Thursday, July 8, 2010

More Ox Talk

Gulland and Marco (photo by Karen Stack)

I had a comment on the last post, and I thought I should answer it in a separate post.

Barb said she'd mention to Steve that they should consider the possibility of getting a pair of oxen instead of buying an old tractor for their new farm/home. Following are my thoughts on the subject.

You know, an old tractor will never come up to the fence to meet you. We're opting for the long term thing with the oxen. It'll be a few years before they're full grown, but at the scale we'll be operating, I think it's the best way to go. We'll grow our production as the animals grow in ability; slowly and steadily. It makes sense to me.

There's something more about draft cattle than just production. The teamster creates a working relationship with the animals and finds that they are curious and always interested in what you're doing.

Mostly they take care of themselves with grass and water and sunshine. The largest proportion of cattle are just kept for slaughter or for milking, and they never get a chance to get to know their owner. The relationship between ox and handler is very unique.

The biggest difference, I believe, is the impact on the Earth. The manufacturing process involved with the ox is as old as time itself. Boy meets girl in the pasture... well...

The line of transportation can be as limited as your own back yard. The training will teach you as much about yourself as the ox learns in the process. There are no repair parts made of (think carbon) cast iron, steel or rubber to send around the globe to an implement dealer to be distributed. Your local veterinarian should be able to do any repairs needed, and that vet may very well be a neighbor. There are no petroleum products required at all.

An ox requires no mortgage, and the monthly payments are worked out in pasture grass and true human labor. As far as equipment goes, a chain or two should last the rest of your life. You can learn make a new yoke to fit the animals as they grow, and you should learn how to work with wood at least that well. Other than that, you can buy a 100 year old sickle bar mower that will last another 100 years after you're done with it, and other implements as you need them.

The ox works at a human pace and puts life into work, changing it from a chore to a social event. He puts you in touch with blood and sweat, muscle and bone, and wood and steel; one can never be in touch with those elemental things enough, I believe. You work with him, tire with him, and rest with him; the connection is indescribable.

Draft oxen aren't for everyone, and not every day is going to be as romantic as I have described. They grow to be great big animals and have their own personalities and moods that can be challenging if they aren't worked properly and often. So many times the problems actually lie in the human, and that can be difficult for us to deal with. I have always walked away from a team of oxen with a deep abiding respect for them at their trust and willingness to work for me. They tolerate my uncertainty and lack of depth of understanding of them and still do what I ask them to do. I don't know how else to say it, but it's really a sweet deal for me.

As we begin to try to increase our food production on a very necessary personal level, I believe the ox will become important again for the small scale grower. Even if you don't have your own team, you'll be able to call me in a couple of years and I can bring my team over for the day and work with you. It's something to consider that you have most likely not considered before.

This crazy world is throwing things at us daily that we never had to think of before. For generations before us people thought nothing of using what was at the time, 'the latest technologies'. It worked then, and we have to remember that.

My friend Royce, a dairy farmer, half laughs when he says, "We always go to town for lunch so we can pick up parts we broke before lunch."

What's gotten into us?