What Do Oxen Do in the Off-Season?

Ellen Van Zanten - Experience Specialist
A big draw for our guests, especially in Prairietown, is when our team of oxen comes out to play. Red and Blue have been around for six years now and I’d say they’ve definitely earned their keep around here. What a lot of people don’t know, though, is that Red and Blue weren’t born as oxen. That is actually a title that they have to work for by learning the different calls and commands and working together to pull carts, plows, and wagons. It takes them about 3 to 4 years to accomplish all that! It’s kind of like going to a University and earning a degree, Red and Blue went to “Ox”-ford (I know, that was terrible, I couldn’t help myself!).
But just because they are fully trained now doesn’t mean we can rest on our laurels! We still have to work the team, even though there are no guests around to visit us right now. Just like anything, if you want to stay good at it, you have to practice. The same goes for oxen. It’s not only good for Red and Blue, but it’s good for us Ag Staffers to get out and spend some quality time with them. Half of driving oxen is having a respectable relationship between the driver and the team. If Red and Blue don’t know me and trust me, then how can I expect them to listen to me when I want them to do something?  Every time we take our oxen out to work, we are building on that trust and that relationship.
Our task for this winter though, has not only been to work with Red and Blue, but we have a newer team that we have been working with for about a year and a half now. Their names are Louis and Clark. Now I know what you’re thinking, why would you start training a new team when you already have a perfectly good one on hand? Good question! Just like farmers and drovers of the past, we have to look to the future. Red and Blue Red and Blue won’t always be six years old. They will eventually become too old to pull and work the same way that they do now, so by the time that happens Louis and Clark will be six years old themselves! That way, as long as you are planning ahead, you will always have a team of oxen in their prime.
Since coming to Conner Prairie and learning how to work with the oxen, I can certainly see why people are drawn to them. Aside from the fact that I find Red and Blue to be completely adorable and hilarious, seeing oxen work in yoke is a big visual connection to our past for many of our guests. Oxen played a significant role in our country’s history. In Indiana in 1836 they outnumbered horses 4 to 1! They hauled our goods, helped clear our roads, and plowed our fields. So the next time you come to visit Conner Prairie, be sure to say hello to our oxen, not just because of Red’s cute crooked nose, but because of work they do in helping to preserve our past.
Posted: 2/10/2012 10:13:46 AM by Ellen Van Zanten | with 0 comments
Filed under: animals, oxen

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