About oxhilldevons

My family and I operate a small farm raising American Milking Devon cattle, training oxen, making ox equipment and living the country life.

Devon Cattle Field Day

American Milking Devon Cattle Association Board of Directors invites members and friends to a Devon Cattle Field Day on Saturday, October 18, 2014 at Maple Breeze Farm in Westbrook, Connecticut.

Professor Drew Conroy will be leading discussions on oxen at work; conformation, breeding and culling. Professor Conroy holds a B.S. Degree in Animal Science from the University of New Hampshire, a Masters Degree in Agriculture from Northwest Missouri State University, and a Ph.D. in Natural Resources from UNH.

He teaches primarily Animal and Dairy Science courses at the University of New Hampshire. He is a registered professional animal scientist for beef cattle and dairy cattle, and is one of the foremost authorities on draft oxen in North America. He has written three books, nearly 100 hundred articles, produced 5 educational videos, been featured in 2 major motion pictures, consulted for numerous television stations assisting with documentaries on draft animals. He has conducted workshops all over the world on the subject of ox training, yoking and using oxen in both historic and contemporary settings.

He and his wife Janet operate a small, diversified grass based farm in Berwick, Maine where they raise cattle, sheep, and poultry, which keeps him actively engaged with the local agricultural community. He frequently judges cattle, oxen and other livestock at agricultural fairs and events. He is a former president and board member of the American Milking Devon Association.

Coffee and very light fare will be available at the farm beginning at 9:00 a.m. The program will run from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. with a Devon beef lunch of hot dogs and hamburgers included. The tentative program schedule is: 10-11 a.m. Oxen Demonstrations in the Garden; 11-noon All About Bulls in the Barnyard, where Professor Conroy will comment on several bulls of various ages, questions and answers; noon-1 p.m. lunch at the farm; 1-2 p.m. Let’s Look At Cows at the Wheatfields – Professor Conroy will be critiquing cows of various ages; 2-3 p.m. Heifers and Calves also at the Wheatfields – A look at heifers and calves and a discussion about conformation, culling, etc. If you are interested in oxen, you are able to stay and talk with the drovers and skip the bull session, until lunch.

Reservations are required and must be made no later than October 1, 2014. Please call, 860- 399-4611, or email your reply to: johnandbonniehall610@comcast.net. This program, including lunch, is free.

Lodging is available in Westbrook at: Captain Stannard House Bed & Breakfast, 138 South Main Street, 860-399-4634; Westbrook Inn B&B, 976 Boston Post Road, 860-399-4777; Water’s Edge Resort and Spa, 1525 Boston Post Road, 860-399-5901. Lodging is available in Old Saybrook at: Econo Lodge Inn and Suite, 1750 Boston Post Road -– 860-399-7973; Quality Inn, 100 Essex Road – 860-395-1414; Super Eight Motel, 37 Spencer Plain Road – 860-399-6273; Days Inn, 1430 Boston Post Road, 860-388-3453; Deacon Timothy Pratt B&B, 325 Main Street – 860-395-1229; Saybrook Point Inn and Spa, 2 Bridge Street – 860- 395-2000.

Maple Breeze Farm is located at 563 East Pond Meadow Road, Westbrook, CT.

Wooden Horn Knobs

The following article is interesting to me.  Judging by the amount of hits this site gets from internet searches for “horn knobs” I think it might be interesting to you too.   Most teamsters who take pride in their team of oxen adorn them with horn knobs.  While some other metals are used, they are almost always made of brass.  The price of brass keeps climbing as does the price of labor.  Most shops have switched to CNC machines that require costly programming that can only be offset by either an investment in very large orders or exorbitant prices.  This article from 1866 presents a possible alternative.  It advises the use of turned wooden knobs!  Would any serious teamster switch to wooden knobs?  I think it is doubtful, but an interesting idea none the less.  The article specifies a knob 4″ x 4.5″.  I am sure knobs this size would be functional but I don’t think I would have any appreciation for them ascetically.  Perhaps at half scale they would look good but then I wounder how long they would last and what they may look like after daily abuse.  Certainly, more intricate knobs could be turned and rather than worn every day they could be only worn for show.  I understand some Maritime teamsters do this already with some of the more ornate brass and aluminum knobs.  In addition to the wood species that are recommended in the article, I would think Osage Orange would be an excellent choice.  The heart wood is both extremely durable as well as rot resistant.  Some of the very dense exotic woods should work as well but caution would be needed as many of these have been known to cause allergic reactions.

