Draft Cattle Capture a World Audience

Logo designed for the Symposium by silhouette artist ©Lauren Muney

The Draft Cattle Symposium in Lauresham Open-Air Laboratory at the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Kloster Lorsch in Germany, 8-10 March 2024

Draft Cattle Symposium attendees and Lauresham staff members clustering around the stars of the show during the Saturday outdoor demonstrations. See handsome drone views of the Lauresham Open-Air Laboratory grounds in the video at https://www.zugrinder.de/de/terminanzeiger/worlddraftcattlesymposium.html) (Courtesy Lauresham)

To say the very least of this remarkable meeting, it has been “a-building” for many years through efforts from many and varied partners and institutions, among them the AIMA, several of whose members participated. Momentum has been created over some twenty plus years of networking, nearly all of it informal, between the German Working Cattle Group, the even more informal French enthusiasts today centered on the communication hub Attelages Bovins d’Aujourd’hui (Working Cattle Today) and a medley of oxdrivers across Europe, North America and Australia. The challenge of organizing the meeting was taken up by AIMA President Claus Kropp, Director of the Lauresham Open-Air Laboratory, nestled in the Kloster Lorsch UNESCO world heritage site in the Land of Hessen, Germany, so, first of all, a word on the long-term context of place and people.

Copper engraving of Kloster Lorsch and town around 1615 by Matthaeus Merian, DE Wikipedia, public domain

Today, a lively attraction for researchers and the public, once nearly abandoned by the passage of time, the religious establishment housed an eminent scriptorium from the 8th century to the late Middle Ages. Currently, its famous manuscripts are dispersed over a series of libraries, but the handsome catalogue on the yoke exhibit specially created for the colloquium has an illustration of a page highlighting the Latin word for yoke, iugum, in the Lorsch Codex [Note1].

Partial view of the Lauresham reconstructed medieval village
(Photo Cozette Griffin-Kremer)

Throughout its existence, a village sheltered in the protection of the monastic community and this gave rise to the project of reconstituting daily life of the villagers in the 8th-9th century, based on the extensive archaeological excavations that have been carried out on the site, with facilities ideal for both presentation of conference papers and the outdoor demonstrations linked to their themes.

Left: the conference hall in the museum center and Right: Ed Schultz of the ALHFAM and Colonial Williamsburg with his poster, among those in the center lobby (Photos Lauren Muney)

This leads us directly to other networking partnerships involved in building towards the colloquium event: Claus has long been a member of EXARC, the association dedicated to experimental archaeology sites around the world. EXARC has been one of the AIMA’s major friend associations, assuring regular exchange of event announcements and advice. Several EXARC members took part in the academic day for presenting papers on the 8th March, so many, in fact, that there was spillover into the lobby of the Lorsch museum to welcome an extensive series of posters that the authors explained personally to attendees. There was a concentration on archaeological investigation, with mortar-making using cattle draft as just one example, but likewise posters devoted to subjects as varied as using oxen in market gardening, cattle breeds in Canada, preservation of animal handling skills in museums and living history sites, even proposals for linking more humane milk production to work.

The skills preservation topic highlights the participants from another major AIMA partner, the mainly North American ALHFAM (Association for Living History, Farm and Agricultural Museums), as well as entirely independent speakers, discovered by Claus in his Internet searches, such as the professional photographer preserving traditional lifeways in Romania or a guest from Uganda piloting a working oxen group with special emphasis on attention to animal (and human) welfare, more effective tillage equipment and ethical agricultural practices.

The first group of attendees to arrive, visiting the Carolingian gatehouse of the Benedictine Abbey site, guided by Claus Kropp (Photo Lauren Muney)
A glimpse of the masterpieces of meerschaum pipery in the Lorsch Tobacco Museum that covers the history of tobacco-growing and consumption. Once a mainstay of the economy in Lorsch, tobacco is now grown by an enthusiastic group of local volunteers dedicated to preserving the intangible heritage of techniques and their products [2] (Photo Cozette Griffin-Kremer)

If there were 120 registered attendees in the auditorium from 20 countries and people from 26 countries watching online, this was made possible by the support of the German Land of Hessen and broader Kloster Lorsch site, whose director was among the hosts leading the heritage site visits offered to all the conference participants on the Saturday. Nota bene that colloquium attendees had but to flash their badges to benefit from free entry to the two other on-site museums, one truly agricultural in nature – the Tobacco Museum – and another on the archaeological excavations that explore the wealth of the abbey complex’s architectural remnants found in excavating a well.

