Saturday, February 26, 2011

Padded Ox Collar, Ox, and Cart: Quebec City, Canada c.1890

Photograph | Ox cart, St. Jean Deschaillons, QC, about 1890 | MP-0000.1135.10
Ox cart, St. Jean Deschaillons, QC, about 1890
Gift of Mr. Stanley G. Triggs
© McCord Museum

Detail from
Ox cart, St. Jean Deschaillons, QC, about 1890
Gift of Mr. Stanley G. Triggs
© McCord Museum

Friday, February 25, 2011

Single Ox Training: Gee and Haw

This is a question from YouTube comments on my video (Getup and Whoa with long reigns on a standard halter.)


This is great! I have a Jersey/Swiss bull that I want to do this with. Just wondering, how do you train him to Haw and Gee?


Greetings Stainesa1 ---

I find that Scout the Ox is more responsive to physical cues (touches and tugs) than he is to verbal commands. This makes sense as cattle are largely non-verbal creatures except when stressed or hungry.

With reins attached to a standard cattle halter I am able to direct him to right or left. (Bits or nose rings are unnecessary and not recommended.) When I see he is about to respond correctly I add the verbal gee or haw so that he will begin to make the association. You can see this in practice on this video where he is responding readily to corrections made with small tugs on the reins:

My training got put to the test about a month ago. I was riding in the ox cart (converted garden cart.) I slid way to the back to take a picture and the cart reared up. Scout spooked and started running. The tipped-back cart was fishtailing wildly and I was hanging on with one hand, while trying to protect my camera with the other. Things were well out of control when I decided to yell "WHOA!" Scout stopped immediately for which I was well pleased.

Training one ox hardly makes me an authority on the subject, but I am of the impression that single oxen present a few challenges that teams are less prone to. Single oxen are more free to follow their own whims than they might be if they were yoked to a team mate. However, there is ample evidence in the historical record to suggest that single oxen were trained to be reliable enough to pull passengers in carts.

Single ox pulling ladies in ox cart near Newport News, Virginia, USA (estimated c1900-1920).
These prim ladies keep their white petticoats high above the muddy road near Newport News, Virginia. Their mighty ox appears to be completely under the control of the driver who holds the reins in her hands.

(Note the bed of this cart has been leveled. I've noticed ox carts often were tipped back. I wonder if it was because they were built to fit a younger animal who often out-grew expectations.)

Women and boy in ox cart pulled by single ox -- c1910, southern USA. 
Single ox yoke, reins.
This woman and her son appear equally at ease with their sleek ox pulling a tidy oxcart on the road of a southern USA town.

Older man in rickety wagon pulled by a single ox in a southern USA town c1910
Single ox yoke with dropped hitch points.
Being seated on kitchen chairs in this rickety old wagon would suggest that this older gentleman has a great deal of faith in the reliability of his single ox.

This single ox yoke is a nice example of a yoke with dropped hitch points. The dropped hitch points pull the yoke down into the shoulder --- a straight yoke, as in the first picture, tends to roll back.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

One Very Large Steer!

Wouldn't it be fun to train this "big ox" of a steer for riding, or for pulling a giant ox cart! See photos and read about him at:

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Saturday, February 5, 2011

Traveling 1st Class in Northwestern Minnesota (via Ox Cart)

Single Ayrshire Ox Pulling Ox Cart with Wooden Ox Yoke
With all the tempting vegetation in the roadside ditches covered with snow,  it is a good time to get Scout the Ox used to the idea of me riding in the ox cart. In the summer he quickly learned that as soon as I got on the cart he could head to the ditch and grab a few mouthfuls of grass.....the little stinker!
Single Ayrshire Ox Pulling Ox Cart with Wooden Ox Yoke - Minnesota Winter
At -15 degrees F. (-26 degrees C.) Scout the ox grew a white beard and I an icy white moustache. On January 22 the sun sets about 6:30 PM CST,  but dusk lasts quite a while longer. 
Single Ayrshire Ox with Horns and Yoke - Exhaust
It was a beautiful, silent evening with stars beginning to show in the sky. The 5mph wind dropped off to near zero and the steam rising from Scout the Ox's breath  reminded me of the exhaust from an idling internal combustion engine. Getting the pictures and video without frost-bitten fingers was tricky though.

See in video format  --- 29 seconds.
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Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Turning the Ox Yoke

20/20 Hindsight

1. When walking backwards make sure you have a clear path so you don't stumble.
2. Avoid hitching to anything so high that the chains can pass easily over the ox's back.
3. Hitch oriented in the direction you want to pull so the ox doesn't need to step sideways to get lined up

It is also possible for a team of oxen to turn their yoke. If they both turn 180 degrees, but in opposite directions, the yoke has to flip. Said another way, if they swing their tails apart until their tails meet again, the yoke will be forced to turn.

Single or team, turning the yoke is obviously to be avoided; it could result in bruising the oxen's neck or throat.

Civil War Era Currycomb

A Currycomb Patented by Sarah Jane Wheeler, 1861

"Included in the New Britain Industrial Museum collection is a curry comb recovered from a Union army supply barge, the General Meade, which exploded and sank at City Point , Virginia on the James River . The comb was patented in 1861 by Sarah Jane Wheeler, who was the first woman in  New Britain  to receive a United States patent."

quoted from
Connecticut Explored

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Currying Favor with the Ox

Snow, ice, mud or manure in the coat of the ox robs the fur of its insulating value.  The currycomb is the ideal tool to keep the ox's coat clean and dry. While many a feedlot steer may survive without ever being touched by a currycomb, its frequent application certainly adds to the creature's comfort.

Grooming the Ox with a Currycomb
 As an added bonus currying replicates the grooming behavior seen amongst members of a herd of cattle. The use of the currycomb can be a bonding tool between teamsters and their oxen. If you've ever been licked by an ox you know the roughness of an ox's tongue has much the same feel as a currycomb.

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Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Why Is It Called a Currycomb?

One of my earliest memories of livestock was watching our landlords daughter, Roxy,  putting neat squiggles on the side of her wet Hereford, 4-H steer, using a round, metal currycomb with a red handle. Recently while using the same style currycomb with the same red handle I have wondered “why is it is called a currycomb?”
This is what I found. From the late 13th century Anglo-French word curreier comes the English word curry, meaning, to rub down a horse. The Oxford English Dictionary quotes a phrase from 1398 as “coryed wyth an horse combe.” So, logically, a comb used to curry a horse might come to be called a curry-comb.
"Der behexte Stallknecht"
("The Bewitched Stable Boy")
Hans Baldung Grien (1544)
German Renaissance woodcut
This unfortunate stable boy has dropped his 16th-century currycomb on the stable floor.

An interesting side-note is that the phrase “to curry favor” rose from a satirical 14th century French poem Roman de Fauvel. In the poem Fauvel, a horse, moves from the barn into the largest room in the house. He represents sin and corruption; Fauvel’s name  is an acronym (in French) for the seven deadly sins. In the story the occupants of the house, who metaphorically represented church and state leaders, not only allowed Fauvel to dwell in the house, they even lowered themselves to curry and clean his coat.
Hence, the common expression "to curry favor" is believed to be a mistaken English adaptation of the French phrase to curreier Fauvel. In the English language, to curry favor has come to mean seeking favor by fawning or flattery.

Roman de Fauvel
Musical satire from early 14th century France.
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