Sunday, 31. May 2009 11:39
Draft Horses and Oxen
I am amazed on how many visitors arrive here from searches made on 1800′s information. Women and saddles being among the top search tags. Well today we broaden our 1800′s Historathon to include agriculture. I began today’s Sunday Historathon – 1800′s looking for early farming methods in the Colorado area using horses. I know they exist, however I was unable to satisfy what I was looking for so finally gave up that endeavor to broadening my search to the continental United States. It appears from what I have read that horses really were not all that popular in the early 1800′s and that the majority of importations of draft breeds for farming came along in the mid to late 1800′s and into the early 1900′s as a transistion from oxen to horses emerged. More on the introduction of draft breeds to the united states for the use of agriculture in the following links. Draft Horse Breeds, Iowa Pathways, and American Heartland. These site have some good basic information and I am certain that more detailed sites are out there some where regarding the practices used with these animals so I’ll have to dig a bit further later on. I did however find this photo. I had no idea that many horses would be used at one time!
This photo was found at Aigner Graphics with no credits or identifying information. I am thinking this photo was taken in the early 1900′s after the advent of agriculture machinery.
Amazing!! Could you imagine controlling that many horses? The hours it must have taken just to hitch them all up? I would say from a horses trainers point of view that this team of horses had to be highly prized. The training involved and conditioning involved to get a horse ready for work is astronomical with a two horse team. Just boggles my mind! This photo had me off looking for multi-teamed harnesses. I wanted to see one of these contraptions up close and personal and again my attempts were foiled.
Okay I was not getting very far with 1800′s agriculture and horses and I kept running into notations that oxen were used in the 1700′s and early 1800′s. So I switched gears and off I went searching for oxen, coming across the photo below which I found at Western Sierra Railroad.
Imagine what it takes to train Oxen and then what it might be like to command a team like this one.
Then at Wikipedia.org I found this…
Oxen (singular ox) are large and heavyset breeds of Bos taurus cattle trained as draft animals. Often they are adult, castrated males. Usually an ox is over four years old due to the need for training and to allow it to grow to full size. Oxen are used for plowing, transport, hauling cargo, grain-grinding by trampling or by powering machines, irrigation by powering pumps, and wagon drawing. Oxen were commonly used to skid logs in forests, and sometimes still are, in low-impact select-cut logging. Oxen are most often used in teams of two, paired, for light work such as carting. In the past, teams might have been larger, with some teams exceeding twenty animals when used for logging.
An ox is nothing more than a mature bovine with an “education.” The education consists of the animal’s learning to respond appropriately to the teamster‘s (ox driver’s) signals. These signals are given by verbal commands or by noise (whip cracks) and many teamsters were known for their voices and language. In North America, the commands are (1) get up, (2) whoa, (3) back up, (4) gee (turn right) and (5) haw (turn left). Oxen must be painstakingly trained from a young age. Their teamster must provide as many as a dozen yokes of different sizes as the animals grow. A wooden yoke is fastened about the neck of each pair so that the force of draft is distributed across their shoulders. From calves, oxen are chosen with horns since the horns hold the yoke in place when the oxen lower their heads, back up, or slow down (particularly with a wheeled vehicle going downhill). Yoked oxen cannot slow a load like harnessed horses can; the load has to be controlled downhill by other means. The gait of the ox is often important to ox trainers, since the speed the animal walks should roughly match the gait of the ox driver who must work with it.
U.S. ox trainers favored larger breeds for their ability to do more work and for their intelligence. Because they are larger animals, the typical ox is the male of a breed, rather than the smaller female. Females are potentially more useful producing calves and milk.
An “ox” is not a unique breed of bovine, nor have any “blue” oxen lived outside the folk tales surrounding Paul Bunyan, the mythical American logger. A possible exception and antecedent to this legend is the Belgian Blue breed which is known primarily for its unusual musculature and at times exhibits unusual white/blue, blue roan, or blue coloration. The unusual musculature of the breed is believed to be due to a natural mutation of the gene that codes for the protein Myostatin, which is responsible for normal muscle atrophy.
Many oxen are used worldwide, especially in developing countries.
Ox is also used for various cattle products, irrespective of age, sex or training of the beast – for example, ox-blood, ox-liver, ox-kidney, ox-heart, ox-hide.
It appears that oxen were the primary mode of agriculture during the early 1800′s and lost their popularity to horses about 1840 due to horses being able to farm larger plots of ground faster producing more yields for the growing dependency on American farmers. My curiosity though was not quite satisfied I still had those harnesses on my mind and upon trying to see in the photo above the yokes that were used my curiosity moved to getting a better look at yokes and Wallah!!! I found the mother load!
On Sat & Sun at 1pm, the farmers will challenge the hometown team at the Zimmerman farm for ”The Great Base Ball Match.” Come ready to participate, the farmers may be looking for players!
The Conner Prairie Interactive Historic Park have other programs and opportunities including viewing historical documents as well as the wonderful agriculture implement’s like this oxen yoke you see below below.
This concludes today’s Sunday Historathon – 1800′s. Enjoy the journey as you check out the links above to discovery where they may lead you.
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