


fertilizer spreader

Paula Blough rides Fuzz in their Michigan farmyard.
by Anna Knapp–Peck
I grew up in Vermont. Being in a New England state allowed me to have exposure to the tradition of working oxen. There are shows and pulls throughout New England which have kept the tradition of driving oxen alive and unchanged in spite of its disappearance from other parts of the country.

As I have become more involved in the aspects of equipping and driving a single ox, I began to wonder how other people were utilizing these animals. The following are some of the interesting people I have met, and the inspiring ways they have put their single oxen to work.

Paula Blough & Fuzz

Paula is from Michigan, although she spends much of her time in Kansas while she attends college. Paula's family raises beef. Paula showed dairy cows in 4–H. She had one Holstein cow, which she became very attached to, and she wondered what other things cattle could be used for instead of just meat and milk. She became interested in the uses of cattle for draft work and riding, so she taught her show cow to ride. With time, her cow became old, and her last calf was a bull.

Paula decided to keep that bull calf as a riding steer, and she named him Fuzz. Paula said at first her family thought she was crazy, especially when Fuzz reached market age and all the other steers went to beef. After five years, he has become an accepted part of the farm, with his own pen in the free stall and a special diet of dry hay to keep him from gaining too much weight. Fuzz is lost while Paula is away at college, so her cousins spend time with him each day.

It is evident that Fuzz is a family project; Paula said her cousins have told her they know when she is home before they have seen her because Fuzz is happier. A farmer is a farmer no matter how many cows they have or the kind of barn that houses them, and Fuzz is a wonderful example of this. The family cares for him and makes special accommodations for his needs.

Paula started training Fuzz by teaching him to lead with a rope halter. When he was a calf, she put blankets on him and straddled him to get him used to someone standing over him as well as to having weight on his back. Paula also used clicker–training methods that are commonly used on dogs.

Karen Pryor started clicker training and has written many books on the subject. My understanding of it is that you use a clicker to tell the animal when they are doing something right. When they preform an action that doesn't have a verbal cue or command you sound the clicker so they know you are pleased with the action. After the animal has completed a behavior you like and the clicker is used, then you give the animal a food reward, which causes them to have a positive association with the clicker. So when an animal behaves well, you click and they get a treat. In theory, they will continue to behave well to get another treat.

foal imprinting
Paula Blough giving rides with Fuzz, her Holstein steer, at a local petting zoo.

Paula started using a clicker with Fuzz on the ground as he was taught to lead, so he became comfortable with this method of training. She used alfalfa cubes as treats. When Fuzz was 11/2 years old, she began to train him to ride. At first, she sat on his back, and, as he stood for her, she used the clicker and gave him a treat.

Paula's equipment is very simple. She uses two rope halters — one is put on correctly with the lead rope on the left, the other is put on backwards with the lead on the right. The two halters create a hackamore bridal and reins. When Paula taught Fuzz to turn, she clicked and pulled on the right or left rein. As Fuzz turned in that direction she gave him a treat. Paula doesn't usually use a saddle; she rides bareback all over the fields around the farm. She has even used him to give rides at a petting zoo.

foal imprinting
Paula rides Fuzz in their Michigan farmyard.

Paula is majoring in agricultural communication and animal science. I asked what would happen to Fuzz in the future as she begins a career. She was very passionate when she said, “He'd be living with me in Kansas at school if I could keep him in the backyard of the house I'm renting. Wherever I live there will be room for Fuzz!”

Paula plans on returning to the family farm after college. So the future of riding oxen in Michigan looks  bright. I asked Paula what resources she suggests for other people interested in riding cattle or oxen in general, and this is what she recommends: the Midwest Ox Drovers Association and an online forum called Saddle Cattle at http://ridingsteers.freeforums.org/

foal imprinting
Scott Brundatge works Moose singly in the woods.

Clair Apple & Albert

Clair Apple and her husband, Marq, live in North Carolina. Here they have a small farm of six acres where they keep a flock of sheep, a few goats and several collies. Clair is a dog trainer, and her interest started as a little girl when she began training the family dog to pull things and complete different tasks. Now she trains dogs and their handlers in various types of work including scent training, obedience training, herding and carting. The name of their operation is Golem Kennels. In the midst of this intense doggy world, there is one serene presence that is unfazed by all the business around him. He is Prince Albert of Antioch, a Pineywoods ox.