This is a reminder that the Lauresham Open-Air Laboratory within the Abbey complex is directly accessible from Lorsch town’s market square overlooked by some of the  handsome timber-framed buildings, such as the town hall and the eldest example of these, the Weisses Haus (White House). From evening one, many of the colloquium attendees made the Back- und Brauhaus Drayss restaurant-bar on the square their mainstay for meals, including the Saturday outdoor demonstration day picnic food, contributed by the BBD and among the meeting’s local supporters.

The “We in Lorsch” (“Wir in Lorsch”) posters to be seen in the museum and around town announce the triple mission of the site: valorizing local people and the region, pursuing sustainable and innovative land use, and promoting a sense of regional community.

Participants in the Saturday outdoor demonstrations, before they took their coats off (Photo Lauren Muney)
Left: a “worker” getting a cuddle from one of the Lauresham interns, who are as attentive to the cattle’s well-being as to the safety of the public during demonstrations (Photo C. Griffin-Kremer) and Right: one of the reconstituted Lauresham wagons with a first medley of the yokes shown and explained to the public during the outdoor sessions (Photo Daniel Viry)

By Saturday, we were basking in glorious sunshine, a definite perk for the outdoor demonstrations directly linked to working cattle, the implements and vehicles that fit their aptitude as energy providers, both historical and modern. A particular attraction on this first day outside was watching cattle behavior experts show how to approach and then refine the close contact required for both work at a home farm or in a museum context, to ensure the safety of both handlers and the public. As an aside, but an important one, there was much emphasis on the relationship modern oxdrivers establish with their animal partners, even and especially including a good cuddle given regularly. As Claus emphasized, a nigh invisible example of training the Lauresham cattle is to get them to stand still when humans invariably stop right in front of them, which is definitely a feat, since it is the last place to make a halt, were the animals inexperienced in putting up with their admirers.

Left: Goat team offering rides through the reconstituted medieval village (Photo L. Muney) and Right: Alsatian French oxdriver and cattle breeder Philippe Kuhlmann logging with the Lauresham Vosges cattle team (Photo Astrid Masson)

The basics of wise approach and handling was only the beginning, and the demonstrations of equipment were spread out over the “private” Saturday and the very public Sunday, the 10th of March, when Lauresham opened its regular season, with a first day of free entry. The museum folk had hoped for 2000 visitors – they had over 3000! and there was extra spice in the demonstrations, with a team of eight goats (plus a tag-along) for rides, as well as the demonstration of logging in the site’s forest border area and the excitement for the museum-goers of seeing horses as well as oxen deployed in all kinds of field work over the day.

Left: French attendees André Kammerer and Daniel Viry discussing the PROMMATA equipment with presenter Pascal Durand and Right: putting it to work with German Working Cattle Group member Gerd Döring and his Rhaetian Grey (Photos C. Griffin-Kremer)
Left: Paul Schmit of Luxemburg’s Schaff mat Päerd equipment-makers discussing its merits with Alsatian Philippe Kuhlmann and Right: in the Schaff mat Paerd presentation, yellow implements are still prototypes and green are market-ready (Photos C. Griffin-Kremer)

The specialist presentations of equipment provided the opportunity to display and discuss ready-to-work implements, as from PROMMATA, the French developers’ group among the leaders in products for mechanized small farming or market gardening, or the Luxemburg group Schaff mat Paerd (Work with Horses), dedicated to promoting both human and working animal welfare in the form of ergonomically oriented and effective equipment. Among the most interesting aspects of the implement presentations was showing of both market-ready, tested pieces, and prototypes, both of which gave rise to day-long conversations between producers and potential or actual users.

