Single Draft Cow Training..

Oxen in training..

Ah, I have been trying to spend at least half an hour each day on training girl and in so many ways its showing, the road work is helping harden and work her feet (a very good thing), the steady work each day is making her always willing self even more happy to see me. I am not as happy that most of the gear bought and made for her last year will not fit her this year, I even need a new head peice, thankfully she works just fine on a homemade lucet hand rope, with a instant head halter made as required.

The only two peices that could be made to adjust enough to use in training right now, is her back peice that can have bundles or weights hung on each side, and her bells, so that is what we have been working with at this time, the folks are even getting use to seeing us on the road, but we have hit a training snag..

So right now, I am working on a steady list of commands..

Walk on- Means just what it sounds like


Easy-Slow down but don’t stop

Stand- Don’t move from where I put you.

Gee-Turn right

Haw-Trun left

Back-Back up

She is coming along real well and so I have been starting to walk beside her at rump or behind with her taking her commands by voice only, well the snag is that she has started having a bad habit of going right or left without it being commanded and then gets to the side of the road before the ditch and just stops..sigh..

See the issues, first, she should not be turning without command, second, while I don’t want her going into the ditch, she should not be stopping until I tell her to.. if I say.. walk on and that means going down the ditch and up and out the other side, then that is what should happen… I will worry about the second part for another day, I mean she is smart so I can’t really fault her for thinking I would not want her to go down the ditch, I once rode a horse called Blondie for a few summers, and I was warned that she expected you to tell her everything, I thought they were kidding a bit until I was on a road that curved and went right, and she walked right off the road in the straight line I had pointed her at , and down the ditch and stopped in front of the fence, she was honestly a great horse but she expected you to do all the thinking..

So yesterday Girl and I were out for while on the road yesterday and over and over again she would start straight and then slowly go right, I corrected her again, with the New Command “Front”, both of us were getting hot and sweaty, and I had her walk on.. she started going right, and when I said “front” she straightened back out. Now she only did it twice on command in a row, but I stopped right there and let her end on a high note, so we will see today if it stuck or if I am right back to sqaure one.

I think that having a team does make some things easier then working a single draft cow.. So for any of you that drive horses and or oxen.. what is the correct work to walk staight, do you use gee and haw only to correct the behaviour or do you have a “front command” and any tricks to pass on or reason’s you can think of for her to be pulling right or left, she does not do it when I am leading. Will having her hitched to a wagon help increase or decrease this behaviour?

I would like to point out that I have driven teams before but they were in harness, and I am finding it quite different to work with the cow as she does not have driving lines on her at this time, (I did use driving lines last year when I was just starting her) but I want to get her to the point of working off line by voice command. I guess I could put her back on driving lines while teaching the new command or just half on and half off for practise.

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16 Responses to Single Draft Cow Training..

  1. I know nothing of draft cows, but I do dog mushing as a hobby. I taught the dogs “over” so “over gee/over haw” means to shift in that direction without actually turning.
    I’ve never heard of a draft cow. I think that’s awesome!

  2. Deb Weyrich-Cody says:

    First off, I have to say that I don’t know anything about training draft animals, but is it possible that she’s trying to look at you and just getting off track? (Kind of like what happens when you’re driving and get distracted by something on the side of the road; ). Also guessing that now you’re going behind, she’ll do better with lines on and you doing the steering?
    And about having outgrown harness… After having several generations of dogs here, we’ve accumulated a great variety of collars, leashes and training aids over the years. At least you’re getting a range of sizes built up and perhaps some of it will fit Marty?

    • Deb Weyrich-Cody says:

      Also agree with Steph from NS about the “over” command: it works for our dogs on leash too.
      Thanks for the lesson on terminology. I just thought that Oxen were another species altogether (and kind of dumb, now that I think about it.)

      • Deb Weyrich-Cody says:

        Wow, that doesn’t sound the way I meant it… meant that my assumption was stupid, not the animals.

  3. I know nothing. 😛

    But I love hearing about how you’re training Girl. I think this is a much better, more interesting life for her than she would otherwise have! Lucky Girl.

  4. Kodi says:

    Hi, Farmgal Glad you are enjoying your girl. Yes, what Deb said. Oxen take the vast majority of their cues from visual input, despite their excellent hearing. So if you aren’t walking beside her as is traditional in New England, and there is no other immediate direction from you, she is going to do what she thinks is best. Unlike a horse, cattle are usually quite happy to do no work if they dont have to. If you want to drive, as many do in Europe, I think you need to put a bridle back on her. I had very good success using a side pull bridle made from a rope halter I got from UFA and tweaked for fit, then inserted a ring in the knots on each side of the muzzle. Cheap, adjustable, and effective. And they come in pretty colors…Skippy’s was hot pink with black flecks. If you are going to still be walking beside her, teamsters I have seen working use a little tap or brush on the ear opposite the direction you want her to steer toward. Finer tuning than gee and haw. Thats my (more than) $.02.

