Thursday, August 23, 2012

oxen and the fair

Ajay and I were at the Washington County Fairgrounds in plenty of time for the Oxen Judging on Tuesday morning. Out of all the events at the Fair, this might be the most intriguing and its because of a geographical oddity. You see, Washington County is dairy country. Line up ten farmers and seven of them deal with the white stuff. Cows, Holsteins in particular, are not dotted across the landscape but splattered across it, Jackson Pollock style. Dairy is so big that our local gas station won the best vanilla ice cream in America award in 2009. I am not making that up. We know cows around here.

So when a rogue clan of dairyfolk decide to do the unthinkable (keep male calves) and raise them up to do work the tractor long replaced I am in awe. It is either hopeless romanticism or die-hard practicality, but either way the fact that people are raising non-milking/non-eating cows and feeding them to be entered in a fair is fascinating. We watched not a pull, but a show. The oxen were walked around the arena and judged on how well they were paired as a team. there were young kids with light whips and aging, cagey looking old timers who's butt you knew fit perfectly into their tractor seats.

Ajay was unhappy with the commentator, who he thought should have more verve to be MCing a huge work-cow event. I shrugged. I thought the judge sounded just like an ox, slow and certain. IN general, I thought the whole thing was great. Just great. Seeing these folks shuck and jive with a pair of oxen they knew as week-old calves now towering over them at 1600+ pounds. Compared to the draft horses they were calm and slow, but what a thing to see them amble about along the fair lanes. You can't call your fair a fair if you don't have to watch your step for cow flops while eating your fried dough.


Blogger Megan said...

Oh man, this sounds like it was so much fun. A team of Oxen are totally on my dream list. I'd like to go take one of Drew Conroy's workshops up in New Hampshire sometime. Jenna, maybe we could take one together!

August 23, 2012 at 7:47 AM  
Blogger Jenna Woginrich said...

Megan! I saw a team-in-training of highlander blacks and I thought of you instantly.

August 23, 2012 at 8:13 AM  
Anonymous janet gordon said...

Thanks for this great post. I am an old lady now but grew up during the period when working horses or oxen were more common than tractors and trucks on the farms here in Nova Scotia. They still are quite common since horse and ox pulls remain a staple of regional fairs. As a child snd teen, I was part of a kids' precision riding drill team and we went to many fairs to perform so I had plenty of time to become familiar with working teams. I have seen as many as 50 ox teams at a single fair and they are an amazing sight.
The commonest teams are from hereford or dexter stock, but I've seen a team of hairy highland cattle too - oxen are a part of the northeastern atlantic seaboard's agricultural heritage - thanks for helping to keep it alive.

August 23, 2012 at 8:39 AM  
Blogger goatgirl said...

Jenna, is oxen a breed of cattle or is it a term for any breed of male cattle used to pull?

August 23, 2012 at 9:38 AM  
Blogger Jenna Woginrich said...

an ox is a castrated steer raised with a twin or closely-born other steer trained to work. Oxen can be any breed of cattle, I am fairly certain. Usually dairy steers around here.

August 23, 2012 at 9:40 AM  
Blogger Goat Song said...

I always thought I would end up with a team of draft horses someday but this past year I've really been looking at using oxen instead... Almost got my first pair of calves last week to start training, but decided to wait just a bit longer. I'm holding out for some Shorthorn bull calves, or maybe some Jersey/Shorthorn crosses. Oxen are awesome! :)

August 23, 2012 at 1:44 PM  

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