It is my understanding that an “Oxen” is nothing more than a castrated male bull cow or cattle. And in fact any cow or cattle will do as an “Oxen”. There isn’t a special “Oxen” breed bred just to become an “Ox”. However, I was wondering if just an ordinary, non-castrated male, or, better yet, a non-castrated female cow would work just as well as an “Oxen”?
An intact bull is not a critter to be putting a harness on. It is a sure path to getting at least stomped on, a lot. Cows are by definition females, and don't have testicles to be castrated. The idea of an oxen is a castrated bull (otherwise known as a steer), who without testicles will grow much larger than an intact bull or a cow, usually with a much better disposition than your average bull. They will still need to be trained.
The idea of the castration is to achieve that much larger and stronger size to do the work that is needed. My experience has been that folks who do this will castrate a matched pair to do team work, but if a single animal is to be used, then you just keep feeding and training it instead of slaughtering at two years of age or so (what I understand to be the normal market animal growth length).
A female cow in heat will go to a lot of trouble to get to a bull. A bull that smells/hears/sees a female cow in heat will go to a lot of trouble to get to her. Doesn't much matter if she is pulling an implement or not. In my world view, that is one of the primary reasons to use castrated males as oxen: fewer troubles with hormones.
Getting a grip on bovine terminology would be a good starting point. A cow is always a female.
"Ox" is the singular; to say "an oxen" is like saying "a chickens."
That being established, you certainly could use an intact bull or a cow as a draft animal, though I don't know if it would properly be called an ox. But I can't really fathom why you would want to--there's a reason an ox is traditionally a steer. (Actually, any castrated male is a "steer" until it is 4 years old, at which point it becomes an "ox," whether or not it is used for draft work.)
There is a precedent for using one's milk cow for traction power, when one had only one bovine, but that would have been more common in pioneer times and much less necessary today. So you certainly could do it, but you probably ought to ask yourself why you wouldn't just go with a castrated male.
Scott, how much work are you expecting to ask your animal to do? While a cow could do some light work, for heavy work you may be better off with an ox, or a team of oxen. And for heavier work yet, a horse/mule or team. Keep in mind that using your milk cow will affect her milk production. So you would have to decide which is more important to you....the most milk, or farm work.
Personally I would not recommend that you use a bull. A bull can be highly dangerous, especially for a novice. I've seen plenty of experienced people severely injured by bulls when things went wrong. Truthfully, there's absolutely no way I would ever put a yoke on a bull.
Since you're just starting out, you may wish to look into buying a trained animal for your first one. Then try training your own later on.
It's never too late to start! I retired to homestead on the slopes of Mauna Loa, an active volcano. I relate snippets of my endeavor on my blog : www.kaufarmer.blogspot.com
Or. of course, there are draft horses who can do ploughing as well as other work like carrying and hauling, the rest of the year.
Around here, people plough with dzo, a cross between yak and cow. I think they're castrated (the males can't impregnate female cattle even if not). Because their workload over the year is so minimal now that people don't even use them for threshing, they seem to just be turned loose to fend for themselves in the desert for most of the year. And most of them seem to find our school, are unimpressed by barbed wire on their hairy chests, and come barging in to eat our garden leftovers and tree bark
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