If anyone chooses to try this please let me know how it works out!

Published in American Agriculturist, Volume 25 1866

The ends of the horns of some cows and are so pointed, that unless mounted with knobs, serious wounds are easily inflicted. We have seen the flesh of neat cattle laid open inches in length by pugnacious bullocks, and horses and colts with dangerous and even fatal wounds given by the horn of some hooking beast. The small brass knobs which are screwed on the horns, are worth but little, as they are too small. In order effectually to prevent injury, the balls should be as large as a man’s fist. Moreover, when vicious cattle have such large knobs on their horns, they will soon get completely over their propensity to hook, and large and small will herd peaceably in a small yard, where it would be dangerous to keep them, were there no knobs on their horns. We once owned a hooking cow with long, sharp pointed horns, that was a terror to every other animal in the yard, until large knobs were put on her horns, when she shortly became peaceable and harmless as a lamb, permitting cattle, that once trembled with fear when a rod distant, to feed close by her side. We have long accustomed to use large wooden knobs, for the horns of every animal more than one year old, if the horns had attained sufficient growth to admit of boring a gimblet hole near small end, without entering the quick. In horns of some cattle the quick extends to within half an inch of the tips, until they are, perhaps, two years of age, and the horns of some cows, and oxen may be bored, without touching the quick, three inches or more below the ends. To make these knobs, select a few well seasoned, sound sticks of some tough wood, which will not split easily, like yellow locust, iron wood (or hornbeam), river beech, or pepperdge. A piece two feet and a half long and 4 inches thick in the clear, will make six knobs, 4 inches in diameter and 4.5 inches long.

They should be shaped like fig. 2 above, and an expert woodturner will get them out in a few minutes at a cost of about two cents a piece. Soon after they are turned, they should be sawed apart and bored through with a .5 inch bit, to prevent unequal drying and cracking. The pin hole (seen in the cut) should be bored .75 of an from the tip end, using a sharp nail bit. Then the hole should be reamed out with a bung-hole borer, shown in fig. 3, making a tapering hole, as indicated by dotted lines in fig. 2, about an inch in diameter at the end of the knob. Soak the knobs thus made, several days in linseed oil or coal tar, to prevent shrinking and cracking when on the horns. If the animal to be adorned will not allow its horns to be bored, make it fast by horns to a bar or pole fastened securely in a gate or doorway, which has strong posts.

Ream out the holes to fit the horns well. Then crowd on balls, mark each horn on both sides with a square-pointed awl, and, removing the balls, bore the horns half-way through from each side, using a small gimlet having a sharp screw. Use pins of No. 11 or 12 steel wire, 3 inches long, filed to round points. The holes in the horns should be bored “drawing” to keep the knobs from working loose – that is, they should the effect to spring the pin down in the middle, but not more than one fourth of its diameter. When the holes are so bored, the pins must driven in with some force. To do this, a heavy sledge hammer, or stone weighing 20 or 30 pounds, should be held against the knob to prevent all jarring, as cattle are extremely sensitive to any blow upon their horns. Drive each pin about a quarter of an inch beneath the surface.                                                  

Hammon’s improved ox yoke.

Hammon’s improved ox yoke as published in The Cultivator Vol 3, third series 1855.

