Collins Draft Horse, Ox and Pony Club’s 30th annual Plow Fest

Last Sunday we took the girls out in public for the first time.  We attended the Collins Draft Horse, Ox and Pony Club’s 30th annual Plow Fest.  It made a great place to introduce them to crowds.  It is a laid back event with plenty of area to maneuver and get away if need be.  I cringed as we pulled up and saw that the field was covered in rye grass nearly up to my knee.   The girls are very good about not grazing while working at home and so it hasn’t been covered much but this was too much to ask.  They did get a few bites in but not nearly as bad as I anticipated and they did start to respond to the “head up” command.  I got a chance to introduce them to the furrow and, while far from perfect, I think they did pretty well.  As always we had a lot of fun talking to people about oxen.

There is more to see and do at the plow fest than just watch plowing.  My whole family including my almost two year old had a good time enjoying the wagon rides, pony rides, petting zoo, craft fair, herding dog demonstration, music, bake sale, and food.  Thank you to all the folks that work hard to organize and run the event!  If any of you are close enough to Collins NY, we would love to see you and your cattle!  If you’re not then find a similar event in your area.  It is a great training tool for your cattle as well as being a great deal of fun.

A couple of thoughts that came from the trip:

I knew that I should have taken the girls off pasture for a couple of days beforehand but I didn’t get it done till late the night before.  By then they had full bellies of grass and didn’t want to touch the hay I put out.  The next morning they where still loose as a goose and made quite a mess of themselves and the trailer on the trip.  I will definitely make it more of a priority to pull them off pasture next time.

My dad, my late uncle, and myself have been attending the plow fest off and on for the bulk of its 30 year history.  I got to thinking about the early years when one of my father’s ox mentors  frequented the plow fest.  His name was Johnny Lamb from Friendship NY.  I know he was a Devon man but he normally had a single roan Durham ox from my memories.  I remember Johnny from a number of trips to his home and attending a few of the same events.  I was too young to remember any of his wisdom but I do remember the pride I felt when he drove my first steer at the Collins plow fest many years ago.

Johnny Lamb and Diamond

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Tutorial: Fitting Horn Knobs

Horn knobs are simply pieces of brass that are drilled and tapped on the inside similar to a pipe cap.  They are applied to the tips of the horns to keep them blunt. Horn knobs are also quite attractive and give your cattle a distinctive look.  Horn knobs are not meant as any sort of protection from an aggressive animal.  They are not heavy enough to effect the horn’s growth and, if fitted properly, cause no pain to the animal.

Horns are made up of a bone core covered in a protective sheath.  The sheath is made of keratin,  the same material your hair and finger nails are made of.  At the tip of the horn the sheath forms a solid portion and this is the only area that the knobs effect.  Since there are no nerves in this material the knobs are completely painless.  Your cattle’s horns must have enough solid keratin before you can properly apply horn knobs.  Calf knobs require about a half-inch while larger knobs generally require at least a full inch.  This solid portion is usually indicated by a darker color all the way around the horn’s circumference.  If you are unsure it is better to wait and give the horn more time to develop.

First:

Secure the animal.  While applying the knobs is painless, it will tend to annoy the animal and they will need to hold still.  We prefer to tie the animal up but rather than trying to fully restrain their head with ropes or straps, we have a partner physically restrain the head by standing against their neck and pulling their neck around.  This along with frequent rest breaks seems to make the process a little better for them.

Second:

Mark the horn to show where the knob will fit.  Masking tape makes a good marker.   Also when laying it out a few things must be considered.  The knob will look its best and last the longest if it fits either flush with the horn or if the horn is slightly proud of the knob when finished.  The more length of horn you can leave inside the knob the more secure the knob will be.  In the case of fitting a close ended knob on a long slender horn it may be necessary to trim some of the length of the horn so that the knob doesn’t bottom out before it  fully seats.   You will need to eye-ball it so that the knob is straight when finished.

Third:

Using a pocket knife and file very carefully, carve and file the end of horn into a peg that will perfectly fit the knob.  Preferably this peg will have a 90 degree shoulder at its base.  This shoulder will be the natural size of the horn and again it is best if it is either the same diameter as the knob or slightly larger.  It is extremely important that you do not remove too much material at this point.  You can use a wrench to screw the knob on to check your progress.  If the peg is the proper size the knob will screw down the peg cutting its own threads into the horn.  If the knob doesn’t screw down the peg then the peg is likely to thick or too long if fitting a closed ended knob.  If the resulting threads are light or missing, then the peg is too small or out of round.  When  the knob will screw completely down and seat against the shoulder you carved, it is fitted.  Be careful not to strip the threads of the horn by over-tightening.

Fourth:

Once you are happy with the fit of the knob remove it one last time.  Apply a quality epoxy to the treads of both the horn and the knob and screw the knob back on.  Don’t be overly concerned about any excess epoxy that may leak out onto the horn.  The animal will quickly rub it off on its own.  If you fitted a closed-ended knob, then your task is now complete.  If you fitted an open-ended knob, then cut off the protruding tip of the horn and then your task is complete.

 

If you have done a proper job you should enjoy your new horn knobs for many years. Over time you will notice wear and tear on both the brass knob and the horn at the base of the knob.  Eventually, over several years, the horn at the base of the knob will be worn thinner and thinner untill the knob breaks off.  It is then time to start over with a new set of horn knobs.  How long they will last is unpredictable because cattle work their horns down at different rates.


The Brothers Four – The Ox Driver’s Song

Lyrics to Ox Driving Song :

Crack the whip and bring the blood
Make the leaders take the mud
We’ve got the wheels and we turn them around
One long hard pull and we’re on hard ground
To me rol to me rol to my rideo
To me rol to me rol to my rideo
To my rideo to my rudeo
To me rol to me rol to my rideoOn the fourteenth day of October-o
I hitched my team in order-o
To try the hills of Salado
To me rol to me rol to my rideo
To me rol to me rol to my rideo
To my rideo to my rudeo
To me rol to me rol to my rideo

When I got there the hills were steep
Would make another person weep
To hear me cuss
And crack my whip
And see the oxen pull and slip
To me rol to me rol to my rideo
To me rol to me rol to my rideo
To my rideo to my rudeo
To me rol to me rol to my rideo

When I get home among my friends
That’s where my toil and trouble ends
And bid adieu
To the whip and line
And ride no more in the winter time
To me rol to me rol to my rideo
To me rol to me rol to my rideo
To my rideo to my rudeo
To me rol to me rol to my rideo
To me rol to me rol to my rideo
To my rideo to my rudeo
to my rideo oo Yeah!