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Choosing Animals to Train for Oxen
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To view a list of breeders and ox related websites, click on: Related Links.
General appearance should be a proper weight for their age, trim, smooth and have a straight back. They should not be too fat or two thin. The bones should be healthy and strong. The team should be well-matched in these qualities.
Head and horns should not be too short or too long, with a broad head, large nostrils, and large eyes. The horns should be matched in their length, shape and position.
The body should also be broad and deep, the foreflank full, there should be lots of space for the heart. The ribs should give plenty of room for stomach and lungs, and the back broad, straight and smooth. The underline of the body should not be gutty or short. The shoulders should be smooth and broad. The brisket and dewlap should be trim. The rump should be long and straight. The thighs strong and deep. The tail head should not stick out or be hidden between the hips. The team should be evenly matched in length and height, as well as, coat color.
Feet and legs should be stongly and squarely placed. The hocks should be set at the correct angle and the feet firmly set on the ground with the toes not overgrown.
A well matched team is two animals with the same colouring, horn shape, face markings. But of far more importance to the team matching in appearance, is that the team matches in their willingness to work.
The travel and gait of the pair should be the same speed and length of step, with their heads held at the same angle. Their movements should show that they are attentative to the teamster.
Blemishes detract from the team's show appearance, and can be prevented.
Breeds of Choice
There are many different breeds of cattle, each with their own positive characteristics. Deciding which breed to choose your oxen candidates from is a matter of personal preference, availability, and the understanding of the various breeds. Although some breeds tend to have qualities that make easier to train oxen, or more willing workers, than others, you still need to make your decision on what breeds you really like, and what breeds are available to you.
Generally, dairy cattle are more willing workers, as they put their food energy into physical activity, rather than into the muscle of beef cattle. Some people like a cross between a dairy and beef animal, to gain the energy of the dairy breed, and some of the size of the beef breed. Choosing exactly which breed may be a long process of talking to other ox teamsters, various breeders, and discovering your own personal preferences, or it may be a simple matter of choosing from whatever animals are available to you.
Don Schrider, Communication Director for the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy, writes the following:
"By choosing a rare breed of cattle for oxen, you can help promote the survival of the breed through displaying your oxen to the public. You will enjoy the natural hardiness and unique appearance these breeds offer too.
Many breeds of cattle were originally developed as three-purpose breeds: meat, milk and draft (oxen).
Milking Devons are a classic example with a solid, beautiful, rich red color. Devons were at one time considered the fastest walking cattle (reputed to trot at 6 miles an hour while pulling an unladen wagon). That means they can cover ground faster coming and going to the work site. Milking Devons are medium in size, cows average 1,100 pounds and bulls 1,600.
Milking Shorthorn cattle would make for a very attractive pair of oxen with their red-roan color (some come red and white spotted, some pure white or pure red as well). The Milking Shorthorns are interesting as the white bulls are often infertile. This may mean that a nice matched pair of white Milking Shorthorn oxen would be very affordable. Milking Shorthorns are medium to large in size with cows averaging 1,200 - 1,400 pounds and bulls about 2,000.
Randall Linebacks are one of the most distinctively colored breeds of cattle. The 'lineback' part of the name refers to the breedís characteristic white line down its back, usually including its head and tail. This striking effect is set on a blue-black colored cow with roan markings on its side and with black noses, eye rings, ears, feet, and teats. Randall Linebacks are medium in size with cows weigh near 1,100 - 1,200 pounds.
A smaller three-purpose breed is the Dexter.
Dexters are wonderful small cattle, usually solid black though some are solid red or dun. They are noted for good temperaments and not only eat less feed, but take less space (possible selling point to people who feel oxen are too big for their circumstances). They are also noted for being very hardy and thrifty, being able to graze rough pastures. These are among the smallest of cattle breeds, weighing 700 - 900 pounds.
Rare or unusual dairy breeds.
Ayrshire cattle have an alert and active disposition and may be considered one of the most stylish breeds of dairy cattle with their lyre-shaped horns. They are white with dark red or reddish brown spots and speckles. Some have brown legs, as if they are wearing boots. Aryshires are medium sized with cows weighing 1,100 pounds and bulls 1,600 pounds.
Canadienne cattle are of Canadian origin and are considered a milking breed. They are very hardy cattle, being bred to withstand the Canadian weather extremes while thriving on poor quality forage. The usual color is black, brown, tan, or russet with a pale fawn muzzle (many have a lighter colored stripe along the back). Cows average 1,100 pounds and bulls 1,600. They would surely garner much attention being truly of Canadian origins."
Dutch Belted are beautiful black cattle with a white 'belt' around their middle noted for their ability to thrive on good quality forage. They are medium in size with cows weighing 1,200 pounds and bulls 1,700 pounds.
Guernsey are a beautiful fawn to golden colored cattle with white spotting and golden skin. They are medium to large in size with cows weighing 1,400 pounds and bulls 2,000 pounds.
Kerry cattle are related to the Dexter breed, but were selected for dairy production. They are solid black in color, fine boned with delicate heads and upswept, lyre-shaped white horns with black tips. They are both long-lived and they thrive on poor quality pastures. Kerries are also very difficult to obtain due to their low population. The smallest of the dairy breeds, Kerry cows weigh 800 pounds and bulls 1,000.
