johnwood1946

New Brunswick History and Other Stuff

Oxen or Horses? Pick One.

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By JohnWood1946@hotmail.com

Oxen or Horses? Pick One

 Oxen

Many oxen were used for farm work in the early days. In 1795, Jeremiah Tracy had a yoke of oxen, six cows and twenty sheep. He made no mention of horses. Also around that time, Daniel Wood was taxed on 2 oxen, 1 horse, 5 cows and 15 sheep; while his son John was taxed for his property on the southwest Oromocto where he kept two oxen and one cow. Later, in 1852, Abner Mersereau wrote a letter saying that his sons Samuel and Orlo had better not go down river until he got home, because he wanted to send some word by them about selling his oxen.

Not too long ago, older people could tell us that oxen were stronger than horses, but also slower. Oxen were also known for seeking greener pastures, and would wander off and get lost. All of this indicates that each had its advantages. But which was better? The following is from James Cowie’s Essay on the Comparative Advantages of Horses and Oxen in Farm Work, published in the Journal of the Royal Agricultural Society, Volume 5, London, 1845.

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An Essay on the Comparative Advantages in the Employment of Horses and Oxen in Farm Work. By James Cowie, of the Mains of Haulkerton, Laurencekirk, N.B.

Prize Essay

This is a subject which has excited some controversy among agriculturists. Lord Kames wrote elaborately on it, and was at great pains in showing the superior advantages of employing oxen. His observations and calculations are not suited in many respects to the advanced state of husbandry in our day, however valuable they may have been three-quarters of a century ago.

The writer of the following essay is situated in a district of Scotland where oxen are not much used in farm work; but he has for several years past been in the practice of employing them himself; and in the hope that his observations may not be unacceptable to his southern brethren, he has presumed to send them across the Border.

Previously to the discovery of shoeing in the ninth century, Horses’ feet having no protection against the stones and hard ground, and their hoofs not being so durable as those of oxen, the latter almost superseded them in field labour. Even up to the middle of last century, when there were few made roads, and when, consequently, all thoroughfares were nearly impassable for wheel carriages, agricultural produce was carried on the backs of the animals, oxen as well as horses.

It may not be altogether out of place or uninteresting here to allude to the plough-team of former days. The manner of yoking oxen in early times seems to have been to fasten the draught gear to the horns. This barbarous practice extended even to a modern date. Lord Karnes says “People differ in the manner of yoking oxen; in some places they are yoked to the tip of the horn, and in some by the root: these modes are visibly inconvenient. When an ox draws by the shoulder like a horse, his head is free, and his motion natural; when yoked by the horns, he lowers his head to the line of the draught, his posture is constrained, and his step short: his neck indeed is strong, but his shoulder is a better fulcrum for the draught.” This is very cool reasoning certainly. It was well for the poor brutes that the policy and interest of the master chanced to be accordant with humanity. Until about the end of last century, the ordinary collars were not used; a sort of stuffed bow was fastened round the neck, and the single tree lay on the shoulder, to which were fastened the chains for drawing by. The array of numbers and apparent strength employed in a ploughteam would astonish our modern agriculturists. From the earliest times, I presume, up to about the year 1760, as many as from 12 to 20 oxen, and 6 or 8 horses would have been engaged in drawing one plough; this can be partly accounted for otherwise than by the rude and awkward manner of yoking. Before 1770 very little breadth indeed of artificial grasses was sown. The ground was cropped for a succession of years, until the natural grasses, what we now term weeds, got thickly and firmly rooted, the growth of which afforded food during the day in summer for the animals, and at mid-day the ploughmen pulled thistles from among the corn for night provender. In winter the horses were allowed about a feed of oats daily, with oat-straw; the oxen got the latter only. While thus poorly fed, the animals had not strength in the draught, hence the numbers requisite. The farm which I occupy has been tenanted by my ancestors for many generations. At the time of the Revolution my great grandfather, and his son for many years after that, employed 12 working horses, and 28 working oxen, one half of each set being yoked to one plough: I now work the same land to better purpose, I presume, with 6 horses and 2 oxen.

