So what is an ox? Simply put, an ox is just a bovine that’s been trained to work. There is not any “ox breed,” though depending on who you ask, some cattle breeds do make better oxen than others. Oxen were once the most common work animals used in farming – and almost exclusively in logging – in the South.
The advantages of oxen are often eclipsed by the perception that draft animals are out-dated. But there are advantages and disadvantages to both tractors and oxen. Oxen require training and a slightly different skill-set than tractors, tractors start with a key and certainly provide more power. But oxen provide fertility, better traction, and can get to areas where tractors cannot. Oxen do not compact the soil, are much cheaper than tractors, offset their own carbon emissions, and are fueled by grass. Oxen are perfect for the small farm.
Moses & Aaron
Moses (left) Aaron (right)
Thanks to a 2020 fundraising campaign, we were able to bring on a team of Pineywoods steers to train as oxen. And they’re well on their way!
Oxen once made up nearly one third of all draft animals in the South prior to large scale industrialization. Southern ox driving has its own distinct style and breeds, both of which are in danger of being lost forever.
Today, oxen use has all but disappeared everywhere in the US except New England, where competition leagues and continued small scale agriculture have kept the traditions alive. Feed the People Farms was delighted to take place in the 2021 University of New Hampshire’s Oxen and Teamster Survey of the U.S.; the first Oxen survey since 1890; giving us a the first data on oxen use in over 100 years!
In 2020, Slim received a scholarship to attend oxen basics training from Tillers International, who provide draft animal training for working farmers all over the world. In November 2020, Moses and Aaron were purchased from R&R Farms in Sylacauga, AL and brought back to the farm to begin their training.
Moses and Aaron were one-year-old when they began their training. Training oxen takes patience and diligence, but it pays off down the road. At full size, Pineywoods steers can reach 1200 lbs each, and one team can pull roughly one ton.
A Southern Tradition
Pineywoods cattle are now endangered, but for 400 years until the mid-20th century they roamed many of the woodlands in the South, and were famed for their beef, dairy, and work abilities.