    • Hi Kodi

      Girl is more then willing to work, we had our best day yet, and went a full mile and half with no signs of her wanting to stop working, this is the cow that will run around a feild just for the sake of doing so..goofball.

      She is fine if you lead, you can work her off-lead if you are walking with her, she just follows you forever, and she is good with leads on, but I really! want to be able to work her free with voice only, as she really understands what walk on means, and as she is starting to get front, I combined the two and I think I have hit a winner!

      If she starts to go right or left, you say.. Front, (which really means start going at half speed the other way, but as soon as she gets to straight where I want her to go, I have added in the backup command, walk on..

      Its working fairly well, plus I decided that what I really needed to do was take her training off the road only and mix it up, so we have done the wood trail, and the side gravel field road, as well as the paved road. The perk of the trail is, as long as she is following it, and moving forward, she is perfect, and the much more narrow single vehicle gravel road works well, in a way, I think the big paved road was to wide to take the next step on this training.

  5. Kodi says:

    Oh, also, have you thought about using ox hames? There are good links on the prairie ox drover site. The modified Swiss collar is more forgiving in size, and requires less pieces of harness, while being light and comfortable for the animal, and fairly easy to build at home, too.

  6. I love that you’re using oxen! I have some talented prospects, but no time. I think about it all the time though, especially when I have to pay nearly 4.00 a gallon for gas for the tractor.

    I’m sure you know of Howard and Andrew Van Ord, but if not, check out their website at They make custom gear and are very knowledgeable about fitting and training and such.

    • Hi Auburn Meadow,

      I started with Girl when she was less then a week old in regards to halter breaking and setting up ground rules, touching, foot lifting, she is a very smart little cow, and a joy to work with, I am the one trying to figure out to take my draft horse knowledge and apply it to training a cow and learning the difference along the way.. (not nearly as much difference as I thought there were be)

      We don’t have the tractor, so its either by hand or helped by animal power in some way. I didn’t know about oxhilldeveons, thanks for the site.

  7. oxhilldevons says:

    It is great to see someone else with a working girl! I have two young girls I am breaking myself. I don’t have any experience driving with lines so I am not sure I have much help on her wanting to turn by herself other than to speculate that maybe she is barn sour. As far as working a single rather than a team it isn’t much different. Some people say it is more difficult because one ox can run away by its self while a team has to agree with each other to run away. Don’t be afraid to call her an ox. You are already breaking all the rules by breaking a single polled cow to drive with lines!

    • Hi, so great to see you here, I had just been told about your site and had gotten to it this week, and love the fact that you have a team of females! I will look forward to reading your as the pasture turns reports..

      I’m breaking the rules am I, ok so be it.. can I ask what is barn sour just to be sure I understand it, I think you mean, she is feeling her spring oats so to say, after two months of little work in the heart of winter? or do you mean something else.

      Just to be clear for you, she is not having any issue leaning when in her lines, its very easy to correct her when in trace, she is trained just like a single draft horse with a lead on each side, she is open neck rain trained on the lines.

      I like having lines for some work, it just makes it easier but I also want to have her work by voice only, its interesting that folks talk about a single ox run away, but I have not had that yet at all. she may break her stand now and again but it takes a couple years to get a good ground stand on a horse, so I figure it will take her the same in that regards as well.

      • oxhilldevons says:

        “Barn Sour” means she wants to go back to the barn to get out of work. Often they will want to walk twice as fast going towards the barn as they do away from it. If she is always turning toward the barn that could be it. Issues like her turning seem to fall into one of two categories. Either she is doing it to rebel or get out of work or you have done something to cause it by confusing her. Traditionally the driver stands on the left side and drives with a goad or whip. I have seen people tell a calf to gee while they are inadvertently pulling a lead rope haw and then be frustrated when the calf won’t gee. Sometimes it helps if someone can stand back and watch for issues like this to help diagnose them. My “rule breaking” comment is in reference to the fact that traditionally working cattle are males have horns are trained as a team and are driven with a goad or whip from the left side. I am a traditionalist for the most part but I am a firm believer in doing what works for you.

      • Thanks so much for explaining the barn sour, and while there are days that on the way back to the barn, she does put on a little extra speed to her to her spot to be tied up, brushed down and get her feed, but now that I understand what you mean, I don’t believe that is the issue, she is more then willing to get ready and I am working her mostly off the farm itself at this point, I am working on the road in the front, on a trail path in woods across the way with that land owners permission and also on the land access roads into the different fields around me. She has never turned around or tried to go home when she is working.

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