In further discussing this subject, I shall endeavour to treat it in the order pointed out in the conditions:-

1. The Age and Breed of the Horses and Oxen, and the time at which they are first put to Work.

Horses in this country are put to work at three years old; they are often from the commencement worked steadily, although it is considered prejudicial to their future development. I am not aware of the breed of the farm-horse in the middle and northern districts of Scotland being recognized by any particular name. The most perfect figure of a draught-horse is that of the Clydesdale breed; he is distinguished by a short compact body and strong broad bone, these properties being characteristic of strength and durability.

Oxen are put to work somewhat older than horses, and they are not at the outset so able for steady work: they cannot be defended on before they are four years old. Our work oxen are bred principally in the shires of Angus and Aberdeen. The peculiarities in their figure are, a small head, deep chest, round body, and short legs. The largest sizes, although frequently selected for work, are, I conceive, not the most proper. They have naturally small bones in comparison with the size of the body; hence the strength of the limbs and the weight of the carcass do not always correspond in reckoning them as “beasts of burthen.” The weight of my oxen averages about 800 lbs. without the offal, when fed. When much heavier, I find they want activity and endurance, and their feet, from the additional weight, are more apt to give way.

2. The Condition of Horses and Oxen – the Work performed by each and its relative Value – Nature of the Soil where worked.

In all well and economically managed farming establishments, due regard is had to the keeping the horses in good condition. Efficient work can never he performed by ill-fed, ill-groomed animals. The ordinary allowance of food to each horse daily is 16 1bs. of oats, and as much oat-straw as he chooses to eat. My oxen get as many turnips as they can eat. They arc fed four times a day, at 5 a.m. 11 a.m., 6 p.m., and half-past 8 p.m., and at each time they betwixt them 125 lbs., being in all 500 lbs. daily. I often slice the turnips for them, especially at mid-day, when they have little time to eat. They never drink any water even in the hottest days of summer. Both horses and oxen graze in summer; I have not ascertained which of them require the most grass.

In regard to the work performed relatively by horses and oxen, I should say that, except in frost, when the land cannot be ploughed, the amount and value of the work performed by each are equal. Many people who work oxen keep 1 and work each pair only one Half of the day. This is a most expensive system, and were a good selection of the oxen to be made, is quite unnecessary. I never keep more than 2 at one time, and they work 10 hours a-day as steadily all the year over, except in frost, as the horses, and keep in perfectly good condition. We often see oxen going very slow and sluggardly at work; when well trained, and of a proper breed and size, they will step out as well and as fast as horses: mine do so. At a late ploughing-match in the district, where upwards of 70 ploughs started, my ox-team was second off the field. The average period when frost prevents ploughing may be stated at six weeks. During this time, except in the thrashing-mill, oxen are unemployed. The horses are then engaged in carting dung, earth, &c. By calculating the work of the pair of horses, without the man’s wages, as worth 6s a-day, and allowing 1 16s. as the value of the thrashing-mill work performed by the oxen during frost, we have the sum of 9 standing against the latter. It will not do to listen to statements partly speculative and hypothetical, about the capabilities of oxen for drawing wheel-carriages; it is enough for our purpose at present to know that they are not so employed; they are, in the time of frost at all events, unsuited for such a purpose.

The soil best fitted for oxen to tread on is that which is dry and most free from stones. My farm is composed of both clay and black soil, some of the former of which is rather wet, but there are very few stones anywhere. My oxen, although unshod, and working as I have said steadily, never get the least lame, or suffer in the slightest in their feet. On another farm, however, which I occupy, where the soil is more of a clayey nature, and somewhat wet and stony, the hoofs o( the oxen wore, and became tender, and rendered them unfit for steady work. Attempts have been made to shoe them in such circumstances, but the experiment seldom proved satisfactory. The conclusion to which I have come is, that oxen cannot by any management or precaution be profitably employed on wet or stony soil.

