Friday, August 27, 2010

Another Summer Evening Swimming with an Ox and a Dog

Scout the Ox on Country road.

Scout the Ox at Sunset.

Land of 10,000 lakes; this one happens to be a gravel pit.

Time for a swim. Scout the Ox, and Harry the Dog, both like the water. We got out over our heads, and then, guiding Scout by his halter I had him pull me along parallel to the shoreline. Ever dream of riding an Orca Whale? That's a bit of the feeling. With an ox you have to watch out for the beaters underneath; Scout has a powerful dog-paddle!
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The Moon Rises Between the Ox Horns

The moon rises between the ox's horns.

Still wet from our swim, we make our way home in the dark.

Scout catches up on his grazing.

We've had a good workout --- even the dog's tired.
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Sunday, August 22, 2010

Single Ox Yoke - Ox Collar Combination: A Photo Study

The bow does not interfere with the forward stride of the leg and shoulder.
The attachment of the reins allows the driver to direct the ox's head

The yoke stays stationary throughout the stride (it doesn't waggle).
The cocked back position allows the yoke bows to also function as a collar.
The angular musculature at the base of the neck supports the collar.
The yoke is carved to accommodate the withers at this angle.

The bow sits inside of the forward swinging shoulder.
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Saturday, August 21, 2010

A Lazy--Hazy Summer Evening

Harry the Dog enjoys amplified scents.

Native Goldenrod blooms in the meadow.

Scout the Ox pauses while grazing.

A dove settles on her night roost.

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The front porch.

Harry the Dog watches the door.

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Monday, August 16, 2010

Ox Training: Long Reins and Verbal Commands from the Cart

Scout the ox is beginning to respond to direction from the rider in the cart. The long reins are simply snapped one to each side of a standard cattle halter.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Single Ox Pulling Cart with Experimental Ox Yoke/Collar Combination

Galloping ox.

How to Make an Ox Yoke/Collar Combination

Disclaimer: This is an unproven, experimental design. However, I am pleased with the results so far.

Objective: Construct a yoke for a single ox using the following criteria.

1.) Combine the best characteristics of the traditional New England Ox Yoke and the Red River Trails Ox Collar. See Red River Trails Ox Collar here:

2.) Use tools and materials available at our local hardware or home improvement store — or (preferably) up-cycled materials.

3.) Provide an adjustable, hitch-point height for varying loads.

Anatomy of an Ox

A.)The yoke (top) does the heavy pulling and provides width for hitch points.

B.) Traditional bent bows are replaced by bars, with a cross member at the bottom to stabilize them.

C.) The yoke (top), bars (side), and cross-member (bottom) are blended into a “collar” by shaping.

D.) A second set of bars are added on the lateral sides to provide the adjustable hitch point height.

Yoke, bars, and crosspiece shaped into a "collar".

I.) The yoke (top) is carved to sit rocked back at an angle so that the bars (sides) rest against the angular musculature above the ox’s shoulders. The yoke itself pushes back against the hump of the withers.

II.) The bars (sides) sit forward, above, and inside the swinging shoulder. If the ox makes a large forward step, the shoulder will pass on the outside of the bar.

III.) The cross-member stabilizes the yoke; it does not allow pressure on the windpipe. The bars are angled far enough forward that the ox's front legs do not contact the cross member on the forward swing. The cross-member is removable to allow the yoke to be taken on and off; it is held in place by wooden pins.

IV.) A stretchy rope passes from the yoke, and around the rear of the ox, and back to the yoke to hold it against the withers when the ox puts his head down, or when there is no load.

V.) When pulling a cart a wide back-strap is added to bear the weight of the cart. The yoke provides pulling force by chains attached to the swingeltree on the cart. (The swingletree is unnecessary with an ox if the cart is not provided with one.) A second rope around the animal’s hindquarters prevents the cart from rolling too far forward on a downhill slope.

VI.) Reins can be added to a standard cattle halter and passed through the hitch-point hardware (connected in this manner they are very effective at turning the animal’s head).
Correcting problems with electrical tape.

Problems to date: I made the yoke a little large to allow the ox to grow into it. Because of the loose fit, it waggled too much. Remedy: I sawed a piece of plastic pipe in half and attached it to the bows to tighten the bars on the neck, and I deepened the inverted V over the top of the neck. The assembly no longer waggles, but until the ox grows into it (and the plastic spacers can be removed) the bars are wider than ideal for passing behind the shoulder when it swings forward.

The wood I had on hand was an unidentified softwood, but I won’t be pulling stumps with it, or entering competitive weight pulls. It should be adequate for light duty work.

