- Yokes are typically made in sizes 4″ thru 12″. The size refers to the width of the bow as measured from inside to inside of the bow holes.
- To measure your animal, place a stick on either side of the animal’s neck where the yoke would sit at rest. While keeping them parallel, have a helper measure the distance between the sticks. If you have two framing squares you can rubber band them together to create a big set of calipers and take the same measurement.
- Most yoke makers will use the bow width to calculate the distance between the oxen in a double yoke but if you feel it necessary, you can measure the widest part of the animal’s belly the same way you measured the neck.
- One quick way to check for a properly fitting yoke is to slide your hand flat between the bow and the animal’s neck. On a small yoke, the tips of your fingers should fit. On a medium yoke, the base of your fingers should fit and on a large yoke, the palm of your hand should readily fit between the neck and bow.
- More importantly, you should watch how the yoke fits while working your cattle. In a hard pull, the bow should slip between the animal’s shoulder and neck.
- If the bow hits the point on the front of the shoulder, the bow is too wide and will cause damage and discomfort to the animal.
- The bow’s height should be adjusted so that when at rest the bow is slightly pulling up on the dewlap but not pressing into the meat of the neck.
- The esophagus is protected by muscle in the neck but between the neck and brisket it is exposed. Using a bow that is adjusted too low will cause damage and discomfort to the animal.
- Inexperienced teamsters have a great tendency to use yokes that are too big and bows that are adjusted too low. It is better to error on the side of having the yoke too small or the bows too high.
- Don’t be tempted to skip a size. You can’t expect an animal to give their all with ill-fitting equipment.
This is a link to a 2000 newspaper article on my father, Howard VanOrd, and his cattle.
A 1984 newspaper article on the Greens and their cattle.
Selecting the right animals is a big factor in the success of your oxen. Second perhaps, only to the amount of time and skill you put into training them. You have to give a great deal of thought about what your goals are for your oxen in order to decide what animals are best for you.
What work will you do with your oxen and what size and activity level will it require?
Do you plan to show your oxen? If so, then you may want historical looking or just unusual looking oxen. To some people, a Holstein is a Holstein but if you have something unusual you may get their attention.
Do you want horns or not? This is an odd question to most teamsters including myself but I have included it since there seems to be more interest in using polled or dehorned oxen lately. I feel an ox should have horns but they are not required if you have the proper equipment. Without horns a britchen is needed to back or hold back a load. I see no advantage to using oxen without horns. If you are the dominant team member and use common sense, horns will not be much of an issue. If not, then your cattle are a danger to yourself and others regardless of whether they have horns or not.
What Is your budget and how far are you willing to travel?
There are around fifty breeds of cattle in the United States, each with their own characteristics. No breed is the best for everyone. Research the characteristics of what breeds you are interested in but remember that individuals can and will vary within the breed. Take into consideration the breeds disposition, size, and appearance. The breeds disposition is the most critical and covers things like intelligence, temperament, excitability and willingness to work. Size is normally less critical other than in extreme cases. Unless your needs require miniature or very large cattle I would suggest a midsized breed as they are big enough to be useful but small enough to still be handy. Appearance has no bearing on the quality of the ox but you should be able to take pride in your oxen. Also appearance may be important if you want a particular look such as a historically correct look or just something unusual. Some colors are easier to clean up as well. Why not choose one of the breeds on the ALBC list? Many of these breeds are known to work well for oxen and some are the very best in my opinion. By purchasing them and possibly showing them to the public, you would help to support these endangered breeds.
It is wise to heed good advise but if you are strongly attracted to a particular breed then get what you want. Oxen require a great deal of time and effort; you will tend to be more committed and do a better job with a breed you love than one you settled for because someone told you it is what you should get.
Take into account the source of your research. An experienced teamster is the best source but find out if they have actually worked with the breed in question or if they are basing their opinion on something else. We all have our own experiences, favorites, and prejudices. Breeders can be a good source but remember they will tend to be bias. Also watch how they handle their cattle. If a breeder has range cattle that can’t be handled, then how can they tell you anything of value about the disposition of their cattle?
Do you want to break a bull, cow or a steer? More often than not the answer will be a steer but in some situations cows are a good choice. Steers will grow larger than cows or bulls of the same breed. Cows and bulls grow until they are sexually mature but steers, being castrated, never mature sexually. An old saying was that “an ox will grow until he is seven and then he will get big” meaning his frame will grow until he is seven and then he will just put on weight. Steers have a better temperament than bulls and require less maintenance than cows. Cows may not be as strong as steers but I doubt that the difference is significant to most teamsters needs today. Cows will provide you with calves but require some extra consideration as far as their udder and condition. I think a multipurpose or beef cow would work better than a modern dairy cow with an immense bag. Bulls can and have been broken for oxen but I see no advantage to it and wouldn’t recommend it. Historically, they were used for their brute strength and to agitate the rest of the team.