3. The Cost of Maintenance and Farriery of each Pair of Horses and Oxen, including the separate Charge of Management.

A horse getting 16 1bs. of oats daily will eat in seven months (the period he requires grain) about 10-1/2 quarters, which in value amounts to nine guineas. A horse wears 5 or 6 sets of shoes annually, which cost 18s; other 5s will be allowance enough for medicine.

In regard to the cost of maintaining working oxen on green food, such as turnips, I have to remark, that the price of that article varies according to the locality where it is grown. I shall reckon the price or value of the ton of turnips at 10s, being the average in an inland district. I have repeatedly ascertained, both now and formerly, the exact quantity of turnips which oxen eat, and find that two daily consume about 500 1bs. being at the rate of a ton in four and a half days, or 17 tons in seven months (the time they require turnips) which in value amounts to 23/ 10s. I make no calculation on the cost of straw. I believe the quantity eaten by a horse and ox to be about equal. The charge of management of horses and oxen is the same. One man has the charge of a pair, and all must be groomed and otherwise attended to alike.

4. The Cost or presumed Value of each Pair of Horses and Oxen with their Gear, when put to work, and their Value at the end Of the Comparison.

A pair of farm-horses, four years old, suitable for all kinds of work, can be bought for 56. Their gear or harness, including the cost of keeping it in repair, amounts to 25s yearly. Should no accident occur, a horse will last twelve years, at the end of which time he is worth about 6. Including the difference between the original purchase and ultimate selling price, together with interest, the sum of 3 10s. is thus lost annually on each horse. There should be added to this at least 30s to cover accidents and deaths.

A pair of oxen, four years old, costs 26. The last pair which I bought cost 24. They have worked regularly for four years, and I am now feeding them for slaughter. I expect to get about 30 for them. They work one day a week at the thrashing-mill, which does not seem to retard their feeding. I would therefore calculate that no actual loss will be sustained on oxen from the time of their being bought and sold. The cost of gear, including keeping in repair, costs 10s annually.

The account of the different items stands thus:—

Expenditure, &c. on a working horse yearly

 

£

s

d

To 10-1/2 quarters of oats at 18s

9

9

0

To deterioration in value, interest on outlay, losses by accidents and death

5

0

0

To shoeing and medical attendance

1

3

0

To furnishing and repairing gear

1

5

0

 

£17

17

0

Expenditure, &c. on a working ox yearly.

 

£

s

d

To 23-1/2 tons of turnips at 18s per ton

11

15

0

To furnishing and repairing gear

0

10

0

To loss on his work during front

4

10

0

To interest on purchase price

0

15

0

 

£17

10

0

In the above table, I have calculated the oats given to the horses at the market price; but the cleanings and inferior grain, which cannot be otherwise disposed of, constitute a considerable portion of their food, and thus the cost on this item can be reduced; otherwise the figures above so nearly correspond, that it rests with the partiality of parties whether they shall employ horses or oxen, or partly both. For my own part, after duly considering the matter, and after the experience of a number of years, I should give the preference to employing horses exclusively. They are ready at all times for all kinds of work; in wet or frosty weather they can be employed in carting, and in leading the crop in harvest they are invaluable and indispensable, while at all these times the oxen are “eating: the bread of idleness.”

= = = = = = = = = =

Having formerly employed both horses and oxen rather largely in farm labour when residing in Germany, my experience would lead me to use the former solely on road work, and the latter in the field, but coupled with the observation that it must be clay land; for, on light soils, I am convinced that horses will do the work more satisfactorily than oxen, and quite as cheaply, unless the farm contains a large portion of rough pasture.

J. French Burke.

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Written by johnwood1946

July 3, 2013 at 10:16 AM

Posted in Uncategorized

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