Using an upside-down horse collar on cattle

From Island Farm located on Roanoke Island on the coast of North Carolina.

Our mutual friend, Ed Schultz, shared some photos with you of our bit-trained ox, Charlie. I realize just how unusual it is to train an ox in this way and how fascinated people are to see or hear of it, particularly folks who work with oxen in the more common and traditional way. From what I’ve been able to learn, this was a sort of backwoods tradition in America that, while rare even in the old days, was not unheard of. Since working oxen in general are more rare today, this method is even more so.

Gene Staples, Site Manager, Island Farm 

Photos by kind permission, Roanoke Island Photography

These pictures from Gene Staples and Ed Schultz gleaned some interesting reactions from other horsemen and ox-drivers.

First, a comment from Emmanuel De Meulenaer, a Belgian horse-master, who writes:

In our area we used to drive the cows like a horse, with a choke rein and bridle. It’s funny to see that he turned around an American and a Swedish collar to fit the animal and to have the pulling point on top. We had special cow collars and they are easy to recognise…. with the pulling point 1/3 from the top and not 1/3 from the bottom.

Rolf Minhorst, the German specialist on development and use of the 3-pad cow collar, adds his comments and suggestions, summarized here.

These photos provide an opportunity to comment on the difference between cattle and horse anatomy and careful attention to the morphology of a cow shows why an upside-down horse collar cannot really work well in cattle. A cow only pulls well with its neck and shoulders, whereas a horse pulls with its wide chest (and shoulders). If you look carefully at the picture with the wagon, you can see that the collar is too wide, so that it slides around and down, as well as exerting too much pressure on the bow (shoulder) joint. Also, the ends of the drawbars should be slightly bent outwards. Here in the picture, they rub on the upper limb. In the picture with the lady, the pad on the neck is too narrow and presses in, because the collar does not fit, again putting too much pressure on the shoulder joint.

Our thanks to Ed, Gene, Manu and Rolf for this exchange, in hopes they will continue with more pictures and information on various techniques of cattle draft.