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"Training and Working with Oxen"
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Oxen Overview


Oxen, what are they? Oxen are quiet and unassuming animals that give back far more than they take. They are willing to work long hours with a comparitively small amount of feed and care. Their humility and gentle perseverance are a constant source of example for us all. And Jesus used these quiet creatures to whisper words of encouragement into our hectic lives. "Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light." Matthew 11: 28-30. So come along with us as we look at the ox as a simple, natural, and enjoyable alternative to farming in this fast-paced and high-priced world.

History of the Ox: Our ancestors could tell you the value of these lowly beasts. Oxen were animals that filled the pioneer's needs in several ways. They pulled the heavy wagons, loaded with all the wealth these brave people had, at little to no cost in feed. The opportunity to graze the vegetation that could be found along the way was the oxen's only wage. Often these animals were cows, rather than steers. They gave the family the yearly bonus of a calf, as well as the milk that the growing children so badly needed. Many oxen were used as the power to bring home the supplies needed for the house and farm. Their plodding meant a long trip to the nearest store, and often the farmers would have been able to arrive faster if they had walked, but without the oxen's strength, they would not have been able to return with the heavy sacks of seed, flour and other goods that their families were waiting for. And in the end, these humble and dependable servants were used for food to feed hungry mouths, and for leather to create new harness and clothes.

Natural Power: Now in this day of fast paced life, and money hungry lifestyles, if we choose to, we can still find some of that simple, quiet living. Some of the choices necessary to achieve that sense of peace, must needs be, choices that have to do with what is inside of a person, but some of the choices could include how to go about getting things done. The slow steady pace of the ox is a great way to start.

Oxen are a natural power alternative to tractors, as well as to horses. They are strong and when they pit their strength against a stump wedged deep in the ground, or a day's work in the field, pulling a piece of equipment, they are well able to succeed. It is with great awe that a person could stand to watch a team of fit, and well-trained oxen, compete in a ox pulling competition. The power these animals can exert is incredible, well worth seeing, and harnessing it is relatively easy to achieve. The skills required to train and equipt an ox are basic, as well as great for the growth of both body and soul.

Working with these draft animals is necessarily carried out with a close partnership between the handler and the team, and is a wonderful way to become intimate with a part of creation; to enjoy it, and see its beauty. It is also a way to share a little with our ancestors, to remember our history, and to join with others who have the same interests and desires. So, as life races past us, join us, as we slow down to work with our oxen; and perhaps, as we move a little slower, we will enjoy a little more what we have been given to hold.

Choosing Your Animals: Choosing the calves to work with is the first place to start. This is a matter of understanding desirable ox characteristics, as well as personal preference.

Ox Health: The health of your ox is an important consideration. Care must be taken to ensure that your ox has healthy feet. Trimming his hooves as needed should be a regular occurance, and if you will be using him on hard rocky ground or walking him on pavement, then he also should be shod. As well, care needs to be taken to see that he is kept in good physical shape so that the work you are asking him to do will cause him the least stress. Training: The training required to teach an ox is not hard, but does require things like kindness, persistance and consistency. Walking beside these slow moving animals is a great, no-stress, exercise. More than one ox teamster finds the time spent with their animals to be therapeutic.

Yokes: Yokes, both head and neck yokes, can be made with hand tools like those that the pioneers may have used: an axe, an adze, a drawknife, a hand drill, and some sandpaper. The hardware can be made on an old-fashioned forge. A yoke placed on the shoulders of a team and held in place by the bows around their necks is all that a team of oxen requires to enable them to use their power for their handler. The log or ox-drawn machinery is attached to the yoke with a pole or chain.

Harness and Collars: Harnessing a team of oxen is an alternative to using the yoke. People around the world have used many different methods to harness ox power. A system of collars and harness, often adapted from equipment used for horses, is another alternative to the carved wooden yokes.

Art by Gloria Nesbitt
Photo of Barry standing with Pete and Tom by Brenda Kossowan: wordswork@bekosso.ab.ca

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