oxen? how would i train one?

Discussion in 'Cattle' started by wizzard, Aug 14, 2005.

  1. wizzard

    wizzard future nomad

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    well, im one of those people who like to think everything through, and i have decided that i dont want much if any gas powered equipment on my farm. thought about horses for a while, but there is just something intiguing about the power of an ox.
    so as i understand it an ox is a steer trained as a draft animal. is this correct?
    if so, how exactly do you train an ox? this is all just hypothetical speaking, i havent decided for sure that oxen are the way to go, but it seems to me that they are stronger and can do more work, AND they are cheaper than horses, so is there a downside im not seeing?
     
  2. spring77

    spring77 Well-Known Member

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    Yes, an ox is a steer trained for work. They ARE cheaper, they are easier to feed, easier to equip, much lower maintenance, and tastier if necessary. They are NOT stronger, horses are stronger AND faster. Pound for pound a horse will do about twice the work a bovine will, but who's in a hurry? Obviously not you if you are pro-ing and con-ing horses vs oxen. Also they don't sweat so it is hard to get much work out of them in the middle of summer, and they can heatstroke and die really easy if you aren't watching for the signs.

    Training is not hard, the key is to start with baby calves and completely control their environment from as close to day one as possible, a calf that runs with his mama will only ever make a squirrelly unreliable ox. You have to be their mama. Training is really to complex to go into here. You need to get
    Oxen, a Teamsters Guide by Drew Conroy. Also get The Pride and Joy of Working Cattle by Ray Ludwig. Mr. Ludwigs book has excellent in-depth instruction and advice on how to train young bull calves into a team of oxen, how to carve a yoke and build an ox cart. Dr. Conroy's book is an all inclusive "everything you ever wanted to know about oxen" it can be purchased on Amazon or any other bookseller. Mr. Ludwigs book is self published and must be ordered from him. I do not have his address any longer but you can get it by contacting Rural Heritage magazine, which is another good resource if you are into draft power. I prefer it to other draft magazines.
     

  3. JeffNY

    JeffNY Seeking Type

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    I know nothing about oxen, well enough to say, go long, and go for the oxen. I say that because as spring77 said. They are easier to equip, easier to feed (bovine don't have the problems horses can and do have). I was watching oxen work, and it amazed me. They were cutting a field, and those damn holstein steers were easy to work with it seemed, and listened. A horse can spook easily, figure this. With a horse you need to harness the thing, so it won't take off. You use phyiscal force to control a horse, oxen its voice commands, and maybe the occasional tap with the whip.

    The other big advantage is buying a steer, you could pick up a bull calf (steer it right away) for 200 or so (depends on what some ask, market was at 2.00lb for dairy bulls). Either way the cost would be less, and bovine are less apt to freak out like a horse will.


    Jeff
     
  4. Haggis

    Haggis MacCurmudgeon

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    Horse vs Ox is the same old turtle v hare argument and there has never been a clear winner. As for me, and from a homesteader's point of view, the horse is the Prima Donna of draft animals. An ox will thrive, work, and get fat on the same feed that would starve a horse.

    A horse is spendy to buy, they can't work until they get some years on them, their gear is costly, and if they are seriously hurt or at the end of their days one usually doesn't eat them.

    A well trained handy steer or ox will respond to voice commands freeing the crofter hands for other work. A child can make an ox yoke.

    The best choice for the small holder is the house cow, or a yoke of house cows. They will do all of the work around a small farm, give milk for 10 months of the year, and yearly provide a calf for meat or market.
     
  5. pygmywombat

    pygmywombat Well-Known Member

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    Oxen are far calmer then horses. They won't work themselves to death or sickness, they stop when they know it's time. They are cheaper to feed and to buy, and if they don't work out or get old or crippled you can always eat them.

    I have heard the exact opposite- pound for pound oxen are stronger then horses. Not sure which is true, though horses seem to be all leg, while oxen are shorter with those massive shoulders.
     
  6. milkstoolcowboy

    milkstoolcowboy Farmer

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    I always thought that the biggest strike against ox teams was that they couldn't develop the speed to pull some of the ground-drive implements like a mower or binder.

    Been a long time since I farmed without tractors, and then we were most all horses, but had a couple ox teams and mules when I was younger.

    In terms of getting more work done, I'd put my money on a couple good teams of horses.
     
  7. spring77

    spring77 Well-Known Member

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    The "strength" issue.

    The way I have heard it explained to me, by Dr. Conroy at a workshop, was that horses are stronger for a few reasons. They naturally store more glycogen in their muscle tissue than cattle do, so they have much more reserves of energy for moments when huge inputs of strength are needed. They also have more fast-twitch fibers in their muscles along with a skeletal system designed for fast movement. So if you take a team of horses and a team of oxen that are the same weight using the same sized plowing equipment etc. Over the course of the day the horses muscles will carry them along faster, meaning they will take more steps forward in the same amount of time. As the day goes on the horses will be plowing more and more ground than the oxen. By the end of the day all other things being equal the horse team will have ended up doing about twice the amount of work.

    If you look at the results of horse pulls and ox pulls at the New England fairs, when horses and oxen of similar weight are competing in the same pull, the horses almost always win. The only place oxen seem to have it over horses in pulling is in extremely muddy conditions, the slow steady traction that oxen produce and their cloven hooves give them better traction, you can often pull something out of the mud easier with steers than with horses if the team is standing in the mud also. Horses learn to rear back and slam into the harness to give the load the initial impulse force to break inertia on a load. Oxen are not tempermentally or physiologically capable of doing this.

    But all of this really doesn't matter on a homestead where you aren't likely to be working your animal all day long for days at a time. That's when the speed of horses really starts make sense and make up for all of the horses downsides. Historically speaking, oxen have always been (and still are in the 3rd world) the only choice for subsistence agriculture. The make the most sense for a homestead, actually training your milk cow to work in a single yoke is the most efficient system of all, like Haggis was talking about.

    As far as castrating bull calves for oxen goes, Dr. Conroy recommends leaving them intact untill they are 6-8 months old. They usually get a little snorty at that age but it goes away once you turn them into steers. He recommends doing it that way because it allows the urinary tract to develop to a larger size from the testosterone. A steer that is castrated early often develops stones in its urinary tract as a chronic condition when they get to be 4 or 5 years old. Early castration isn't a problem for most steers cause they are beef before they get to be that old.
     
  8. Widow Jams

    Widow Jams Member

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    Wizzard,

    There is a forum on Yahoo called: DexterCattleOnly.

    One of the participants there, a Dexter owner, trained for himself a pair of Dexter oxen. In one of the threads, ( within the past year I'm sure) there is discussion about Dexters as oxen, and he also posted a 13 page talk he had prepared and given on training Dexter oxen that I enjoyed and thought was a great article whether one wished to train oxen or not. You might do a search under the keyword oxen, or try the poster's ID. His name is Welle.