The annexed figures are views of an improvement in Ox Yokes, for which a patent was granted to Heman B Hammon, on the 16th of last May. The nature the invention consists in securing over the end of the bow, the ferrule, c, fig. 3, and securing the bow in the beam, a, fig. 2, with the washers, e and f, figs. 6 and 7.

a a is one half of the yoke beam made in the usual manner, showing the bow, b, secured in the yoke beam by the ferrule, c, and the washer, e f c. fig. 3 is a view of the ferrule before it is secured to the bow, d. fig 4 is a longitudinal sectional view of the ferrule. k is a groove to receive the projection, g, of washer, e. j is a concave in the upper end of the groove, from three eighths to one inch in length, to prevent the top of the ferrule from spreading apart when the ferrule is on the bow. I I are apertures, two or more, to receive the projection, g, after it has passed down the groove, A. The apertures, I, and projection, g, are to hold the bow in the yoke beam as at, a, fig. 2. The object of having one, two, or more apertures in the ferrule, is to suit it to any sized necks. e and f are views of the washers. h is a hole through the washer to receive the pin, i, the pin, t, and hole, h, is to prevent the washer, e, from being disconnected from the ferrule, e, if by accident the bow should be raised up through the yoke beam as shown in fig. 1 and the washer. e, should be raised out of the lower part of the aperture as shown in fig. 1. g g are screws to firmly secure the washer to the top side of the yoke beam, m, is a screw to secure the ferrule to the bow Fig. 6 is a view of the bow with the ferrule attached. It will be observed that the washer, fig 3, has an oblong opening in it; this is to make it adjust itself to a yoke, the surface of which is either straight or hollowed, as in the old-fashioned kind. The claim of this patent is for the combination of the ferrule, c, or its equivalent, and the washers, e, and f, for fastening ox bows, as thus illustrated and described.

More information respecting this improvement In ox yokes may be obtained by letter addressed to the patentee, Mr. Hammon, at Bristolviile Trumbull Co Ohio.

The actual patent is linked below.



I’m a lonely bull-whacker
On the Red Cloud line,
I can lick any son of a gun
That will yoke an ox of mine.
And if I can catch him,
You bet I will or try,
I’d lick him with an ox-bow,—
Root hog or die.

It’s out on the road
With a very heavy load,
With a very awkward team
And a very muddy road,
You may whip and you may holler,
But if you cuss it’s on the sly;
Then whack the cattle on, boys,—
Root hog or die.

It’s out on the road
These sights are to be seen,
The antelope and buffalo,
The prairie all so green,—
The antelope and buffalo,
The rabbit jumps so high;
It’s whack the cattle on, boys,—
Root hog or die.

It’s every day at twelve
There’s something for to do;
And if there’s nothing else,
There’s a pony for to shoe;
I’ll throw him down,
And still I’ll make him lie;
Little pig, big pig,
Root hog or die.

Now perhaps you’d like to know
What we have to eat,
A little piece of bread
And a little dirty meat,
A little black coffee,
And whiskey on the sly;
It’s whack the cattle on, boys,—
Root hog or die.

There’s hard old times on Bitter Creek
That never can be beat,
It was root hog or die
Under every wagon sheet;
We cleaned up all the Indians,
Drank all the alkali,
And it’s whack the cattle on, boys,—
Root hog or die.

There was good old times in Salt Lake
That never can pass by,
It was there I first spied
My China girl called Wi.
She could smile, she could chuckle,
She could roll her hog eye;
Then it’s whack the cattle on, boys,—
Root hog or die.

Oh, I’m going home
Bull-whacking for to spurn,
I ain’t got a nickel,
And I don’t give a dern.
‘Tis when I meet a pretty girl,
You bet I will or try,
I’ll make her my little wife,—
Root hog or die.

Author unknown

I finally wrote something for the “oxen” header above.

An Intro To Working Cattle

It is a common misconception that oxen are a separate species of animal from common bovines. In fact oxen are simply any castrated, mature, male bovine that has been trained to work. He is generally considered mature at four or five years of age. Before maturity, he is considered a “working steer”.