Left: volunteers demonstrating textile creation from A to Z during the Sunday opening day for the public (Photo L. Muney) and Right: children in one of the Lauresham Center’s activities rooms learning how to do card-weaving. These are the rooms with exhibit windows looking onto the Center’s corridor (Photo C. Griffin-Kremer)

There was no dearth of demonstrations involving old “technologies”, adapted to new. Of course, the Lauresham staff showed off some of the laboratory’s outstanding reconstructions of vehicles and tools, explaining how these fit into the site’s reconstituted buildings – barns, granaries, the various pit-houses and the essential hurdle fencing that visitors could participate in constructing. The Lauresham site regularly focuses on direct engagement of visitors, be it through hands-on participation in textile processes or a special activities event for children, such as card-weaving (also called tablet-weaving) on the Sunday.

To make the visitor experience even more bonding with the special exhibit on yokes, some of the pieces were exhibited in “windows” that looked into the room where children were concentrating on their weaving cards, an integrative concept other museums could well be attracted towards, if their facilities permit it. The Lauresham visitor center itself is a paragon of energy balance design, so that the sustainably oriented site puts everyday practice on display to its public.

Saturday evening inauguration of the exhibit Yoke – Joug – Ayoko / A cultural history of the yoke through the millennia (10 March-28 April 2024) (Photo C. Griffin-Kremer)

The yoke exhibit was inaugurated for the conference attendees during the Friday papers session by conservation experts in a 5-minute masterpiece video showing a yoke in the Slovene Ethnographic Museum, from its day-one gifting to restoration and finished museum piece, proudly exhibited among the other Slovene contributions to the Lauresham exhibit. Those pieces were displayed beside yokes of nearly every type – from single head yoke to Chinese fork yoke, representing some 15+ countries – accompanied by careful explanation labels on provenance and functioning, as well as chapter headings discussing yokes from seven perspectives. Particular emphasis was placed on the impressive local diversity of solutions for harnessing oxen.

Left: centerpiece of the yoke exhibit (Photo L. Muney) and Right: the yoke exhibit was enhanced by photographs by Romanian traditional life and heritage photographer Vlad Dumitrescu (Photo C. Griffin-Kremer) and the exhibit catalog draws on archive materials from institutions like the Slovene Ethnographic Museum or the international photo library of AIMA member Paul Starkey, and numerous other photographers, as well as art works from museums worldwide.

Not to forget the present, the exhibit had a video of one of the most active members of the German Working Cattle Group being interviewed by Claus, and this recalled the years-long networking contacts among the German speakers, the French and people or groups from Belgium, Switzerland, Luxemburg and North America, with a special visit from Galician (Spain) oxdrivers to Lauresham.

Left: a Rhaetian Grey patiently awaiting the chance to demonstrate logging on the Sunday opening day (Photo D. Viry) and Right: German Working Cattle pillar Gerd Döring and his two Greys on the starting block (Photo L. Muney)

The German group deployed one of its favorite cattle breeds, very close in appearance to the medieval illuminated manuscripts that indicate fairly small animals at the withers, but very robust. This is Lauresham’s own Raetian Grey oxen and cows (also called Albula Greycattle) and one of the German oxdrivers brought his family’s team to show its style in the field work demonstrations and trialing of modern tillage implements. An especially effective match was provided by the presence during a part of the public day on Sunday of these handsome animals right beside their breed’s promotion association, Das rätische Grauvieh / Albula, and the stand of the G.E.H. (Gesellschaft zur Erhaltung alter und gefährdeter Haustierrassen e.V.) the larger German group dedicated to preservation of local cattle, and other farm animal, breeds.

Left: Matthias Höwer (on right) with his Fritz (Photo C. Griffin-Kremer) and Right: a table full of oxen from the Lorsch Museum shop (Photo L. Muney)

Another of the German oxdrivers – featured in the interview video in the yoke exhibit – brought his Glanrind red ox [3], Fritz, to tower over the Greys that are the models for the Lauresham stuffed toy oxen souvenirs. As a reminder that this partnership of human and animal worker is also at times fragile, the German oxdriver specialized in forest logging meant to attend with his Fleckvieh ox [4] but the animal died unexpectedly. The other members of the German Working Oxen Group are encouraging him to begin again with a young animal. He was scheduled to demonstrate logging alongside the Alsatian French oxdriver who works with the Vosges cattle breed [5]. The Vosgienne, with the Raetian Grey, are promoted as among the only bovines still bred for triple purpose – meat, milk and energy [6]. As a sign of optimum working relations, the ox David celebrated his birthday with a special cake, eaten by his humans.