Beef cattle can offer a lot of muscle for their size. Unusual beef breeds.
Belted Galloways make interesting oxen usually being either black with a white belt, though other colors do occasionally occur as well. They are well adapted to cold, rugged climates because they grow a shaggy hair coat in winter. They are naturally polled. Cows weigh about 1,100 pounds and bulls about 1,600 pounds.
Galloway cattle come in solid colors as well being belted. Their North American success originally centered around the great plains because of their ability to survive harsh winter conditions (a product of their shaggy coat). Cows weigh 1,200 pounds and bulls range from 1,800 - 2,000 pounds.
Highland cattle might make appropriate oxen for Canadian weather, with their long warm coats. They are noted for thriving on rough forage and in cold, wet climates. Light red is the most common color, but they may also be found in black, brindle, cream, dun, red, and white. They have beautiful horns that sweep out with upturned tips. Cows weigh 900 - 1,300 pounds and bulls 1,500 - 2,000 pounds.
Red Poll cattle are a beautiful solid red in color. The breed is noted for exceptional longevity, a quiet disposition, and their natural lack of horns. Cows average 1,200 pounds and bulls 1,800 pounds.
There are also some unusual breeds worthy of consideration.
Ankole-Watusi cattle are more adapted to heat than cold, but with their striking crescent or lyre shaped horns, the largest of any cattle breed, they would make an especially unusual and attractive pair of oxen. Cows weigh 900 - 1,200 pounds and bulls 1,000- 1,600 pounds.
Florida Cracker and Pineywood cattle are two closely related breeds that are amongst the oldest in the Americas. Both are from feral cattle of Spanish descent. They are unique in their heat tolerance (being unrelated to Zebus and Brahman), long lives, parasite and disease resistance, and ability to survive on poor quality forages and in swamps. Both breeds come in a complete range of colors, color patterns, sizes and shapes. Cows weigh from 600 - 800 pounds and bulls from 800 - 1,200 pounds. They often have very impressive horns.
White Park cattle are athletic and lean in appearance. They have 'U' shaped horns, which are light colored tipped in black. The coat is white with black (or red) eye rings, ears, nose, feet, and teats. Many animals have dark skin, and some have small speckles of black or blue scattered on their coat. Cows weigh 800 - 1,000 pounds and bulls weigh 1,000 - 1,300 pounds."
Missing from Mr. Schrider's list are the following:
Texas Longhorn cattle.
These animals are are one of the most colorful and eyecatching of all breeds. Colors vary widely from solid colors of red, black, white, yellow, blue and brown, to brindle, roans and paints. No two are colored exactly alike. They are a medium sized cattle, with the cows averaging around 1,000 lbs., and the bulls from 1,600 to 1,800 lbs. All have impressive horn growth, especially the steers which will produce horns reaching a width of 6 to 8 feet or more. They are a long lived race of cattle. They are also disease and parasite resistant. Their hardiness can be attributed to the fact that they were molded by 400 years of survival of the fittest in the sometimes harsh South Texas brush country. Millions of these cattle were driven north to the Kansas railheads from South Texas in the late 1800's, and were able to gain weight on the trail. They can be quite docile if handled properly.
The following is written by Judy J. Turner:
"Yaks are taxonomically known as Bos grunniens, meaning grunting ox. They come in six colors or styles:
Imperials are completely black/dark brown
Blacks are black/dark brown with a light gray nose
Trims are like the blacks except they have patches of white on their foreheads, legs, and tails
Royals are mostly white with varying patches of black like Holsteins
Goldens are a yellow brown or dun color
Woolly yaks can be any of these colors with an increased thickness and length of coat.
Dreadlock is a seventh distinction some people use to describe the bloodlines which have tight curly coats
Bottle fed or well handled calves can grow to be like 800-1600 pound dogs that will come when you call their name. They will suck up all the affection you can give them and return it in kind. They play with toys like plastic barrels, tires, logs, and "Jolly Balls". Yak are somewhere between a cow and a horse in intelligence.
Yaks don't require special fencing (even though they can jump about 4 feet straight up in the air). They do fine on poorer pasture and eat only about 1% (sometimes a little more) of their bodyweight per day. That translates to being able to raise three yaks on the same amount of pasture or feed/hay as one cow. They can be raised on mostly pasture alone with supplement of hay in summer and winter depending on local conditions. They need a salt/mineral block with copper and whatever minerals are missing in the local soil. Yak cows do not usually require human intervention to give birth since calves are born weighing about 35 pounds. Yaks are very surefooted and their feet are much easier on the soil, especially in hilly/mountainous areas, much like a goat.
Yaks are extraordinarily easy to train, but they do have their own mind and you have to teach them not to jostle one another. They have been used in several parts of Asia for hundreds of years. There are about 5000 yaks in the U.S. and more in Canada. They are the perfect multi-use animal for pulling, packing, riding, meat, fiber (wool), milk, and hide."
If anyone else has a breed of cattle they would like to see included here, please let us know.
For more information on this subject, click on: American Livestock Breeds Conservancy
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