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Small Farmer's Journal
PO Box 1627
Sisters, Oregon 97759
800-876-2893
541-549-2064
agrarian@smallfarmersjournal.com
Mon - Thu, 8am - 4pm PDT

Logging with Oxen in New Hampshire
Logging with Oxen in New Hampshire

Durhams, Star and Lion, hooked to forecart pulling pine log.

Logging with Oxen in New Hampshire

by Tim Huppe of Farmington, NH
photos by Drew Conroy

In 1906, there were 87 pair of oxen on Meaderboro Road. Most of the teams were used daily, working in the woods or on the farms.

This part of New Hampshire with its stony ground and hilly terrain made the ox well suited for land clearing and plowing. Over time, the small hill farms raising sheep for the once thriving wool industry were abandoned, leaving empty cellar holes and small pastures to grow to woods.

The farmers with good tillable ground and ample hay land switched to using horses for their traction power.

Frank Scruton, who is now 89 years old, worked oxen his entire life. He spent winters working cattle in the woodlot in the winter and in the maple orchard during sugaring season. He would plow and pick rocks on newly harrowed ground using a team pulling a wooden stoneboat. Between milkings or in the evening, Frank and his son, Arthur, exercised the oxen conditioning them for competition pulling at the New England fairs.

Frank clearly remembers his father, Arthur, hauling cordwood from the ‘old farm’ over the road using oxen to the mills in Farmington, seven miles away. The wood was burned for fuel and his father would return to the mills in the spring, load the wood ash on an ox cart and haul it back to his farm and spread it on the fields. He also hauled many loads of four foot firewood to the brickyards in Gonic to fire the kiln operations.

Frank’s grandfather, John Frank’s farm was on the side of Blue Job Mountain. He had gone over the mountain to visit his brother at the ‘home place’ in the town of Strafford. Of course, those were the days before weather forecasts and he was unaware of the severity of the coming snow storm.

During the night’s stay, the snow became heavy and continued into the next day. Needing to head to his farm in the morning, John Frank turned the cattle loose. They marched single file over the mountain path. The white out conditions made it impossible to see the trail, but the oxen had sense enough to find the farm a few miles away.

Logging with Oxen in New Hampshire

Tim Huppe demonstrating yoking a pair of oxen.

Les Barden, 84 years old, purchased his Meaderboro Road farm in 1960. He bought the farm from the Huckins family. They raised good Milking Shorthorn cattle and kept and worked oxen. Les purchased the farm with a small herd of the Huckin’s milking stock. For the first two years, Les did not own a bucket loader tractor. All of the manure from the dairy barn was hauled to the fields using a team of oxen and an ox cart. When he needed sawdust for bedding, he would hook the team to the cart and walk to neighboring woodlots where portable sawmills had been operating. He would shovel on a load of sawdust and return home.

Les spent his days in the woods cutting firewood and white birch boltwood. The firewood was to heat his large house and there were many cords for resale. The birch boltwood was sold to a handle factory in Farmington. These additional income sources were made possible using his oxen.

Logging with Oxen in New Hampshire

Darin Tschopp, ox teamster from Colonial Williamsburg.

Frank Pinkham had a small farm. He raised a large garden and spent his days working full time as a logger using oxen. He made a good living and enjoyed competing in ox pulls as a pastime.

My father and I hauled firewood from our woodlot using cattle. I have had teams since I was very young and had the opportunity to learn teamstering from the men I spoke of and many others.

In the mid 90’s, my daughters began competing with their working steers at the local and state fairs. They were members of a very active 4-H group which focused on training and working cattle.

Along with competing at the fairs, they attended field days, hauling ice, twitching firewood and logs, plowing ground, and hauling maple sap. Even the parents, who may never have owned a team, became quite involved and many of them have become teamsters themselves.

We were using traditional equipment such as stoneboats, logging scoots, sleds, lizards, ox carts, and tillage equipment such as forecarts and logging arches were demonstrated.