Left: Claus with David’s birthday cake (Photo L. Muney) and Right: Philippe Kuhlmann’s integrated pad yokes (Photo A. Masson), also illustrated in the Yoke catalog, p. 73.
Left: Véronique and Michel Nioulou with her fly masks and the yoke Michel was working on during the Sunday opening day for the public. NB other types of yokes on display brought by the French team (Photo C. Griffin-Kremer) and Right: musician and yoke-maker Gilles Péquignot discussing a completed piece with Barbara Sosič, AIMA member and Head of the Agricultural Collection at the Slovene Ethnographic Museum, a major contributor to the yoke exhibit and catalogue (Photo L. Muney)

The Alsatian oxdriver, who has been a guest of the Germans more than once, also participated actively in the indoor discussions and the outdoor explanations of harness, since one of his own inventions – an integrated forehead pad and yoke – was in the exhibit. The discussion went on outdoors as well, beside the pieces brought by the two French yoke-makers to demonstrate their craft for the oxen folk on Saturday and the general public on Sunday. There was also an outdoor display of handmade fly masks, for which there is a whole geography of types in France, an essential addition to the welfare of working oxen. Among the liveliest of conversations throughout the meeting was the optimum of comfort for the animals and ease of management for the handlers in using harness, especially the yokes or collars. Needless to say, this discussion is far from over, as witnessed by presentation in the yoke exhibit catalogue of a current effort to pursue improvement on the adjustable 3-pad collar that is the pride of German oxdrivers [7].

Left: the Lauresham blacksmith and farrier making ox-cues (Photo C. Griffin-Kremer) and Right: with various stages of the work on display (Photo L. Muney)

This is not to bypass other participants from countries represented in Lorsch, such as India, Uganda, the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxemburg, Spain, China or Namibia, Cuba, Ireland, Italy or Austria. As networking has long been going on with North America and especially the United States, it was no surprise to have guests from major museums or living history sites, such as Colonial Williamsburg, Howell Living History Farm or The Henry Ford, where working with animals is portrayed for specific historical periods. Such powerhouses of public education are likewise careful, as is Lauresham, to provide as full a context for working animals as they can. At Lorsch, much is done for the broader context of working the land, reconstructing the appropriate buildings, vehicles and implements, and having skills such as the blacksmith-farrier on the scene, since shoeing oxen (depending on the working context) can be an essential factor in their wellbeing.

Left: just a glimpse of the discussion of whether or not osteological analysis of cattle remains could indicate yoking and Right: Jim Slining from Tillers International on forging relevant models of agriculture using draft animal power (Photos L. Muney)

Full circle back to the papers presented in the Friday session, as first in line were the archaeologists taking up precisely this question of physical health: is it possible to detect the use of harness in the remains of cattle? This related directly to the first keynote evoking the close relation between working animals and the human community they are partners of. The historical session that followed the archaeologists and their various bones, spoke of documents, museum practices and the accompanying ethnological enquiries, transmission of skills through film and the strange absence of visibility of working animals in present-day policy discourse. This was a fertile prelude to the following session with its discussion of the role of living history farms and museums in insuring the acquisition of animal handling skills, then a keynote and session on working with oxen in the context of cultural heritage and improvement of farmers’ lives around the world.

Typical of the overarching concern with human and animal well-being is the Oxen Clinic Uganda, which aims at introducing innovative practices of conservation agriculture, efficient, locally produced farming tools and an improved neck yoke to better farming communities’ lives [8].