Drilling the inch and three-quarter holes was a challenge. I first bought an adjustable spade type bit and it was totally inadequate. Remedy: I then bought a better bit for $34 (ouch) and it worked with the help of a drill press. By removing the screw-in center-point from the bit I was able to use it to enlarge the holes on the cross-member (for easy on, easy of). This eliminated the need for another, even larger, bit.

The rope around the rear can work itself out of place. Remedy: I plan to add a couple short straps to hold it in place.

I haven’t perfected how to hold the adjustable rings in place. Remedy: Right now they are taped with electrical tape, which is working well.
It works!

Materials used: Yoke and cross-member of second-hand, rough-cut, softwood. (I’m on the lookout for a piece of hardwood.)

Bars are of a used stairway handrail from a house we tore down twelve years ago.

Pins are carved from a recycled organ's pedals.

Hitch-point Rings, are from a broken horse harness I got in a box of stuff at an auction –for a dollar.

Screw-shut chain-link connectors I bought for another project — they were too big for that project, but they fit just right here.

The red strap over the back is a good section cut from a melted fire-hose, it is clamped onto the cart with secondhand screws and sections of the nylon door seals from an old microwave oven.

The pull chains are smooth dog chain --- second hand.

The ropes are scraps that have served various other uses.

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Saturday, August 14, 2010

Summer of Many Rains

Looks like Scout the ox took off with the jailhouse window.
It's fix'n to storm...
...and he's going to get wet.
When we have a wet season here, does it mean there is a drought somewhere else?
The combination of ample rain, and the grazing of Scout and Peaches, instead of sheep, makes for different plant species in the pasture. This unidentified forb may be an escapee from the flower garden.
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Kittens: Sophia and Squeak

Sophia, the bigger kitten, and Squeak, the smaller kitten, are not related. Sophia was the orphaned kitten, nursed by a dog, at my daughter's place in Nebraska, and Squeak is the hungry, orphaned kitten that Harry the dog found under the floorboards of our old granary (here in Minnesota).

So it is, that we have a matching pair of unrelated, orphaned kittens, that were born two states apart. Now how likely is that?
As a side note: When I was out in the pasture one day, Harry captured a third kitten. It was black with white paws, uninjured, and in good health. I set it over the fence and it quickly disappeared into the tall grass. My guess is that the mother cat moved her kittens from under the granary, and into the woods, to get away from the barking dog. (We still have never seen the mother cat.)
Somehow little Squeak got left behind, and when Squeak got desparately hungry, Harry brought him to our attention. Good dog Harry!
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Thursday, August 12, 2010

From Where Hails the Red River Ox?

by Larry T. Dake, Copyright 2010
Photo: Encylcopedia of French Cultural Heritage in North America

Red River fur-traders developed the Red River cart — but where did they get the ox? (In the early years of the 19th century the Red River carts were pulled exclusively by horses.)

A man named Lord Selkirk was responsible. *Selkirk was born at Kirkcudbrightshire, Scotland (Kirkcudbrightshire is bounded on the north and northwest by Ayrshire — home of the Ayrshire cow); being the 5th Earl of Selkirk, he had taken an active interest in the desperate situation of Scottish crofters who had been removed from their crofts by landlords.

A philanthropist at heart, Selkirk established the Red River colony in 1811 as an avenue of hope for the displaced crofters. By 1812 he had moved 128 men to the colony with the ambition of transforming the wilderness into farmland. Of course, Scottish farmers needed cows for their farms, so Selkirk made a contract with a New Yorker to have **five-hundred head delivered.

The War of 1812 made immediate delivery difficult, but when the war began to wind down the New York man had sublet the contract to two cattle drovers from St. Charles, in Missouri Territory.

Missouri was still sparsely settled in 1815, but the two drovers managed to buy up enough cattle to execute the contract; many were purchased on credit. At the time, Daniel Boone was one of the settlers who farmed near St. Charles; it was a town of less than a thousand people, populated primarily by French-Canadians; if one were traveling west, it was the last “civilized” stop; it had been the jumping off point for the famed Lewis and Clark Expedition just eleven years earlier.

When “Old Dick Carr” and B. Lewis Musick set out for the Selkirk Colony on the heels of the 500-head of cattle — one day in 1815 — they had a journey of a thousand miles ahead of them; there were no roads, no bridges, and the Native Americans weren’t necessarily friendly.

They didn’t think to bring their USGS Topographical Maps or their Global Positioning Systems. Their cow-ponies didn’t come equipped with OnStar.

The courageous pair of drovers pushed the cattle up the Mississippi River bottoms until they arrived at, and forded, the Des Moine River. They rested the cattle for several days there on the Sand Prairie. They had enlisted some local men to help with this first leg of the journey.

