Cy and Don were born to big, rugged cows and were sired by the same bull. Their body type was what we refer to as old fashioned. They had long bodies, deep and wide chests, and thick, straight legs. They were straight along the top of their backs and wide across the forehead. The old ox men would say a team built like Cy and Don were, “square as a brick and smooth as a trout.”
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.
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.
The culture of the ox was rich across New England. On my road alone there were several good ox men for me to learn from, and many more in the surrounding area. Even the men who were too old to still be working cattle, would give of their time telling us stories of when working cattle was economically practical.
For centuries, the skills of training steers for work and the craft of building yokes and related equipment was passed down from generation to generation. It was common for a young boy or girl to be responsible for the care and training of a team from calves to the age of working capability. Many farms trained a team each year, either for sale or for future replacement in their own draft program.