Do you want a team or a single? A team is capable of more work but there is nothing handier than a good single ox with the proper equipment. They can go places a team can’t. Some people say it is easier to train and work a team but I do not find this to be the case. A single seems to bond better and rely on the teamster a bit more. The only down side is that a single can run away on a whim but a team has to agree to run together. With proper training this is a small issue. Teams should be matched by disposition, size, and color in that order. Having a team of similar disposition and size is far more important than having a similar appearance. I recommend starting three calves that are as similar in disposition, size, and conformation as possible. Break them all single and, once you are familiar with them, build your team with the two that are the most similar in disposition.
When purchasing your calves I recommend buying them as young as you can. The sooner you start training the better off you will be. If possible, bottle calves will make better oxen because you will have a better bond with them than a calf reared by its mother. Obviously, you want to be sure to get healthy animals that are structurally sound. Look for a straight calf that stands on his toes, with proper legs and a deep wide chest. Calves that are calm, forward, and inquisitive are preferred. Avoid calves that are overly skittish or have been handled and spoiled.
Next time we will touch on the keys of training.
The stone boat originated in the north-eastern states where it was used to clear fields of stones and stumps. It was once a standard farm implement and was sometimes known as a drag, skid, or sled. The stone boat is one of the handiest most versatile implements a teamster can have. It is often more convenient than a wagon or cart for moving heavy or bulky items. On top of that they can be very easy and inexpensive to make yourself!
A used car tire can serve the purpose by mounting an eye bolt through it and placing a couple of boards in place of the wheel. I have been hauling stones out of one of our pastures with just such a tire lately. The tires are free from a local garage and it makes a good training weight for a young team. Used skidder or tractor tires can also be used. They make a wonderful tool to exercise your animals on. Just add whatever you wish for weight.
Recycling is great and all but a standard stone boat works better for a variety of chores. You can make them a simple or as fancy as you wish. They can be made entirely of wood or can be designed around a manufactured steel head. They can be designed with replaceable runners or even a dump box or wheels to minimise friction. I just made one for my calves from some scrap wood found around the farm. Even some of the hardware was salvaged. For a few hours of tinkering and less than $30 I have a handy piece of equipment. Mine is made from Hickory and Oak 2″x6″. I chamfered both ends and even the sides. Chamfering the sides will make it turn easier but at the cost of having it wander sideways when working on a side hill. I put it together with lag screws, added side rails, a few tie rings and an eye bolt on each end to hitch to. This style is nice because it can be hitched from either end equally as well. I wasn’t too concerned about the size and just made do with the material I had. It turned out around two feet wide by five feet long. Personally, a good size is two to three feet wide and whatever length you want but it is handy if it fits in a truck bed. I don’t see any advantage to having it any bigger and the bigger it is the less maneuverable it is.
I will make a separate post later about the wheeled stone boat but here are some ideas to get you thinking in the mean time. Some of these are very interesting but I think the simple ones are more practical.
The stone boat below uses a scissor action to load large stones and stumps.
Now get boating!
Betty and Ann have been coming along well, but lately it has been hard to find the time to work them and it is clear that I need to spend more time with them. I have been picking stones from the pastures and hauling them away. This proves to be a great training exercise. You constantly start and stop; the weight slowly increases; and it requires you to let them stand free while you go picking. They can dig in when they get together! I also have a good obstacle course set up in the back yard. There are plenty of kid’s toys to maneuver around as well as a tarp to walk over, a field of tires to walk through and a mound of saw dust to climb over. All of these desensitize them and teach trust. I also have a gate to nowhere set up to practice with.
As I have posted before Betty and Ann have very different personalities. They are both quality animals just very, very different. This is a big detriment to them being a team. Betty is literally dragging Ann a large portion of the time and no amount of correction seems to work. Lately, they have begun to “haul out” because of this. “Hauling out” is when the two animals pull outward against each other. It is ugly and a waste of energy. I have decided to switch sides and put Ann on the near side and Betty on the off side as an experiment. Their roles when turning are reversed so they need to learn to turn all over again. This has confused them and set their training back quite a bit. I do think they may work together a bit better, but only time will tell. If all else fails, I may simply use them as singles and forgo the team for now. I would rather have two good singles than one poor team. Also, I am sure I will have other cows in the future to team them up with when necessary.