From the Sand Prairie they headed northwest across Iowa country, paralleling the Des Moine River right on into what is now southwestern Minnesota. Continuing north-northwest they skirted Lake Traverse and picked up the Red River of the North, which guided them into the new Selkirk Colony (Selkirk is in what is now Manitoba, Canada — about 22 miles northeast of modern day Winnipeg). The Native Americans had given them some problems along the way and did manage to steal some livestock (probably horses). In spite of the difficulty of the journey their losses in cattle were small.

The Selkirk colonists were pleased with the cattle and the contract was honored. Carr and Musick returned to Missouri with the necessary paperwork to collect payment from their New York counterpart. They traveled south to St. Paul Minnesota, from where they paddled a canoe down the Mississippi River to St. Charles. It is said that when Carr and Musick got back to St. Charles they were cheated out of every dollar of the contract they had fulfilled.

What became of the cattle is unknown, because, after the arrival of the cattle the settlers were routed out and scattered by the Northwest Fur Company. A number of Lord Selkirk’s colonists were killed and their farms were burned to the ground.

I would like to believe that some of the cattle survived the assault to produce oxen for the Red River carts. However, that is uncertain. Manitoban winters can be harsh. If left to fend for themselves, in the Canadian wilderness, the cattle may not have survived.

We do know several more herds of cattle arrived from Missouri in the 1820's, but not without heavy losses en route. At least two of those herds didn’t manage to complete the trip before winter. Many are ***known to have perished near Lake Traverse.

In any event, the Red River Carts were supplied with oxen, and oxen became the favored animal for the grueling task of moving furs and trade goods along the Red River trails.

*Thomas Douglas, 5th Earl of Selkirk, (2010), Wikipedia

**The History of Lee County, Iowa, (1879), Western Historical Company, Chicago

***The Red River Trails: Oxcart Routes Between St. Paul and the Selkirk Settlement, 1820-1870. Gilman, Rhoda R.; Carolyn Gilman & Deborah M. Stultz (1979). St. Paul: Minnesota Historical Society Press.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Red River Ox Carts

A brigade of Red River Ox Carts heaped with furs and hides. This was most likely taken in St.Paul, Minnesota, near the end of their 500 mile journey from Pembina, North Dakota or Selkirk, Manitoba. Notice the ox collar on the middle ox.

Gems of Minnesota Scenery, Published by Whitney's Gallery, St. Paul, Minnesota

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Friday, August 6, 2010

Red River Ox Cart: Harness,Collar or Yoke?

The common thought that the Red River Ox Carts were pulled by fitting a horse collar upside down onto the ox seems at least partially in error. True, they resembled horse collars more than they did ox yokes, but from the old photos below I have concluded they were tailored for use on oxen.
On the left is the clobber which rode over the ox's back to support the weight of the cart. On the right is the collar which is constructed of two pieces of wood. These two pieces are covered with leather on one side only; this single piece of leather also bridges the top of the neck, effectively attatching the two halves of the collar together. The bottoms of the two halves are notched in such a way that it appears the ends must have been lashed together at the throat with a narrow leather strip or rope. This would have allowed placement and removal of the collar.
One leather strap goes from the clobber to the cart shafts (providing lift); another goes from the collar (providing tug).
An old photo (not included here) appears to show a belly strap on the clobber, while other photos do not. They all show breeching straps around the ox's backside to hold everything in place on the downhill slope.
This photo shows the leather covered side of the wooden collar draped over a cart wheel.
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Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Mosquitoes Get Hungry: Ox and Pony Seek Shelter in Barn

It's hard to swat mosqitoes with your horns. We've had frequent rains and warm humid weather this year --- and biting insects! I've not even been putting Scout in the yoke because it restricts him from swishing flies. We've been settling for some walks when we can find some breeze --- and that's been rare.

Scout the x and Peaches the pony get some relief from the biting insects by going in the barn. The window fan with the light blows into my shop and runs 24/7. The spent bugs and bug parts that get sucked in are beggining to form drifts on my work bench. We're hoping for an early frost.

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Sunday, August 1, 2010

Dog Says, There's a Critter Under There

Harry the dog's been occupied for several weeks with some critter under the floorboards of the old granary. He's done a lot of scratching at the boards --- and barking. We can hear his scratching way up at the house. But lately he's just been hanging out there --- less scratching and barking, more worrying.

I investigate to see what he's up to. Something under the boards is making a desperate mewing sound --- and moving around. Sounds almost like a kitten. That's unlikely though. Sophia's the only cat around here. I get a crowbar and keyhole saw but can't find any easy access without destroying the granary floor. Better to let nature take care of her own.

Maybe the mother will come back. And maybe not. Life can be cruel. It sure does sound like a kitten. I mention this to Sherry --- maybe she should stick a bowl of milk in the hole under the north end of the building, just in case.

I'm back to mowing the grass.
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