Oxen are typically preferred due to their size and even temperament but cows and bulls have often been used as draft animals as well. A study by the German government in 1930 cited that of 7.1 million dairy cows of various dual purpose breeds 2.3 million were also being used as working cows. For farms up 17 acres, it was more economical to work the cows rather than use dedicated oxen or horses. “I once saw a small cow yoked beside a large ox, and driven about six hundred miles attached to a loaded wagon, and she performed her part equally well with the ox. It has been by no means an unusual thing for emigrant travelers to work cows in their teams.” Capt. Randolph B. Marcy 1859

Any breed of bovine can be used for draft. Each breed has its own inherent characteristics and so some breeds are better suited to the yoke than others. An ox of a particular breed will grow bigger than a cow or bull of the same breed because they continue growing to an older age due to being castrated.

Oxen are neither extinct nor rare. While working cattle are little more than a hobby in the United States they outnumber horses used for draft approximately four to one worldwide.

Historically, working cattle enjoyed many benefits over horses. They were cheaper to buy, keep and outfit. They were less likely to spook, be injured or stolen. They were hardier and could thrive on grass, straw or turnips. They increased in value throughout their working years and could be eaten at the end. Speed was one important benefit the horse had over working cattle and when economics allowed it was normally the most important.

The saying “Dumb as an ox!” is absurd. Cattle can be extremely intelligent but a line of communication has to be established to train them. “Cattle are like most other animals, the creatures of education and circumstances. We educate them to give us milk, and to acquire flesh and fat. There is not much intelligence required for these purposes…. But when we press him into our immediate service, when he draws our cart and ploughs our land, he rapidly improves upon us; he is, in fact, altogether a different animal; when he receives a kind of culture at our hands, he seems to be enlightened with a ray of human reason, and warmed with a degree of human affection. The Lancashire and the Devonshire ox seem not to belong to the same genus. The one has just wit enough to find his way to and from his pasture; the other rivals the horse in activity and docility, and often fairly beats him out of the field in stoutness and honesty in work, He is as easily broken in, and he equals him in attachment and gratitude to his feeder.” William Youatt 1834

Cattle can be worked as a single, as a pair referred to as a “yoke”, or as a “team” made up of several “yokes”. Freight teams in the American west typically consisted of six or more yokes of oxen.

Working cattle can be controlled many different ways. Some are simply led. Many are directed from behind with lines and either a bit in their mouth or septum. Most working cattle in North America are driven from either the front or left side using simple voice commands. Working cattle respond to a minimum of five commands and typically many more. When necessary they are also directed with a whip or goad stick. These may range in size from just a few feet long to as big as a seven foot shaft with up to a sixteen foot lash as a freight teamster or “Bullwhacker” would have used to control a team of six yokes or more. They may be as simple as a natural branch or sapling cut from a hedge or a well-crafted “Yankee” twisted whip with a plaited lash of woodchuck hide.

Cattle have been harnessed by many different means including neck yokes, head yokes, withers yokes, forehead yokes, various collars and others means. Most have pros and cons in their use and typically the style of harness or yoke used is influenced by the traditions and resources of the region. Here in the northeast United States a neck yoke would normally be used. Some mistakenly think that the neck yoke is crude or archaic but when it is properly designed, constructed and fit it is comfortable and very effective.

The beam of the neck yoke rests on the animals’ necks and can be constructed from various hard woods. Some traditional species used are Elm, Black or Yellow Birch, Maple, Sassafras, and Cucumber. The bows are used to hold the beam in place. They are split, steamed and bent to shape. Because of this, they are almost always made of Hickory. The bow pin holds the bow in place. They are made of iron or wood in numerous designs. The washers are used to adjust the depth of the bow and are constructed from wood or leather. The hardware allows the beam to be hitched to the object to be moved. Traditional hardware consisted of a staple and some configuration of a single ring, two rings or a ring and a chain harp.