I have been asked to cover the training process more but, after giving it some thought, I have decided there is no place to start but at the beginning. Before you ever buy an animal do your homework! You need to prepare and learn as much as you can before the big event. Cattle are creatures of habit and consistency is one of the keys to training them. If you have an idea of what to expect and you have a plan as to how you are going to handle them, yoke them, and respond to situations ahead of time you can be much more consistent and proactive. Hopefully this site will grow to become a great resource but there are many good resources out there.
Some of the best include:
The Draft Animal Power forum: This is an active forum with an international following. It has a dedicated “oxen” sub forum and is a great place to ask questions online.
Rural Heritage Front Porch: This is another forum frequented by teamsters.
Midwest Ox Drovers Association: The association has a gathering each year hosted by Tillers International. This gathering is a great place to meet face to face with a number of teamsters. You can see several teams of oxen and ask all the questions you want!
Tillers International: Besides being a wonderful host to the MODA gathering each year, Tillers offers several ox related classes. They have a great facility, staff and other resources like the museum and library.
There are a number of books related to oxen but the two listed below are the best on the training and use of oxen. They should be considered required reading before purchasing an animal or taking a class. Both authors are accomplished teamsters with an immense amount of experience.
Next time I will cover how to select your animals.
One issue found with a stone boat is that it maximizes the friction with the ground. This is normally just accepted but I have found documentation of stone boats with wheels as an attempt to reduce the friction that regular stone boats suffer from. I think the style pictured above is very interesting and I may try to put one together in the future. It would be mostly for fun because I don’t think it is nearly as versatile as a regular stone boat. While it clearly can haul a larger load I don’t think I need the larger capacity. I will let you read some descriptions of them from vintage magazines.
Taken from The Canadian horticulturist, Volume 18 1895
A TWO WHEELED BOAT
Every time you see the old mowing machine beside the road useless and a detriment to the scenery, remember that it may be transformed very easily into a great labor saver. Draw it on to the barn floor some wet day and take it apart by using wrenches. Remove the wheels and have your nearest blacksmith lengthen the main axle enough to accommodate your biggest stone boat between the wheels when they have been returned to their places. Then have him make a couple of clamps to fit over the axle and bolt down on the reves. In attaching the boat see that it does not balance, but has a tendency to ride on its nose. Then when loaded and under motion the entire weight will come upon the wheels. This work should not cost more than 60c. to 75c. and will greatly facilitate the drawing of heavy loads for which a boat is commonly used. A most excellent dray has been made by putting the axle within one foot from the rear end, and suspending the forward end to a stick of oak timber 4×4 inches and swinging this end under the centre of axle No. 2 belonging to still another old mower. These arrangements greatly lessen the draft. This second axle need not be lengthened. It is easy to fasten sideboards to this low down contrivance by bolting sticks to them which run through staples fastened to the sides of the boat. For moving sand, earth, stones, for picking up stones, etc., it has no equal. -Farm and Home
Taken from the American agriculturist, Volume 211862
How to Haul Stones and Manure
The stone boat or, “drag,” so generally used, the most expensive method. The most that can be said in its favor is, that it is so simple in structure that any body can make one after the planks are sawed, and that it is very convenient in loading and unloading the stones. But after the stones are loaded we want a team of elephants to draw them. It is severe on oxen by reason of the heavy strain it brings upon them. The friction upon the ground, unless with snow or ice, is immense. And if the ground is lubricated with frost it is a dangerous vehicle unless the surface is level, as it is very liable to run against the legs of the cattle. We have known of a fine yoke of oxen permanently disabled in this way. Stones should be moved upon wheels if we consult the welfare of teams. A yoke of cattle will draw a ton upon broad tire wheels with about the same ease they will draw one-quarter of that weight on a stone boat -a great saving of muscle.
For moving very large stones of five or six tuns weight, and putting them in place in a wall, there is nothing we have yet seen or heard of, quite equal to Bolle’s Stone digger. But as this is somewhat expensive and not in general use, a very convenient carriage for stones is a platform suspended between the wheel’s of a wagon. The platform may be 10 to 12 feet long, and of the width of a wagon body. It maybe made of strong plank, or joists, bolted or spiked upon cross pieces. This is suspended by short stout chains from the fore and hind axles, down to within a foot of the ground, or less for a level surface. To facilitate turning, the forward end may have but one chain in the middle, which will allow the forward wheels to turn readily to the right or left. The platform may hang mainly upon the hind axle, in which case the rear may be nearly as wide between the wheels, and the forward end run out nearly to a point. The wagon can then turned round in a short space. The two chains on either end of the hind axle will prevent its tipping. The hind end can be tipped down to ground for rolling on a very large stone, which can then be balanced by smaller stones thrown on in front. Such an apparatus is quickly constructed, without the aid of a mechanic, except getting the bolts from a blacksmith. Any strong wagon may be used, and much larger loads be drawn saving not only wear of team, but unfrequently expense for blasting stones could not be moved on a drag or stone boat.