With a small acreage, a broken tractor and round bales to move for the sheep, a single ox seemed like a good investment. Clair called the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy and found information on heritage breeds of cattle and the people that raise them. She found Don Cope breeding Pineywoods cattlein Alabama, so she traveled down there with a friend to look at them. She came home with 4–month–old Albert in the back of a van.

Clair chose a heritage breed, because she wanted an animal that was small, hardy and well suited to the heat of North Carolina. Pineywoods cattle only reach 900 to 1,100 pounds when they are mature. These cattle are related to Florida Cracker cattle and the Texas Longhorns. Buying them is also affordable; Clair only paid $300 for Albert.

The cattle on the farm in Alabama were raised as beef, so Albert had not been handled or had a halter on him. Clair did some halter training before he was brought home, and he loaded well. Albert is very intelligent and trains easily. Clair didn't have access to New England's wealth of knowledge or traditions, so she has developed training methods of her own. She has trained Albert using Clinton Anderson's natural horsemanship methods and clicker training.

The Clinton Anderson techniques helped teach Albert to respond to pressure when he is driven with lines. Clair uses a natural horsemanship halter, which is a rope halter with a series of knots on various pressure points; the driving lines connect under the chin. This helped teach Albert the commands “whoa,” “walk–up,” “gee” and “haw.” Teaching Albert to respond to pressure has helped him to learn to start a load.

The clicker training has been useful when Clair wants to teach Albert something that doesn't have a verbal cue. If he does something she likes, she will click that behavior without teaching him a new command. For example, when they were hauling brush to a burning pile, the first hitch was lined up just where Clair wanted it so she clicked it. Every other hitch he brought in that day was lined up in the same way. Once Albert made the connection to what Clair wanted, he continued to do just that.

The equipment Clair uses is very simple. She started using two draft horse sweat pads and wooden hames with a pony harness, which was only $120 and lasted three years. Now he has grown into a horse harness with thicker sweat pads and tubular hames. She uses the natural horsemanship halter when she is driving with lines at home and a bridle with a bit for more control when she takes him off the property.

Albert hauls round bales on a car hood from the toof the driveway to the sheep pasture. He clears brush on the property, hauls logs, and plows. Clair also uses him to take the dogs for a Sunday drive. I asked Clair if having an ox was an asset to her business, and she said,

“One ox can do the work of three people, and it costs less than
a tractor.”


Clair has one ox instead of a team because she feels she doesn't have enough work for two. She said, “A single is a great option. I don't need a path through the woods to get the team and a yoke through. One steer needs less area for pasture, and eats less hay.”

Even though Albert is the only ox on the farm, he is far from lonely. When he first came to live there Clair, pastured him with four goats on a one week cycle. She didn't want him to bond with just one animal. Now Albert is pastured with the entire flock, but he prefers the goats to the sheep.

Life is good for the prince of Golem Kennels; he seems very content with his position as master of all he surveys. Clair is happy too! She said anyone looking for information on oxen should look up Premiere Longhorns. For those interested in Clair and her work with dogs, you can find her website at http://www.ncdogtraining.com

foal imprinting
Moose and Melanie Brundage bring a
log home.

Clair has one ox instead of a team because she feels she doesn't have enough work for two. She said, “A single is a great option. I don't need a path through the woods to get the team and a yoke through. One steer needs less area for pasture, and eats less hay.”

Even though Albert is the only ox on the farm, he is far from lonely. When he first came to live there Clair, pastured him with four goats on a one week cycle. She didn't want him to bond with just one animal. Now Albert is pastured with the entire flock, but he prefers the goats to the sheep.

Life is good for the prince of Golem Kennels; he seems very content with his position as master of all he surveys. Clair is happy too! She said anyone looking for information on oxen should look up Premiere Longhorns. For those interested in Clair and her work with dogs, you can find her website at ncdogtraining

Melanie Brundage & Moose

Melanie Brundage and her husband, Scott, live in Massachusetts. Melanie is a nurse, and her husband is the herdsman at Tufts University. Five years ago, they started a team of Brown Swiss oxen named Moose and Squirrel. They live in the heart of oxen country, so they found great mentors in Tim Huppe and Nathan Hines, who helped them get started. Then tragedy struck.

One quiet night, Melanie unyoked her team and sat on a stump to watch them eat a round bale in the pasture. She watched them for a while just enjoying their contentment. Then she brushed them before saying goodnight. At 3:30 the next morning she woke up to the terrible screaming of an animal in pain. She rushed to the pasture and found Squirrel laying on the electric fence unable to rise. They shut off the fence and called the vet. But Squirrel was dead before the vet arrived. He had an intussusception (or a telescoped bowel), and there was nothing anyone could do.