Our field days were well attended by the general public. It was only natural that people interested in working cattle would show up at our gatherings and have many questions. More often than not, they would be driving a team by the end of the day.

Not only were our gatherings of interest to the local and regional community, but began drawing attention of the newspapers, magazines, and television stations.

We began getting requests from people throughout the country as to where they could attend classes and workshops to learn about training working cattle.

Logging with Oxen in New Hampshire

Going through obstacle course at Sanborn Mills Farm workshop.

We decided it was time to conduct an ox training workshop. The first move I made was to contact friend, Drew Conroy, to see if he would join us in this endeavor. Drew had published two books on training oxen and written dozens of articles. He had traveled around the country and abroad educating people about the advantages of using steers and oxen for traction power. Drew was on board and the planning began.

Conducting workshops such as this presents many challenges. There needed to be an experienced staff, a good location, the ability to house and feed a large group of people, access to steer and ox teams of all training levels and barns to house them, and much more.

In the early years, we held the workshops at the beautiful Remick Farm & Museum in Tamworth, NH, located in the foothills of the White Mountains.

I began working at Sanborn Mills Farm in Loudon, NH, in April of 2005. Owners, Colin and Paula Cabot, felt the oxen training workshops would fit in well with their mission and goals for the farm. They have been hosting the workshops ever since.

In August of each year, we conduct a workshop geared to the novice teamster. These workshops last two or three days. The participants generally arrive the evening before the first day of classes. It is an opportunity to get to know the staff, see the cattle they will be working with, and enjoy homemade desserts.

We encourage the participants to bring their teams if they wish. The ample barn space at Sanborn Mills Farm can easily house the ten or so staff teams as well as visiting teams. Our staff is made up of men and women who have been working and training cattle for many years and quite often their entire lives. They bring their well-trained teams to be used by the participants. There is an instructor with every person working a team.

Logging with Oxen in New Hampshire

Colin Cabot of Sanborn Mills Farm.

The cattle are fed at 6:30a.m. After the barn is cleaned, everyone heads to the ‘Red House’ for breakfast. All meals are prepared by Colin and Paula, my wife Wendy, and our family. The food is very good and there is plenty.

For those individuals arriving on the first morning of the workshop, they will register and get their room assignments. We can house fourteen people in the two large houses. Often times, participants will camp on the farm or stay at a hotel nearby.

After registration, the participants and staff introduce themselves. A talk about safety around cattle is given and the classes begin. Training stations are set up around the site where two or more instructors work with small groups of participants. Subjects such as selecting a team, halter training, basics of yoking, commands, and training in the yoke are covered. Yoked teams are at every station and once the students have had the opportunity to interact and ask questions, their group moves onto the next station.

After lunch the instructors will set up training stations with cattle working on different pieces of equipment, such as ox carts, stoneboats, logging scoots, and more. This gives the students the opportunity to drive cattle that have different levels of training.

Chore time is a good time for the students to talk one on one with the instructors about specific problems they may be having with their cattle or questions about starting a team.

After dinner, Drew often presents a slide show and recounts tales of his travels seeking out how oxen are used around the globe.

Following his presentation, he and I lead a roundtable discussion with staff and workshop participants.

When we return to the barn for an evening check on the animals, everyone gathers for music, laughter, and an endless stream of ox tales. Sitting on bales of hay or in lawn chairs, they are surrounded by teams of steers and oxen in the beautiful New England style, post and beam barn. The participants that showed up to the workshop nervous and not knowing what to expect are now relaxed and sharing their stories with individuals or the whole group.

It is not uncommon for this talk of legends and lore to go into the early hours of the morning.

No matter how late we stay up, chores are at 6:30 a.m. After Sunday morning breakfast, the participants yoke the teams, hook to logging equipment and head to the woods. The woods are a good place to demonstrate meaningful work with a team and observe the body language and commands used to maneuver a team. Under the watchful eye of an instructor the students haul firewood and logs from deep in the woods to the landing.

After lunch participants can drive their choice of teams through an obstacle course set up in the barnyard.