Taken from The Cultivator, Volume 3 1846
DESCRIPTION OF A MOUNTED STONE BOAT
Take a stick 3 by 4 inches, and 4 feet long, on which place a pair of strong wheels, 18 inches in diameter. Take another axle, 4 by six inches, 6 feet long, into which frame a tongue suitable for oxen or horses, as the case may be, then borrow the forward wheels from your lumber wagon, and place them on the long axle, and you have the “movements” finished.
Then take stone boat plank of the usual form and bolt the hind ends fast to the under side of the short axle; pin a piece of scantling across the forward ends, into the center of which drive a strong iron staple and connect it by the swivel to the under side of the long axle. The reason why the forward axletree is longest, is, to give room for the wheels in turning. The above combines in a great measure the advantages of a cart and stone boat, viz., ease of draft and facility of loading.
Highlander Nov 8 1845
Taken from The Cultivator 1862
STONE BOATS ON WHEELS
In many localities, where there are many rocks and stones to be hauled on stone boats which slide on the ground, two, and sometimes three teams are employed to haul what one team would do with ease, were the load placed on wheels. A stone which will weigh ten or twelve hundred pounds, will make a good load for a team, and it is very fatiguing for them to haul even that amount any considerable distance. But, if a stone is on wheels, a team will often haul with ease a load more than twice as heavy as their combined weight .
On one of the shores of Long Island Sound, I saw workmen hauling stone and boulders a distance of about one hundred and fifty rods for building a pier; and I observed that a man with one span of horses, would haul nearly twice as heavy a load on his wheeled stone boat, as another man did with two yoke of oxen on a common stone boat.
To make a good stone boat on wheels, procure two good plank about twelve feet long, and from two and a half to three inches in thickness, and about eighteen inches wide. Now bolt a piece of a timber about eight inches wide, on the under side of an axletree supported by two wheels, and then bolt one end of these two plank on the under side of the timber, letting the bolts pass through plank, timber and axletree. The other end of the plank should be fastened together similar to a common stone boat, by bolting a narrow piece of plank across the ends with carriage bolts. This will be the forward end, and the other end will be beneath the hindmost axletree. A knuckle hinge bolt is fastened to the forward end of the stone boat, rigidly and a part of it is put through the forward axletree and secured with a key on the top.
When loading very heavy boulders, the forward end the boat may be lowered clear on the ground and after the stone has been rolled on, the end is then pried up with a lever and secured to the axle tree.
The forward end of the stone boat should be narrower than at the middle and hind end, in order to give room for the fore wheels in turning round. If the road is not very uneven, the boat may be bolted so low beneath the axle trees as to be within six or eight inches of the ground.
A man of very little mechanical skill could make such an apparatus during some stormy day, by using the wheels of a cart for a part of it, or all the wheels of a lumber wagon, on axletrees with or without skeins on the arms.
Such a stone boat would be far more convenient and easier for a team when hauling stone for ditches, than a stone boat that slides on the ground.
No hounds will be needed on the hindmost nor forward axletree. The tongue can be attached to the forward axletree as they often are to light wagons- with hooks eyes.
S Edwards Todd
Taken from The Country gentleman, Volume 19 1862
STONE BOAT ON WHEELS
Editors of Co. Gent.- In your last vol. p. 894, Mr. S. Edwards Todd describes the manner of rigging a wagon for the purpose of drawing stones, calling it a “stone boat on wheels”. As to the construction of it, he says: take two planks about 12 feet long, each 18 inches wide; then block down from the underside of the hind axletree; then fasten one end of these two planks to the underside of the blocking by bolting through the axletree, blocking and planks. The other ends of the planks are to be fastened together by bolting a narrow piece of plank across the ends on the upper side, as is done in making a common stone boat, which latter end is to be swung under the forward axletree with a bolt having a “swivel” joint. He says: “the tongue can be attached to the forward axle tree, as they often are to light wagons, with hooks and eyes, and if the road is not very uneven, the boat may be bolted so low beneath the axletree, as to be within six or eight inches of the ground.”
