Picking oxen

Discussion in 'Cattle' started by Rob30, Nov 28, 2006.

  1. Rob30

    Rob30 Well-Known Member Supporter

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    I am interested in training ox. I have a couple of short horn steers I was going to train. However I have read that many settlers used cows not steers. I have a shorthorn cow I raised on a bottle. She is pretty tame. I also have a young Holstien cow much younger. If I let the holstien catch up in size would they be an ok match. I think the holstien may be a little taller when mature.
    The steers would be of better use in the freezer.
     
  2. Haggis

    Haggis MacCurmudgeon

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    If you're not into farming on a large scale, a span of cows is surely more economical sound than a span of steers.
     

  3. onecowenuf

    onecowenuf Member

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    Sure, bovines are bovines. The main issue with working cows is not to get jumped when one of them is in heat and you're trying to yoke em up. I don't think that in pioneer days or in Africa where they still do that kind of thing out of necessity that the cows had/have anything resembling a holstein udder though, it may cause problems.
     
  4. JulieLou42

    JulieLou42 Well-Known Member

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    If she's being milked and is pregnant, that may be too much to expect from her.
     
  5. onecowenuf

    onecowenuf Member

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    why?

    If he was gonna plow 3 acres a day with them for the entire spring, yes that might be asking too much. But thats not too likely really. At most they might be asked to plow the garden or pull a few logs out of the woods or spread some manure. Its not like hes gonna turn them into carriage horses or something. It is hard to imagine anyone in the US having enough TIME to really give a team of oxen (or cows) a real workout. Most of us have to have real jobs to pay for our hay. So having a team of cows to play around with in the yoke doesn't seem unreasonable at all to me. Plus you get calves and milk and aren't paying to feed a pair of steers you hardly use. I cannot see the downside.
     
  6. Slev

    Slev Well-Known Member Supporter

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    Well I'm toying around with a cow, but she is a single that I want to pull a small cart for the most part.

    Actually in history, only the poorest of the poor expected that kind of ox use from their cows. Greater work loads and staminia from a "matched set" of steers, would be far better than an uneven matched pair of cows. I would really, really stress that. (You might want to run your question by some of the top authorities out there....) Also, I would look at the resale value of a well matched pair of steers, vs your cow combo. However, depending on the amount of real work you plan on, I think a cow could handle that. GOOD LUCK
     
  7. pancho

    pancho Well-Known Member

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    My great grand father logged with oxen. They used a six steer team and always took a spare. They used steers because the work was very hard and if a cow had a calf she could not handle the logging work and raise a calf. I have some photos of their team hooked up to a load of logs. The steers were in pretty poor shape. The work was hard and the feed not so great.
     
  8. onecowenuf

    onecowenuf Member

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    OK, it is true that in history cows have only been yoked by the poorest of the poor or by people like the pioneers who were stuck with no other options. Why? Because cows don't get as big as steers and can't pull as much and if they have a calf on them that is a lot to ask of them if all you do is let them graze the overgrazed lousy commons at night or something. But unless I am really mistaken Rob30 is not in that situation. I am just guessing here but he probably is not looking to these cattle to keep his family from starving. I may be reading a little between the lines here but it sounds like he already has a few cattle and is interested in playing around with draft. To my mind training up a pair of cows to the yoke is a perfectly sound option.

    As far as resale value goes, Rob is in Idaho. The market for handy steers anywhere outside of New England is pretty darn small. So anywhere outside of New England the value of a pair of oxen is just about their salvage value for meat at the auction barn. Add to that the fact that you will probably get docked for them having horns, being too big, and not being angus. Also think about all the hours you spend training them. You are not going to make back that money but it was all in fun anyway, so OK. Also keep in mind all the feed those steers are going to eat as they grow and sit around waiting for you to have time to mess around with them, which is less time than you think believe me.

    Compare the steers to a pair of cows. Cost of training is identical. Cost of equipment is essentially identical. Cost of feed will be comparable, the cows have more nutritional needs than the steers obviously but they don't get nearly as big so it probably evens out fairly well. Every moment you are not working the cows they are still working for you - making milk for your use and/or growing up a calf for you to eat or sell. Every moment you are not working your pair of steers they are costing you money in feed.

    I love oxen but in this day and age they are a luxury. If you train a pair of cows you can have your fun doing draft work and they will still be giving back to you the rest of the time.

    As far as what Pancho said "They used steers because the work was very hard and if a cow had a calf she could not handle the logging work and raise a calf". I don't disagree with that statement. Cows would not have been appropriate for that work and would not be appropriate if that was what Rob wanted to do with his team. But nobody logs the woods all day with oxen for a living anymore. And nobody who has a team of oxen is so poor that the can only feed their team straw and pine needles over the winter so they end up a rack of bones. In the old days people had oxen to subsist, these days poeple keep oxen for fun. In the old days people worked oxen because they had to, these days people keep oxen because they want to. So useing the old reasons not to yoke some cows does not make sense.

    IMO one of the top authorities on oxen is Drew Conroy. You might want to check out his article "Working Cows" written in Rural Heritage Magazine a few years ago. You can get photocopies of old articles if you email RH and ask. In that article he admitted that even for him training his Devon cows would make more economic sense than training up teams of oxen, the main reason he didn't do it was that it would prevent him from competeing in ox events at the fairs. But Rob doesn't live anywhere near a fair that has ox competitions.

    Either way Rob, I recommend you get Drew Conroy's book "Oxen, A Teamster's Guide" it will help you train your team an make equipment and it also has a section on working cows.
     
  9. jnap31

    jnap31 garden guy

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    Thanks good post, I will have to check out that book also as I would like to plow with a team of dexter cows someday.