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Getting Started with Oxen

Start the calf as young as possible.

One way to start the training, that is used by many teamsters in the United States, is by standing with the calf on your right side, holding his lead rope in your left hand and a light rod or whip in your right hand. With the rod lightly tap him on rump to teach him to "Giddup" or move forward, and on the head to teach him to "Whoa" or stop . Lightly tap him on the right ear to get him to "Haw" or turn left, and on the left ear to "Gee" or turn right. Lightly tap him on the chest or knees to get him to "Back" or move in reverse. Thus the calf will learn the word of the command along with the movement of the rod and will eventually follow the commands without the need of the lead rope. One advantage of training the calves this way is that you are quicker able to see when the calves are ready to misbehave and can forstall disobedience before it happens.

Another way to begin the training that is used by most of the teamsters in Nova Scotia, Canada, is by standing in front of the calf with the calf's halter in one hand and a rod in the other. Begin walking saying "Giddup" and moving your rod ahead and because you hold the calf's lead rope, he will have to follow. Turn to the right saying "Gee" and moving your rod to the right and the calf will have to turn right. Turn to the left saying "Haw" and moving your rod to the left and the calf will have to turn left. Stop and say "Whoa" and moving your rod up and the calf will have to stop. Turn around and face the calf, moving the rod in front of his legs and the calf will back up. Thus, in this form of training the calf will also learn the word of the command along with the movement of the rod. One advantage of training the calves this way is that there are less commands being used, as they know where they are to go by what their teamster is doing. Another advantage is when the team is working in a narrow place such as they have to do in the bush, then the teamster is not finding himself pushed away from their side.

These are the basic commands. Other commands can be taught as needed, and older animals can be taught them, but it will just take more time and patience.

Note: It is important to get your team used to many different experiences! You do not want to find one day, that your team that has grown to a thousand pounds each, has had a dangerous reaction because a child has touched one of them on its stomach.

Right from the moment you start working with the calves, rub them all over, paying special attention to their horns, bellies, and feet. Get them used to you picking up their feet, rubbing their horns, hugging them around their middle, and brushing their bellies.

Give them as many different experiences as you can think of, different training experiences as well as different environments in which you train. In every experience, keep your calves safety in mind. Do not put them in danger. If the calves get excited about something, help them through it in a calm and disciplined manner. Let them know that you are not frightened. Let them know that it is ok. Eventually, you will have a team that trusts you and is not frightened by anything.

If, someday, you want to ride your week-old calf, then you need to accustom him to the idea when he is young. Every time you work with him, spend some time just standing over him, one foot on each side of his back. At first, do not put any weight on him. This will help him to get used to you being in the riding position. When the calf gets too big for you to stand over him, then try just resting your leg on his back. You can also try leaning over the calf and putting a some pressure onto his back. As he grows, gradually increase the weight. Do not sit on him until he is big and strong enough to handle your weight without stress.

To see a point form guide to training and working with oxen, click on: Training Oxen - A Point Form Guide
Photo to the right by Brenda Kossowan:

Training and Working With Oxen

Jake and Neb: Calves in training

Training oxen is a simple and rewarding experience. Cattle are ready learners, and do not quickly forget what they have been taught. When their needs are met, oxen are patient, hard working draft animals, and will not balk at toiling at your side all day long.

The equipment needed to work with oxen is basic, and easy to use. The yoke can be inexpensively made with traditional woodworking hand tools. For more information about making or buying a yoke, click on: Neck Yokes, or Head Yokes. As an alternative to the yoke, a collar and harness may be used. For more information about harness and collar options, click on:
Harness and Collars.

Personal requirements are a willingness to spend the time needed to teach basic commands, patience, consistency, firmness, and responsibility in meeting the animal's needs.

Training oxen requires taking two separate animals, (selected for their similarities in temperament and willingness to work), which have previously been their own masters, and making them a team, that will work for another master. Behaving this way is contrary to nature. These animals have already learned many things before they began this training. It is your job to undo some of the things they have learned, and to teach many new things. Every time they are in the yoke they will learn something, either beneficial or unbeneficial. And they will challenge you as their new master, as they try to continue to meet their own needs and desires.

For more information on how to choose your calves, click on: Choosing Your Animals

Cattle are led by rules of who is boss. You must prove yourself worthy of being followed, of being a leader that oxen can trust, and who will provide them with their basic needs of food, rest, water, shelter, protection, and some social interaction. Training oxen is more than learning certain rules and applying them. It is a combination of what you know, achieving their acknowledgment that you are a good leader, being able to give correct body language, and being able to consistently give verbal and visual commands. The oxen must be able to respect you, and to accept you as leader. To train them through cause and affect, you need to know your animals, and to be able to control how their environment affects them.

Oxen will learn, they either learn bad habits or good ones. Make your team do everything you command them to. Never let them do something different than what you have ordered. Do not let them disobey or run away or do anything apart from what you have asked. Any time they misbehave, continue the lesson longer, even if you have to yoke them up again. Only allow them to stop, if they end up still willingly following your commands. They need to learn that when they are working, they are not in charge.

Cattle learn patterns and will soon know when you are almost finished a task, so change the pattern of what you do each day.

To be able to train cattle, you need to show your physical dominance, therefore it is better to start with animals young enough to enable you to easily do this. Once the animals have been taught this, they submit, and do not need to be constantly shown it again. This is why youngsters, who have trained their oxen as calves, are able to control their animals when they are much larger than themselves. Oxen must be trained to accept all people as completely dominant, and this dominance must be quickly established. It takes effort, planning, and skill to convince your cattle that you are never to be challenged, and in so doing, they will learn to respect you.

It is a vast difference in an oxen's normal lifestyle, for them to work for hours, under a human's direction. But oxen are content to do the same thing day after day as long as you meet their needs. Be careful not to overwork a young or out of shape team. Take care not to turn the team so sharply that their legs are rubbed raw on the pole or chain. Make sure the equipment you use on your animals fits them properly.

For more information on the care of your oxen's health, click on: Ox Health

Give your animals short simple names that don't rhyme with each other or with any of the commands. Use their names often. Make sure your body language matches your commands. Also make sure that you use your rod with self-control, but with enough force to get the action you are commanding. Speak your command before you use your rod. Always treat your animals with kindness and patience. Never work with your animals if you are in a bad mood.

Take the time to thoroughly teach your animals the basic commands, remembering that once the oxen learn something, they are slow to forget it. Teach them in short frequent lessons, being consistent in what you ask, and in the consequences for correct or incorrect behavior. Give praise and pats for correct behavior.

Neb: All grown up!

Training Oxen - A Point Form Guide

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