Those individuals who have never driven cattle, by the second day, are now quite comfortable driving a team without an instructor close by.

The logging workshop held in the fall, usually at the end of October, has the same basic format. It runs three days, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday and is attended by both novice and more experienced teamsters.

On Friday, we cover chainsaw safety. The instructor is a licensed forester and professional logger. Participants then yoke and drive the many teams of cattle to get familiar with their level of training. We then move onto discuss the various types of logging equipment.

After lunch the participants yoke the cattle and head to the woods to haul firewood and logs by twitching, using forecarts, and go-devils.

We recognize that we have few teamsters left that once made their living using only oxen and horses for hauling in the woods. One such individual is Leon Sharp. Leon joins us on Saturday morning and instructs the participants how to forward logs without wasting energy. A session about managing your woodlot is held and then it is back to logging for the balance of the day.

Sunday morning finds us back in the woods logging and in the afternoon as with each workshop, there is a walking tour of Sanborn Mills Farm and a demonstration of the water-powered sawmill.

Everyone that attends the workshop seems to have a different goal in mind. They may want to train a team for the first time or maybe to strengthen skills they already have. Some have the desire to use only animal power in their woodlot. Many are looking for a break from their busy lives and to spend time with like-minded individuals.

The friendships formed will last a long time. The ‘new ox teamster’ will face challenges and have unanswered questions when working their team and they can always call a workshop instructor for assistance.

I hear time and time again at the outset of each workshop, “I don’t know anything about working oxen.” And I say, “There is no more fun than being a beginner.” Myself and the staff get great pleasure in sharing our knowledge of working steers and oxen.

For as long as there are those interested in working cattle, the men I mentioned early in this article will not be forgotten. I believe there will always be cattle worked on small farms and in the woods.

Logging with Oxen in New Hampshire

Spotlight On: How-To & Plans

Horseshoeing Part 1A

Horseshoeing Part 1A

Horseshoeing, though apparently simple, involves many difficulties, owing to the fact that the hoof is not an unchanging body, but varies much with respect to form, growth, quality, and elasticity. Furthermore, there are such great differences in the character of ground-surfaces and in the nature of horses’ work that shoeing which is not performed with great ability and care induces disease and makes horses lame.

Horseshoeing Part 1B

Horseshoeing Part 1B

Since the horse is useful to man only by reason of his movements, his foot deserves the most careful attention. The horse-shoer should be familiar with all its parts. Fig. 3 shows the osseous framework of the foot, consisting of the lower end of the cannon bone, the long pastern, the two sesamoid bones, the short pastern, and the pedal bone.

"Work Horse Handbook, 2nd Edition" by Lynn Miller

Draft Collars and How To Size Them

It is difficult to accurately measure a horse’s neck without fitting. In other words, there are so many variables involved in the shape and size of a horse’s neck that the only accurate and easy way to size the neck is to use several collars and put them on one at a time until fitting is found.

Harvesting Rainwater

Harvesting Rainwater

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from issue:

Collecting rainwater for use during dry months is an ancient practice that has never lost its value. Today, simple water collection systems made from recycled food barrels can mean a free source of non-potable water for plants, gardens, bird baths, and many other uses. Rainwater is ideal for all plants because it doesn’t contain dissolved minerals or added chemicals. One inch of rain falling on a 1,000 square foot roof yields approximately 600 gallons of water.

Horseshoeing Part 2B

Horseshoeing Part 2B

If we observe horses moving unrestrained over level ground, we will notice differences in the carriage of the feet. Many deviations in the line of flight of hoofs and in the manner in which they are set to the ground occur; for example, horses heavily burdened or pulling heavy loads, and, therefore, not having free use of their limbs, project their limbs irregularly and meet the ground first with the toe; however, careful observation will detect the presence of one or the other of these lines of flight of the foot.

Laying Out Fields For Plowing

Laying Out Fields For Plowing

from issue:

Before starting to plow a field much time can be saved if the field is first staked out in uniform width lands. Methods that leave dead furrows running down the slope should be avoided, as water may collect in them and cause serious erosion. The method of starting at the sides and plowing around and around to finish in the center of the field will, if practiced year after year, create low areas at the dead furrows.

