Tuesday, March 25, 2008


I took grip of the ox team's steering wheel for the first time today (as Rob looked on like a nervous man letting a youngster take his prized Mustang out for a joyride.) At my prodding and pleading, the team pulled a disc harrow across ground we've already plowed – breaking up any big clumps of soil in order to get ready for a final flattening and then planting.

There are several ways to influence oxen to go in the direction you might wish them to go. The first is voice commands – "Haw" means go left, "Gee" go right, "Come" means come, and "Whoa" means stop.

The second tool is the ox whip. Hitting an ox on the back with the whip will clue them to go faster, on the snout to slow them down, and on the front of the front legs to slow them further or make them back up.

Finally, there is body position. Walking alongside and slightly in front of the head of the nigh ox (the ox on the left of the team) signals the team that all is well and they should continue on straight. Hanging back alongside the flank of the nigh ox signals the team to turn left, and walking up in front of the team tells them to turn right.

On my first time out, I found that my voice commands were mostly useless, and that the random flailing of the whip in my right hand did little to help me communicate my desires. Body position was my most effective weapon. I walked where I wanted the oxen to go, and sometimes they followed.