Blinders (Blinkers), Location, Polling, and Cattle Breeds

– A conversation with Bob Powell, Barbara Corson and Ed Schultz.

This was taken at Whinnyfold, Cruden, Aberdeenshire, Scotland in 1895.  It shows Mr Alex Davidson ‘plowing’ with his oxen in harness being driven like horses. He’s actually using a ‘drill’ or ridge plow towards either planting potatoes or sowing turnip seed. The latter is done on the top of the ridges.  

The second is again in the 1890s. The two oxen in harness are being driven trace in tandem and pulling a Ransomes ‘Newcastle’ plough. Again, it is the harness which caught my interest. Unlike the previous picture, this team is being driven by the boy. At first, I thought this picture was from Sussex on the south English coast, however, there are no stone walls like that down there. It could be the limestone Cotswold country of the south-west. If you look at the field behind the plowman you can see heaps of dung waiting to be spread out and plowed in. Bob Powell

Bob added the following two photos, after Barbara Corson and Ed Schultz sent in comments and questions on the first two pictures.

Barb suggests that, in the first photo, the hornless cattle may have been naturally polled and the beast in the furrow might have an udder. Bob’s answer is that they may have been de-horned, as the offside animal looks more like a Beef Shorthorn, and they were pretty dominant at that time. See the attached picture from the same Banff area in the 1930s. Bob has other Scottish images where the cattle are hornless or virtually hornless, but are not Aberdeen Angus. And yes, the nearside animal might have an udder, although it is very difficult to see. It would not be unknown for a cow to have been used in draft.

Barb’s second observation was that the “lead” ox does not appear to have blinders on, but the “wheel” ox does. It is tempting to think it’s because the boy (teamster) would drive the two from a position behind the lead ox and in front of the “wheel” ox…. in which case the lead ox would not be able to see the boy, if wearing blinders. And Bob’s answer:   

Again, your logic on the wearing of ‘blinders’ in this case sounds pretty well on the money. However, to contradict that, I have other pictures where the lead animal is wearing blinkers. See attached (at Cirencester Park). It’s like the argument over whether horses need blinkers or not. Perhaps it’s as simple as how they are trained or the personal preference of the stockman? There was lots of related debate in the past, particularly here in Scotland in relation to horses.

Ed Schultz’ question also concerns blinders, as he wonders whether the nigh ox has his eyes covered. Bob’s answer is no: the photo is not that clear but the way the plowman’s line has pulled back on the halter creates that kind of illusion. Interestingly none of the photos in Bob’s collection have oxen wearing blinkered bridles… unlike England.