The Farm & Bakery Wagon

The Farm & Bakery Wagon

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The first step was to decide on an appropriate chassis, or “running gear.” Eventually I chose to go with the real deal, a wooden-wheeled gear with leaf springs rather than pneumatic tires. Wooden wheels last forever with care and are functional and look the part. I bought an antique delivery wagon that had been left outdoors as an ornament. I was able to reuse some of the wheels and wooden parts of the running gear.

Horse Powered Snow Scoop

Horse Powered Snow Scoop

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The scoop has two steel sides about 5 feet apart sitting on steel runners made out of heavy 2 X 2 angle iron, there is a blade that is lowered and raised by use of a foot release which allows the weight of the blade to lower it and then lock in the down position and the forward motion of the horses to raise it and lock it in the up position. This is accomplished by a clever pivoting action where the tongue attaches to the snow scoop.

Moving Bees

Moving Bees

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Moving beehives from one location to another is often a necessary step in apiary management. Commercial beekeepers routinely move large numbers of hives often during a season, to pollinate crops, avoid pesticide applications or to utilize specific honey flows. Beekeeping hobbyists may also move bees to distant honey flows or pollination sites, or to bring home a newly purchased hive.

McCormick Deering/International No 7 vs no 9

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McCormick Deering/International’s first enclosed gear model was the No. 7, an extremely successful and highly popular mower of excellent design.

Permanent Corncribs

A short piece on the construction of corncribs.

The Milk and Human Kindness Making Camembert

The Milk and Human Kindness: Making Camembert

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Camembert is wonderful to make, even easy to make once the meaning of the steps is known and the rhythm established. Your exceptionally well fed, housed and loved home cow will make just the best and cleanest milk for this method. A perfect camembert is a marvelous marriage of flavor and texture. The ripening process is only a matter of a few weeks and when they’re ripe they’re ripe and do not keep long.

Barn Raising

Barn Raising

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from issue:

Here it was like a beehive with too many fuzzy cheeked teen-agers who couldn’t possibly be experienced enough to be of much help. But work was being accomplished; bents, end walls and partitions were being assembled like magic and raised into place with well-coordinated, effortless ease and precision. No tempers were flaring, no egomaniacs were trying to steal the show, and there was not the usual ten percent doing ninety percent of the work.

Soil, Vegetation, and Acidity

From Dusty Shelves: Audels Gardeners and Growers Guide teaches us about soil acidity.

The Milk and Human Kindness Caring For The Pregnant Cow

The Milk and Human Kindness: Caring for the Pregnant Cow

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from issue:

Good cheese comes from happy milk and happy milk comes from contented cows. So for goodness sake, for the sake of goodness in our farming ways we need to keep contentment, happiness and harmony as primary principles of animal husbandry. The practical manifestations of our love and appreciation are what make a small farm. Above and beyond the significant requirements of housing, feed and water is the care of your cow’s emotional life, provide for her own fulfillment. Let her raise her calf!

Sack Sewing with Wayne Ryan

Sack Sewing with Wayne Ryan

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Watching Wayne’s sure hands it was easy for me to forget that this is a 91 year old man. There was strength, economy, elegance and thrift in his every stroke.

Building an Inexpensive Pole Barn

Building an Inexpensive Pole Barn

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from issue:

The inside of the barn can be partitioned into stalls of whatever size we need, using portable panels secured to the upright posts that support the roof. We have a lot of flexibility in use for this barn, making several large aisles or a number of smaller stalls. We can take the panels out or move them to the side for cleaning the barn with a tractor, or for using the barn the rest of the year for machinery.

Small Farmer's Journal

Small Farmer's Journal
PO Box 1627
Sisters, Oregon 97759
800-876-2893
541-549-2064
agrarian@smallfarmersjournal.com
Mon - Thu, 8am - 4pm PDT