Cattle’s hooves can be fitted with iron shoes to protect their feet and provide traction. “Oxen if used upon snowy or icy roads, must be well shod, and kept sharp” The American Agriculturist, Volume 29, 1870. Because cattle have cloven hooves, a shoe is required for each claw and a total of eight shoes are needed per animal. Ox shoes were a critical item on the trails of the westward migration.

Oxen may have brass “horn knobs” or “ox balls” fitted to the tips of their horns. These are simply a decorative way to stop the oxen from instinctively, sharpening their horns.

Working cattle have been instrumental in the development of the world. They have been used to clear the land, by logging, pulling stumps, and hauling fieldstone away. They plowed, and harrowed the fields, and then planted, cultivated and harvested the crops. They quarried stone, leveled the land and built and maintained the roads. They transported goods, supplies and people. The ox helped to build countries that have largely cast him aside for the sake of more speed. However many developing countries still rely on ox power today.


The following advertisement is from American Agriculturist, Volume 25, 1866


This Machine differs from all other machines for these purposes in its convenience for transporting Stumps, Stones, Cannon, Shafts, Castings, or any heavy weights. After having lifted them with its immense purchase, and strongly trussed frame. The combination of the arched reach with the truss, gives ample room for the load, while the wheel may be of common size. The load being on 4 wheels, is easy on the team, and the machine may be worked by either oxen or horses. The superiority of this Machine as a wall builder, makes It deserving of especial notice. The stone, after being lifted out of the ground, can be drawn alongside the wall to the end and the machine turned so as to bring the load directly across the wall in which position the heaviest stone can be deposited with ease, either at the bottom or top of the wall, and the machine may then be turned back, leaving the stone in place. For particulars, Address PACKER & FISH, Mystic River, Conn. 

This article appeared in the same publication.

Wall Builder and Stump Puller. Mr. Packer, of Mystic Conn., in working among the rocks of New London County found the necessity for a machine to lift heavy rocks transport them and deposit them in walls or wherever needed. So he invented one with a pair of shears on strong wheels held apart by two powerful curved reaches giving room for a stone to be swung high between them. For a wall layer, when large stones, say from 1 to 10 tons are to be moved, it is doubtless an excellent thing and has done first rate work in New London County. As a stump puller, it must demonstrate its own excellence. 

After finding the advertisement and article above I was hooked and did a little research and found that it was developed and patented in 1865 by George Washington Packer of Connecticut.  I have not been able to find the patent information but I did find the image below, at connecticuthistory.org, of the device being demonstrated.

Note the huge boulder lifted out of the ground.

Finally, I found that just last October the Mystic River Historical Society posted  an article by Lou Allyn siting a pamphlet  with a description of the devices use.  According to the article the author and date of the pamphlet are unknown but I think it gives a great insight to its use and a bit of the times.  An excerpt from the pamphlet is below.

