As The Pasture Turns: An update and an experiment

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.

How to get started with oxen

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.

Oxen: A Teamsters Guide by Drew Conroy:

The Pride and Joy of Working Cattle by Ray Ludwig:

Next time I will cover how to select your animals.

The wheeled or mounted stone boat.

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


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


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


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


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.”

Amos Fish


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.

Vose’s Patent Ox Yoke

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


“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.


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

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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


I find this yoke interesting.  It is a slider yoke that uses a different mechanism than most, but the adjustable staple is particularly interesting.

Ad taken from: Scientific American, Volume 10 1864

Improved Ox Yoke

Those who have witnessed the practical every day work on a farm must have been struck with the imperfect means by which oxen are usually attached to the yoke and how severely it taxes them at times not only by its weight but because of its rigid and unyielding nature. The usual pace of the ox is slow and stately and in his progress he naturally swings his ponderous head from side to side with even measure but with the ordinary ox yoke all this is denied him and he must literally bow to his yoke and bear its burden as best he may.  The consequences of this badly arranged ox yoke are that the beast is chafed and fretted by it that he works with much less willingness and gets wearied out sooner than he would if the yoke were adapted to his natural habits.  In the engraving herewith presented we have a yoke which is very different from the old-fashioned one and much better suited to the peculiarities previously alluded to. In addition to this consideration, it is very much lighter neater looking and it is believed altogether a great improvement.  In Fig 1 we have an elevation of this yoke in A is the yoke proper and B the bolster or saddle which spans the beast’s neck.  These bolsters slide back and forth on the yoke being connected in the manner shown in Fig 2.  By referring to this figure the reader will see that there are grooves C in the yoke and that the bolsters have projections D which fit in them; he may also see that there is a metallic bar E connected to the bolsters on the yoke; these bars are strongly fastened to the endless belt F which runs upon the rollers G.  It is easy to see as the bolsters are moved back and forth on the yoke the belt will run over the rollers and cause them to work evenly and easily as often as the oxen move their heads.  Uneven roads and the natural habits of the ox are thus accommodated and the result is a much greater amount of work with less fatigue to the cattle.  The bows H also pass through metallic bushes I and the yoke beam has slots J in it through which the bows move as the bolsters approach or recede from the center.  The eye bolt in the center is also fitted to a semicircular seat and the plate K has slots in it also so that it can slip from side to side.  This yoke is very strong and well made; it is correct in principle and we hope to see it generally substituted for those so long in use.  It was patented on the 4th of November 1862 through the Scientific American Patent Agency by TD Lakin and assigned to himself and Charles Wilder of Peterboro NH For further information address Charles Wilder as above.

Here is the actual patent for the yoke.


Pat is a Star!

Pat’s Commercial

Well I think he is the star of the commercial.  I don’t know where he found his motivation for his role but you can really feel his characters emotion!  I hope the fame doesn’t go to is head and he can keep himself grounded.  He doesn’t live with us on Ox Hill anymore but we can always say we knew him when.