Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Oxen, pioneer preps part 2

We got to see and pet a pair of oxen last weekend at our local pioneer festival. These things are HUGE! This particular animal was 6 feet tall at the shoulder. They were used to pull wagons in the pioneer days because they were stronger and more surefooted than horses. They were slower than horses but were more palatible if food got scarce. As far as using oxen nowdays, I think there are other animals that are much much more practical. Horses are more common but would still need hay to eat. In my opinion the goat is the perfect survival animal. They can be trained to pull a cart with minimal training. The nannies give a very rich milk that can be used for cheese and butter. They often give birth to twins, making herd building fairly quick. They can be used for meat and their hide can be made into leather. They can also eat almost anything! They could easily survive on brush or wild growing vegitation. I have also heard that in the case of nuclear fallout, goat milk will be the only foodnot contaminated. If anyone has any more info on that, I would love to know if it is true.


  1. I think another advantage of oxen over horses is that they survived and performed better on grass.

    I don't know about fallout contamination but I know that goats are used to clean out overgrown areas. I had one and she preferred broadleafed weeds over grass. They even eat poinson ivy.

  2. I had two goats. They ate the side of my house, the brake lines on my pickup, the rubber gaskets on some pipes, but they wouldn't touch weeds. They especially liked chicken feed and would find a way into the barn, tear open the sacks, eat the feed til they could hold no more, then urinate on the rest of it.

    There are people who have mules up here to pull wagons. But mules are dangerous, one old guy was hooking up his wagon and something startled the mules. They dragged the wagon over him and that was the end of that. If I had no motor vehicles I would opt for mules, though.

  3. A 1997 report by the National Cancer Institute, which dealt with only one radionuclide -- iodine-131 -- indicated that "farm children ... who drank goat's milk in the 1950s in high fallout areas were as severely exposed as the worst exposed children after the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear plant accident," Makhija

  4. Bitmap and Hermit, I have had several kinds of goats and while they are escape artists, I really like them. I have never had them eat anything like siding or brake lines though. Sounds like you got some bad ones Hermit.

    Thanks Jake, I had always wondered if that was true. Maggie actually found an artical that said the levels of iodine 131 was MUCH higher in kids who drank goats milk.

  5. ten years ago I visited the Damerows in Jackson County, TN. They published the Rural Heritage magazine.

    According to Gail, oxen were often preferred - at that time - because they were more sure-footed on mountains, ridges, hills, etc. They were often steadier, and easier to keep than horses of equivalent strength.

    Just looking at your picture, those panels - and that ox - look more like six (6) feet at the shoulder. Which would be the size of an 18 hand draft horse, a pretty respectable size.

    As I understand the term, oxen is used to describe steers ("fixed" male cattle) at least four (4) years of age, and trained to draft work. Oxen can be of any bovine (cattle) breed.

    In breeding cattle, you keep heifers for breeding, and trade bull calves, occasionally, for others to breed with (you don't want to inbreed in your own herd). Raising some steers for food is how many herds pay off, and raising some steers for oxen is one way to fill a draft function using already available calves.

    Rural Heritage and Small Farmers Journal are two publications that discuss, today, raising, training, and working oxen.

  6. "Just looking at your picture, those panels - and that ox - look more like six (6) feet at the shoulder. Which would be the size of an 18 hand draft horse, a pretty respectable size.

    As I understand the term, oxen is used to describe steers ("fixed" male cattle) at least four (4) years of age, and trained to draft work. Oxen can be of any bovine (cattle) breed."

    Brad, those are 8 foot panels. Seriously, those beasts were HUGE.
    Oxen are usually steers but on occasion they are female cows. Most farmers would raise two steers and use them as oxen for a few years untill they could get a new generation raised and trained at which time they butchered the older team for meat.
    I still think goats would be easier, lol.

  7. Ok, so I lied. They are 6 foot panels. That thing looked a lot bigger than that though. Sorry, post has been changed to reflect true size.

  8. Gracie,

    I had an 18.2 hh Belgian Draft mare (that is, 6'2" at the withers), about 2100 pounds. The oxen in the picture is heavy - but not muscled up and worked to "buff" condition. Looks like he gets more between time than work time.

    I can think of a couple of reasons to turn the oxen every few years. One is that they continue to garner experience . . . and vices! Plus, as they age they encounter injuries and pain, and eventually the disposition might sour. Better to stop working them before they turn cantankerous. Cattle often live 8-12 years in breeding herds, so I am sure they could get more work from them than just a couple of years. But the older the steer, the harder you work him, the tougher the meat. Plus, every year you get more steer calves just waiting to start draft training.

    I had thought that it would make sense to use cows for oxen, too, especially since I kinda remember early books with a picture of a couple of milk cows in yoke. But the dictionary clearly states that oxen are steers - neutered males. No bull. I wonder if each and every oxen drover has read my dictionary? I bet not. But now my quandary is whether to believe my dictionary, or centuries of using oxen. Wait - I can pretend that I sent the dictionary folks a feedback form from the back of the tome! That works great - there is no such form in a dictionary, and the folks wouldn't care about my thoughts, anyway. Anyway, I promise not to call draft cows "oxen", since they aren't steers like the dictionary says. Draft cows works for me just fine.

    Let me sum up. The tall panels was trivial, the oxe in the picture is a big cow.

    Draft steers can be oxen, but not draft cows, at least if you are using my dictionary. Otherwise I doubt it matters, especially to the cows and steers. Most people aren't going to be checking the tails on oxen anyway.

    At least no one got in the habit of docking tails on oxen, like they did on draft horses.

  9. Interesting. I think the big determination in animals is what you need them for. For meat and milk goats are great. Cows are good also. For pulling stuff draft horses, mules and or oxen would need to be weighed for your individual task. Wifey who knows these things thinks we would eventually be best suited with draft horses. Plus also they are wicked cool.

    Very interesting stuff.


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