Milking Devons: Are they cattle or are they goats?

The Pennsylivania deer season ended Saturday so on Sunday we opened the pasture up to give the girls some fresh pasture, outside of the safety zone provided by the house and barn.  We also put a bale of haylage in the feeder.  This was the first bale of haylage we have used.  It smells like candy and the sweet odor carries for hundreds of yards.  Forgetful me neglected to turn the electric fence back on until I realized it at about nine o’clock at night.  This morning I went to bring the girls in for a bit of grain as I do every morning and I was surprised to find just one lonely heifer waiting at the door.  She bawled for her mates but none answered.  I thought for sure the rest had gotten out and relocated to another county.  I set out into the dark and rain to inspect the fence figuring I could find the break now and start tracking them as soon a some daylight came.  Of course while I was doing this I congratulated myself for not remembering to turn the fence on!  Eventually  I started to make out their dark shapes ahead.  Thankfully they never had gotten out  but they did mass in the corner of the pasture as far from the barn as they could get.  Why?  They where enjoying some spruce branches I had pruned a week ago.  I knew they liked to pick at low hanging spruce branches, and will even eat multiflora rose, when it is in the correct stage of growth, but it surprised me that despite having fresh pasture, a fresh bale of candy haylage and a standing appointment for a dish of grain they preferred to eat trees.  I guess that’s why they are so thrifty!

Outlook: Bullocky

In Australia, an ox is referred to as a “bullock” and a teamster is referred to as a “bullocky”.  The use of large spans of bullocks was common much later than here in the U.S. and the few remaining “bullockies” still work them this way, very similar to the old “bullwhackers” of the U.S..

Here is a fantastic video of one such bullocky from 1969.  It was made by The Commonwealth Film Unit and directed by Richard Mitchell.  As I watch, it is interesting to note the similarities and differences with our cattle, equipment and methods here today.  I imagine that man was every bit as tough as the thick greenhide plaited whip he is cracking!

“Vic Deaves is a fourth-generation bushman. For as long as he can remember, his family has lived off the land, often as timber-getters in the coastal valleys of New South Wales. Vic is a bullocky, one of the last of his kind. With his team of bullocks he drags logs out of the valley too choked and precipitous for mechanised transport. It’s a way of life that is dying and part of Australian history will die with it.”

Book Overview: In Praise of Oxen

My original intent in doing book overviews was to try to help people be more confident in their ox related book buying decisions by giving a brief description and to categorize the book as either a practical guide or more of a history book.  Well this book has a lot of history in it but it isn’t a history book full of dates and time lines.  If you try, you could glean some practical advice from it but I wouldn’t call it a practical guide.  I don’t know how to categorize it other than to call it just plain beautiful!  It has just over one hundred pages and all but a handful contain at least one beautiful picture of fine Nova Scotia head yoked oxen and many contain several.  Most of the pictures, taken by Terry James, are accompanied by quotes taken from interviews with various teamsters.  The quotes make you feel like your eavesdropping on a couple of old teamsters regaling each other about their teams of yesterday and how it was in their heyday   The book could easily stand on its own with just the fantastic pictures, and insightful quotes but it does include some text, written by Frances Anderson, colorfully explaining the history and culture of oxen and their teamsters in Nova Scotia.  The book is broken up into acknowledgments, preface, introduction, and just three chapters including “EVERYBODY HAD OXEN”, “THEM TIMES, THE CATTLE WAS WORKED”, and “THE CATTLE DO DRAW A CROWD”.  This book is like no other.  It won’t help you with any training problems and it won’t fill you with bunch of historical facts to expand your ox knowledge but it will certainly entertain you and will likely inspire you!

Singing the praises of the Devon ox!

The following is taken from Cattle: Their Breeds, Management, and Diseases, By William Youatt, 1834

There is a peculiarity in driving the ox team, which is very pleasing to the stranger, and the remembrance of which, connected with his early days, the native does not soon lose. A man and a boy attend each team; the boy chants that which can scarcely be regarded as any distinct tune, but which is a very pleasing succession of sounds, resembling the countertenor in the service of the cathedral. He sings away with unwearied lungs, as he trudges along almost from morning to night, while every now and then the ploughman, as he directs the movement of the team, puts in his lower notes, but in perfect concord. When the traveler stops in one of the Devonshire valleys, and hears this simple music from the drivers of the ploughs on the slope of the hill on either side, he experiences a pleasure which this operation of husbandry could scarcely be supposed to be capable of affording. This chanting is said to animate the oxen somewhat in the same way as the musical bells that are so prevalent in the same county. Certainly the oxen move along with an agility that would be scarcely expected from cattle; and the team may be watched a long while without one harsh word being heard, or the goad or the whip applied. The opponents of ox husbandry should visit the valleys of north or south Devon, to see what this animal is capable of performing, and how he performs it.

