Ox Horn Knobs and Ox Tips
Ox Horn Knobs and Ox Tips

Ox Horn Knobs

by Tim Huppe

In North America, horn knobs have been fixed to cattle for over 150 years. It is likely in foreign countries that horn knobs adorned the horns of oxen for several hundred years. In some regions they are called horn buttons or horn balls. I have seen the knobs made of steel and aluminum, but most commonly are made of brass. The styles and shapes run from simple hex shaped like those used in New England to multi-layered shapes and quite ornate like those used in Nova Scotia, Europe, and South America.

Most horn knobs have the same basic components:

First, threaded and tapered inside bore. Cattle horns are tapered on the ends and the knobs screw onto the horns sometimes with little or no preparation. More often than not, rasping, filing, and sanding is needed to get the proper fit. Once the knob is satisfactorily in place, set screws, brads, and epoxy are used to keep the knob from backing out of position.

Second, most knobs are turned down to shape using metal lathes. The size the inside bore needs to be, dictates the diameter of bar stock initially chosen. A traditional New England style open-ended horn knob starts out as 1 1/8” diameter hexagon bar stock. The hexagon-shaped surface is left intact above the rounded shank so that a wrench can be used to tighten the knob on the horn.

(Note: Caution should be used when tightening the knob onto the horn. Too much pressure will crack or break the horn.)

Third, above the hex shape (or top of knob) is where the greatest variations in styles are demonstrated. Knobs can have large rounded tops, shallow tapered tops with a 3/8” hole in the end, ornate tops which may have colored marbles or ceramic inlaid. I have seen many dozens of different styles.

Why use horn knobs?

#1 – Safety. The tips of a bovine’s horns can be quite dangerous. Even the best trained cattle can swing their head, injuring the teamster, an innocent bystander or another animal. A dominant steer or ox is much less overbearing to its pasture mates when wearing horn knobs.

#2 – Ornamental. When properly fitted and polished the horn knobs add to the attractiveness of the animal.

#3 – It is common for cattle to do damage to a horn. They will fight one another, rub their horns on a tree, or the corner of a barn, etc. Once the end of a horn is broken off or subjected to a lateral crack, some horn preparation and the mounting of horn knobs can keep the horn from further damage.

Ox Horn Knobs and Ox Tips
Art Scruton with his magnificent team of Chianina.

Ox Tips

#1 – When working cattle in the yoke, keep the communication as simple as possible. Speak to the cattle in a conversational tone and volume and only ramping up when necessary.

#2 – Avoid working un-shod cattle on crushed gravel and crushed stone, particularly if the cattle are kept in a wet pasture or wet paddock. If their hooves begin to break up, they will get sore and the team will often times begin ‘hauling out’, while in the yoke. Avoid using crushed gravel and crushed stone in cattle turn-out areas. ‘Broken up’ hooves are more likely to get foot rot than solid hooves.

#3 – Before injections are given to your working cattle (those that are worked in a neck yoke), bring it to the veterinarian’s attention that the bow will be riding along the neck and against the shoulders. The veterinarian will give the shot in an alternate location.

#4 – When moving up in neck yoke size as the cattle grow, it is advisable to only add one inch of bow width each time. Too much space within the bow can cause a sore neck.

#5 – Keep a spare bow pin in your pocket when working cattle away from the barn. If for any reason a pin slides out of the bow, it is nice to have a spare handy. A missing bow pin is a breakdown.

#6 – When using sliding (adjustable) ring assemblies on a yoke, be sure to check the tightness of the nuts occasionally. If the ring slides sideways unnoticed, it can put a great increase of load on one ox or the other.

#7 – Avoid working cattle in a yoke that has a crack in the neck piece. Fill the crack with a wood filler and sand smooth.

#8 – Do not work cattle in a yoke with the neck straps still on. The buckle can lodge beneath the neck piece or bow, creating a sore. Even the leather strap rubbing between the equipment and neck can cause a sore.

#9 – If you plan to drive your cattle with a whip, there are a few basic rules to follow:

  • Do not use a lash that is any longer than needed to do the job.
  • Practice handling the whip before driving cattle.
  • Hold the lash within your grasp against the stock of the whip when working in close contact with the cattle.
  • Do not let the lash drag on the ground. It can get caught under their hooves when you need it the most.

#10 – Pulling chains covered with old fire hose are much less likely to injure the animal’s legs while turning a load.