Friday, December 10, 2010

Working Cattle

Moved hay yesterday. I am again struck by the efficiency of oxen. The biomass of our four oxen is more than that of the eight horses, yet the horses eat a quarter more hay in any given time period. The oxen are far more willing to come when called, even when they know it means work. There is no bickering within the team and they will learn a task in fewer tries. Wednesday I was moving some logs. We made two trips taking the logs from a field across the creek to the house, on the third trip I hooked them up and started them, then Jake and I followed behind to see what they would do without direction. They took the logs back to the house and stopped with the logs beside the first two loads.

Yesterday, we did have a problem. The horses had pretty much finished their round bale. There is still some grazing in the pasture though. I checked the oxen and they still had more than a day’s hay, so I decided to wait until today to move hay. We cannot afford to be wasteful this winter. I was working on firewood when I noticed that Pepper (a horse) had let himself out and was walking toward the orchard. I opened the gate to the paddock and put him in (with Pepper that is no problem, you can just tell him what to do most of the time). Next, I noticed the cattle in the horses’ pasture. I went down to see how they got through the gate. The horses had broken down the gate and were finishing up the oxen’s hay. Charlie was out and eating alongside the road. Being late in the day, I decided it would be best to get Maria’s help. The cattle were stirred up and did not come when called. The horses intimidate the cattle just for the fun of it. It took a little sorting out.

Once we got the boys yoked, everything went fairly well. We had a little bit of munching grass when they shouldn’t, but other than that, the cattle held perfectly on “whoas” and George and James were letter perfect rolling the round bales onto the sledge. Everyone was pulling evenly when we skidded the bales to the hay rings. There are no shirkers in this team.

At one point, I couldn’t get the spike out of the frozen bale. I hooked a rope to it and had the oxen pull it out. Once they know a job, they are perfection. Just quiet efficiency, no wasted motion. Rearranging bales and getting a bale on a sledge can be tricky, and the load heavy. The bales are around 1200#. On a sledge, that is a bit. Yesterday it was on dry, frozen ground. They just do it. Oxen are a joy to work with.


  1. They are truly amazing. All they want is to know what we want and how we want it done. And lots and lots of "Good Boy"s. I enjoyed being out with them.

    Horses sure have more "flash" to them, though!

  2. I really enjoyed this post in particular!