Breaking down while trucking livestock!

Today we were on our way to a show with six head of cattle when the fitting at the bottom of the radiator completely separated. It instantly drained the radiator and overheated the engine dashing any chance of making it to the show.

Missing the show and the truck repairs will prove quite costly and yet in hindsight I feel very lucky!

We were not terribly far from home and I was able to call a buddy to haul the trailer and cattle home. It was a nice cool morning and the wait was reasonable so the cattle could safely and comfortably stay on the trailer. AAA quickly towed the truck to the garage of my choice. (A worth while service by the way.) Everyone made it home safe and I don’t think my daughter even picked up any new vulgar vocabulary! So in hindsight I believe things could have been much worse!

As we sorted things out and waited for help I couldn’t help but wounder what if…. What if we where out of our home territory? How are you going to find some one to help with a trailer full of livestock? How long would it take? On a hot day how long can you let the livestock bake in a hot trailer and what could you do about it? The older heifers where tied and we had four small calves loose in the trailer but I did have a halter and rope for each one. All the cattle were either able to be driven or lead so if I had really had to I could have unloaded them and tied them to nearby trees. However, we have traveled many miles of highway where this would not have been possible. The truck won’t be fixed for three days. Since the cattle are happy as clams in their home pasture that is no big deal but if this had happened several hundred miles from home or friends it would be a very different story.

So how does one best prepare for such things? Obviously having well maintained equipment would be number one, but life happens! I have found a cell phone to be worth its weight in gold. I had a little peace of mind in that we did have a rope and halter for everyone if absolutely necessary and that I had a bit of cash in my pocket. The only other thing I can think of is to hit the dirt and pray for a kind stranger to come to the rescue.  We did have one person kindly stop and offer help but I hate to be at the mercy of strangers or happenstance.

So what do you do to prepare for such a situation?

Rundell’s Improved Ox Bow

Taken from Scientific American Aug 13, 1887

AN IMPROVED OX BOW

The invention herewith illustrated provides an ox bow which will not bear upon the windpipe or the veins or arteries of the neck and has been patented by Mr Luman Rundell, of Grapeville NY. The bow as represented is formed partly of wood and partly metal, the metal portion being made tubular and forming an enlarged lower part of the bow, which is of sufficient size to relieve the lower part of the throat of ox from any pressure of the bow. It may, however, be made entirely of wood bent into the form shown, even of a piece of gas pipe bent into suitable form.

The actual patent is linked below.

US366883

Book Overview: Oxen a Teamster’s Guide 2nd edition

This is the first of several book overviews I plan to do on ox related books.  I am in no way a literary critic, but I thought people might benefit from a brief description so as to know what to expect from a particular book.

Oxen..A Teamster’s Guide is the latest book on oxen by Drew Conroy.  I suspect very few people, if anyone, has spent as much time studying oxen, their history, and their use as Drew.  I am certain that no one else has written so much on the subject.  What’s more, he  is, himself, a Devon man.  I have heard this book frequently referred to as the “ox bible”.   If such a thing exists, then this is it.  It’s just shy of three hundred pages broken up into no less than nineteen chapters covering such subjects as history, health, hoof care, training, housing, equipment, working, and international development to name a few.  Its pages are full of informative pictures and illustrations. It also includes three appendices covering breeds, yoke and bow sizes, and nutrition.  I thought I had heard just about every ox term at one point or another, but the glossary had a number of them that proved me wrong.  A great touch to the book is the “On The Farm” pages where Drew gives a personal account  of particular teamsters that he has met in his extensive travels.  It doesn’t hurt that page seventy-seven is committed to my father!  On the back cover the book is labeled in big bold letters, “OPERATING MANUAL FOR THE MIGHTY OX” and that is just what it is.  If you are interested in oxen then this is a must read.