It may be mentioned here, that the land in this vicinity and for miles in all directions is covered with boulders – boulders large and boulders small, sometimes ledges, but boulders in all shapes, boulders in all positions, boulders on boulders—everywhere. The first settlers simply removed or cleared the smaller rocks, such as a horse could easily drag out of the way, leaving hundreds of heavier ones half embedded in the soil in all directions. Thus thousands upon thousands of acres of splendid soil have been fit for naught but cattle runs of natural pasturage. To clear such land of everything to obstruct the free running of a plow, is a herculean task and it is this wrestling with the stern face of nature, that I found to be the delight of my host. A forenoon spent in watching and assisting in the operations, found me deeply interested. A device called a “Stone-puller” was quite fetching, and was the invention of a near-by resident whom I was disappointed to learn had never realized much out of it, for without it, such operations as are here going forward,
would be prohibited by the question of cost. Mr. H— has 428 acres of just such land as described; skirting the shores of L. I. Sound with deep coves running up on either side of his property; forming between them, Long Point, which is all included in the Haley Farm,
with the exception of a tract on the extreme point, which is owned by parties who started to boom it for Summer cottage purposes, but came to a dead-lock with the town authorities regarding approaches, and who should bear their cost. A description of the boulder-wall building may be interesting. A lot having been chosen for clearance, and direction of proposed walls staked out, all rocks within its area, are first drilled to admit the hooks of
the hoisting apparatus. This work is done in Winter by Messrs. Latham and Slater, two neighbors employed by Mr. H—, who also run the stone-puller. The cost of drilling last
Winter was $72. In the Spring, frost being out and ground settled, the stone-puller (drawn by an immense pair of oxen raised on the place) and looking like the semi-circular truss of a bridge over a country creek—on wheels, proceeds to lift every stone out of its bed by means of time hoisting tackle, which hangs from the centre of the truss just mentioned, behind, being a winch, to winch the rope is led for hoisting. Every stone is dropped alongside the hole it came out of, awaiting its turn to be selected when the work of
building the wall commences in earnest. Sometimes a rock proves to be larger  underground than it appeared on the surface and proves too heavy for removal. In
this case, blasting is resorted to; powder being used in preference to dynamite, as not being liable to splinter, but merely to crack the stone under treatment. These preparatory arrangements being complete, the line of the proposed wall is trenched 3 feet deep and 4 feet wide, the soil so excavated being utilized to fill in the great gaping holes in the ground from which the boulders have been hoisted. The trench is then filled in with smaller rocks and broken pieces, and large ones, for that matter, so, however, that they do not come above the level of the ground; thus forming a good foundation and drain at the same time. Fine stone is laid over all, causing the site of the proposed wall to appear like a newly
macadamized road, and easy for the oxen to walk over, which they have to do with every stone laid. The stone-puller is now again brought into use and the foreman of the work selects the first rock, which is hoisted just clear of the ground and hauled to the commencement of the wall, where it is deposited on the prepared foundation. This is called a “bottom,” and the “bottoms” are usually from 1 to 3 tons each. When a second bottom has been laid, the stone-puller fetches lighter stones, from 1/2 ton to 2 tons each, for the top of wall. The machine is laid at right-angles to the wall, the stone hoisted as high as the pulley admits, the oxen swerved in a couple of steps, and the stone swings into its position and is lowered to its bearings more handily, and with less fuss and talk, than I have ever seen anything of the same weight moved and placed before. I found that my host was quite at home in directing a gang of men and a past grand in the art of boulder-wall construction. The “bottoms” are always a couple in advance of the top part and no
more, all through otherwise the work of getting on the heavy top stones would be up-hill indeed. Hands follow the stone-puller to chock the wall before the great stones settle, that is, to fill tip all crevices, great or small, with suitable stones. Quite considerable judgment and forethought are requisite in the selection and placing of the rocks, both in building and chocking, to make a neat piece of work. 

I hope you found this as interesting as I did!

Cattle for Western Pennsylvania

Taken from The American Agriculturist, Volume 32, 1873

“E.C.J.”., Clinton, Pa. asks which is the best breed cattle for Western Pennsylvania, Durham, or Devon. Devon, by all means; Durham cattle would be much out of place on hilly ground or on thin pastures, while the Devons are at home in such a country. 


“Old Partner”

This video is almost an hour and twenty minutes long and is in Korean with no subtitles.  I honestly couldn’t imagine watching it in its entirety so I started skimming it.  I ended up hooked and had to start it over to watch it all from the beginning.  I guarantee you will get more from it than whatever is on television tonight!  This is a wonderful documentary about a Korean couple, Mr. Choi Won-Kyun, his wife Lee Sam-Soon, and their faithful cow that they use to farm with in the mountains of Korea.  The couple are in their eighties and the cow is forty years old!  No that is not a typo.  She is forty years old!   Yes it is interesting as an ox enthusiast to see their cattle and equipment and to watch their methods but this is much bigger than that.   “Perseverance” keeps popping into my head as I watch it.  If you enjoy it, and I’m sure you will, then you can get the DVD which includes English subtitles.