After the shock and the grief wore off, Melanie evaluated her situation. What could she do with Moose? She was confronted with the choices of working him or selling him. Melanie spoke with Tim Huppe about the possibility of finding another teammate for Moose. Tim told her of the difficulties of finding another steer of the right size, and at the same level of training. Tim suggested that Melanie work Moose as a single ox.

Tim is also the owner of Berrybrook Ox Supply, so he was able to get her the equipment she needed to start her single ox venture. The equipment she uses consists of a single yoke and a britchen that attaches to the yoke. Melanie said the yoke is awkward when it's not hitched to a load; it's difficult to keep it balanced. When attached to a load, the traces keep tension on the yoke — keeping it in place. She still uses the original yoke from Tim Huppe on occasion, but, for heavy loads, Melanie uses a yoke by Nathan Hines. Yoke makers are like any craftsman; their work carries distinctive traits. Nathan Hines' yokes are wide with the rings set low on the sides. This helps lower the angle of draft to get the most amount of power to draw a load.

Melanie said Moose was really down after losing his teammate. Five weeks later, when they purchased a new pair of calves, Moose perked up. Since then, Moose has taken to life as a single ox, without looking back. Melanie and Scott also keep goats, so if they take the team to a show and leave Moose at home, he still has a companion.

The location of their farm is not ideal for keeping oxen; the Brundage's have a lot of forested land without pasture; so they have to buy hay year round. What they lack in grazing, they gain with the opportunity to use their cattle in the woods. There are logging roads throughout the property that they can exercise the oxen on, and a neighbor has given them permission to use trails through his land as well. Melanie likes to work Moose in the woods instead of a team. She said he is more efficient especially in a dense woodlot.

Melanie and Scott show their oxen, but there are few opportunities to show a single ox, so they have sought out fairs that allow them to bring Moose. This past year, they took him to New Hampshire for the New England Ox Teamsters gathering, where they competed in the single ox log scoot. He also went by ferry to a fair in Martha’s Vineyard, where he pulled as a single in the 2,200 class. He was even taken to the Farm School in Athol, Mass., where the Draft Animal Power Network held a logging workshop. Melanie has found places to work and show her single ox in New England. It's possible, you just have to look for opportunities, and you might have to drive a little farther to get there.

I didn't speak to Scott directly, but from the pictures I have seen, I have the impression he works Moose as often as Melanie. The Brundages didn't start out with the intention of working a single ox, but now they wouldn't have it any other way. As difficult as it was to lose Squirrel, they are thankful to still have Moose out in the pasture.

Rob Collins

Rob Collins has written for Rural Heritage in the past. He wrote a very nice article about using his ox team to mow the lawn with a reel mower. Since that article, he lost the off ox, Hermes. He also faced the dilemma of what to do with the remaining ox, and he chose to work Zeus single. He outlined his experiences in an article in the Midwest Ox Drovers Association Fall 2012 newsletter. I won't steal his material, but for those of you interested in working a single ox, it's worthwhile reading.

Rob explains six commands he found necessary for a single ox to know. First on his list is whoa, second are set–in and set–out, and third is side–stepping. Fourth is “falling down.” This is a unique command, and no, the ox doesn't fall down. When the teamster falls, the team is trained to stop. Fifth is to stand, and six is to have the team turn on voice commands. Rob sums up working a single ox with a great quote;

“Of course Howie Van Ord would say to start with singles, then make a team!”

Tim Huppe

Tim Huppe owns Berrybrook Ox Supply, a business that stems from long experience in working with oxen both in 4–H and as a 4–H leader. The company was founded in 2002. When they began making yokes, they sold 30 regular double yokes to every single yoke. Today, they sell the yokes on a one–to–one ratio. If these numbers are any indication, I'd say working single oxen is on the rise.

Tim said in the past not much attention was given to the single ox, but he believes that is changing as people realize how useful they are. Tim also told me that before 1900 single oxen were more common. They were used to cultivate crops and do other farming tasks. As the farms got bigger, teams were needed to do the work. When the industrial age hit agriculture, tractors came around, so oxen and draft horses were abandoned in most of the country. In New England, the oxen traditions survived because of shows and pulls at local fairs where the knowledge was passed down. The landscape also helped. On those steep and rocky New England farms there are just some places a tractor can't go! rh horse logo

Author
Anna Knapp–Peck lives in DeKalb Junction, N.Y. This article appeared in the April/May 2013 issue of Rural Heritage magazine.

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