It was in the contributions of the participants from India that there was a real parallel of concerns with those broached during the AIMA India Congress in October of 2023, especially on land use. This dovetailed with exploration of present-day use of oxen in farming and market gardening in Europe, India, Africa and North America, as well as attention to preservation of cattle breeds in their role of regional identity markers. These highly practical concerns were extended into the final session of papers dealing with effective application of agro-ecological principles and other future-oriented strategies using animal power. It is worth noting that several presenters stressed the role of cattle in various cultures on the level of religion and symbolic representations, as well as in the festive calendar and life cycle events. That is, working cattle are seen as just that – co-workers in a partnership with humankind – with working together efficiently with the well-being of human and animal in healthy communities as foremost.

The diversity of issues dealt with echoed back to the colloquium’s opening interventions, from near and far: the Land Hessen Palace and Garden administration and the other patrons also leading efforts in agricultural sustainability, localization and environmentally sensitive farming. For all of us and our friends, anxious to read the full papers and poster materials, the proceedings will come out in 2025, and the new volume will surely be as attractive and informative as the one on Draft Animals in Past, Present and Future, published by the University of Heidelberg [9].

Guided tour for first arrivals, posing around one of the stars of the show (Photo L. Muney)

One point that clearly emerged from the meeting is the current dynamism of the entire movement to promote working cattle (and working animals) in the context of today’s efforts at encouraging small farming – one of the keynote speakers is among the leading proponents, alongside experts in France and elsewhere, on integrating animal traction into agro-ecological or other practices opening onto new futures in agriculture or market gardening. The question that arose repeatedly was – what’s next?: how to effectuate a passage from these many threads of smaller-scale experience towards much more on-the-ground, economically realistic use of animal energy for farmers worldwide.

In any case, there is now a place and the means to centralize information, research and training, since one concrete result of the Draft Cattle Symposium is the founding of a Center for Working Cattle Research and Training at the Lauresham Open-Air Laboratory in Lorsch.

Cozette Griffin-Kremer

As of 30 March 2024, the German Working Cattle website has two videos online with highlights from the indoor presentations, outdoor demonstrations and interviews with English-speaking attendees on their impressions at https://www.zugrinder.de/de/terminanzeiger/worlddraftcattlesymposium.html (scroll down for videos). A second report is likewise available from Dr. Devinder K. Sadana for the RRAN team here: https://tinyurl.com/4a3rt5wt with ample photos of both people and work. Our thanks to both.

Special thanks to the attendees who contributed photos: Astrid Masson, Lauren Muney and Daniel Viry

As a reminder of the unforeseen element in organizing any meeting, the arrival day for many participants was the Thursday, 7 March, when both the German railroad system and Lufthansa airline were on strike….

The quiet medieval village in Lauresham at Kloster Lorsch awaiting its public                              and the symposium attendees on Sunday morning (Photo C. Griffin-Kremer)


All weblinks were accessible as of 30 March 2024

1.Yoke-Joug-Ayoko, A cultural history of the yoke through the millennia, Catalogue accompanying the special exhibit from 10 March to 28 April 2024, p.14 in excerpt from the Lorsch Codex (ca. 4thquarter of 12th century CE) on Abbot Henry’s will, Staatsarchiv Würzburg, Mainzer Bücher verschiedenen Inhalts 72 (Codex Laureshamensis), 34v.

2.Lorsch Tobacco Museum at https://kulturverein-lorsch.de/tabakmuseum and see the team of volunteers at https://kulturverein-lorsch.de/tabakmuseum/tabakprojekt (NB click on translate function for English version).

3.You can read more about Glan Cattle at the English Wikipedia site HERE, but check out the German Wikipedia article as well.

4.You can read more about Fleckvieh at the English Wikipedia HERE including links to other languages.

5.This breed is also called Vosgienne in French Wikipedia https://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vosgienne

6.Rhaetian Grey Cattle (or Albula Greycattle) are described as the “allrounders from Switzerland”, but are now promoted more widely, See the German promotion group website at https://ig-grauvieh-deutschland.org/ in German and English.

7.Yoke-Joug-Ayoko, A cultural history of the yoke through the millennia, Exhibit 44: Prototype combined collar, p. 74.

8.You can read more on the goals of the Oxen Clinic Uganda at https://www.oxenclinicuganda.com/

9.Draft Animals in Past, Present and Future https://books.ub.uni-heidelberg.de/propylaeum/catalog/book/1120