I think, in order to make this vehicle strong, and so as to work well, there should be the following additions: three cleats across the under side of these planks, one near each end, the other in the middle- also “deep” cleats on the upper side, along near the edges, to prevent the stones falling off; also one across, a little back of the forward end, to prevent them from sliding forwards, and from being in the way of the axletree in turning. A “reach” will be necessary to make the carriage run steadily, which may be attached to the upper side of the axle trees, or bolstered up so as to be out-of-the-way of the load, and can be laid aside when loading or unloading, otherwise the forward end of the boat or rigging, being swung beneath the forward axletree, and the tongue be it connected with this axletree by joints, in drawing and holding back this axletree would rock forwards and backwards like a “rocking shaft.” I think six or eight inches too near the ground to swing this rigging. Twelve or fifteen inches would be better, for, although the roads may be quite smooth, there may occasionally be a soft place, and, should the forward wheels settle in much, the forward end of the thing would be run “right into the ground.”
We are looking forward to the Dairy Oxen Demo at the 50th All-American Dairy Show! I would love to see them have a great turn out, both of ox teams as well as spectators. They are advertising expense money for the ox teams and free admission for spectators. It doesn’t get much better than that! A chance to see a “Big Wheel” log arch alone is worth quite a drive. It promises to be a great time so be sure to mark your calendars for the weekend of September 7 and 8, 2013.
I have been researching and collecting quite a bit of information on patents for ox equipment including yokes and bow keys ect.. They frequently call their invention an “improvement” for obvious reasons but usually all they did was complicate a simple piece of equipment. Many times it seems that they created more problems than they solved and sometimes I feel they took a giant leap backwards. I did find this one to be interesting and wanted to share it.
Ad taken from The Farm journal and progressive farmer, Volumes 5-6 1855
VOSE’S OX YOKE PATENTED AUGUST 10TH 1853
“Muzzle not the Ox that treadeth out the Corn.”
In all history, the ox is associated with man as his faithful servant. The horse has been rather man’s companion; and, therefore, caressed and apostrophized. And when it has been found necessary to take him from the chariot to the wagon, every care has been taken, both in an anatomical and mechanical point of view, to have his harness constructed soft and flexile and on the best principles. None, or but little of this care has been taken in connexion with the ox. It is true he has been worshipped as a God, and sacrificed to the gods, but he has never been caressed- has never, when he has been whipped and cudgelled, had any of those good-natured apologies made to him that, after ill-treatment, are usually made to a horse. If his harness, by its malformation and rudeness, pained and lacerated his flesh it made no matter- he was only an ox. And yet in man’s sober moments- perhaps we should say in hs lazy moments, when he had nothing to do but pity- this consideration and treatment of this truly useful animal, has been mourned over and condemned. It now must give to all men real pleasure to see what this pity gives us, as in this last view of the case, we know it has at last mercifully worked itself into form- into real practical alleviation. It is but a few years since a yoke was invented, by which the oxen can walk closer or more apart as the inequalities or other circumstances of the ground, may make it desirable. And now, we have another and more important improvement in this second new yoke, of which the above is a cut. If the first, or sliding yoke, is a convenience to the oxen, this yoke embraces a principle of mercy as well as of mechanical improvement, as in it the oxen’s shoulders cannot possibly be chafed or mangled, as they too frequently are in the old or common yoke.
In this yoke the neck blocks are separate from the beam, and attached to it by strong bolts passing from an iron thimble or socket in the block up through the centre of the beam, as represented at the letter B. This iron thimble or socket, is an improvement upon which application for a patent is now being made by Mr Dederick. This yoke has five decided advantages over all others. First. By the neck block accommodating itself to whatever movement of the ox, it is impossible for his shoulders ever to become sore or broken. Second. It does away with the evil arising from one ox stepping in advance of the other; as, by the moving of the blocks, the weight must under all possible circumstances fall equally on both oxen- except, (which is the Third advantage,) when desiring to favor one you may move him one or more holes farther from the centre than his fellow. Fourth. By moving the neck blocks into either of the five holes, (represented by dots in the beam below,) it can be changed at pleasure into a yoke of any width required for ploughing, carting, sleighing or hauling; which advantage of itself makes its value equal to two or three of the common yoke. Fifth. Bows in this yoke will last much longer than in any other, because the tugging or jerking of the ox does not fall on the bow, but directly on the centre bolt. The bows are secured by keys passing through the bows and neck blocks represented at A.A.- there being in each two or more holes, so that the bow can be raised or lowered at pleasure. These yokes are manufactured by Peering & Dickson, of the premium works at Albany; and we believe are for sale by Paschall Morris & Co., of this city. We believe its price, (patent right included,) is seven dollars; and we feel that we should not conclude this article without saying, that when the great ease and advantage it to the oxen is considered, no intelligent or humane farmer should allow the two or three dollars difference price between it and the ordinary yoke, to make him hesitate a moment in its purchase.
Here is the actual patent for the yoke.