COWS & OXEN
For saddelry and harness, please see the Wagon
The farmer or homesteader's cow was a multipurpose
animal. The cow, who might be from a dairy breed or
simply whatever was available, was usually expected
to give a reasonable amount of milk, while her extra
bull calves might end up on the dinner table.
Cows produce milk to feed their calves, but if milked
daily, they will continue to produce milk for many
months. When the cow went dry (stopped giving milk),
the family went without dairy products for a few months
until the cow gave birth again.
If the cow ate bitter weeds, grasses, or green onions,
the family's milk might have an interesting flavor!
A few young bullocks might be selected to be trained
as oxen. These young calves were neutered - made
into steers- at an early age and taught to lead. Later,
as they grew stronger, they learned to wear the
wooden yoke and pull a sled or cart.
Oxen were very slow, but strong and usually reliable.
They were well-suited to plowing new ground and
hauling logs: tasks that did not require a great deal of
Many homesteaders let their cattle roam free during
the day, sending a child to round up the cows at night.
Often one cow wore a bell around her neck to help her
be located in the woods.
Young Male- Bull calf or Bullock
Young Female- Heifer
Neutered Male- Steer
An ox is a steer that has been trained as a draft
Having pure-bred animals were not extremely
important for most 19th Century homesteaders and
small farmers. Some of the cattle breeds that we see
today were not even brought to this country until the
20th Century. Here are some modern breeds of cattle.
Some of these might have been found on a 19th
century farm, others would not.
Common Dairy Breeds of Cattle
Common Meat Breeds of Cattle (Modern)
|Below: An ox yoke. One type of yoke
(shown above) fitted behind the oxen's
horns. Another type (below) rested on
their necks. The large ring in the
center was for a wagon-pole, or to
attach a chain for pulling.
Are there still people who use oxen
as draft animals?
Even in the U.S. there are people
who train and use oxen. You can
find out information about modern
oxen, ox teams for sale, and where
to get yokes from the Rural
Heritage magazine, or from the
Midwest Ox Drovers Association.
Milking Old Bossy
Milking a cow is very similar to milking a goat,
except that a cow's udder has four sections
("quarters") rather than just two...and a cow
can kick a lot harder!
In order for a cow to produce milk, she must
have given birth to a calf, but most milk cows
give more milk than a calf can drink alone.
In order to get the most milk, the family would
separate the calf from the cow after a few
days, feeding the calf with some of the milk
and retaining some of the milk for the family.
Occasionally, the family would allow the calf to
nurse once a day.
For the first few days after birth cows, like
many other mammals, produce a thick special
type of milk called colostrum. This colostrum
contains special antibodies and it is critical
that the calf get this special milk, or it may
sicken and die quickly.
Most humans don't want the colostrum,
although there are some old recipes that use
it. Our ancestors were loath to waste anything.
FEED AND HAY
Usually a certain amount of feed and hay was stored in the barn.
During part of the year, the farmer relied on grass as the main food for his cows, goats, sheep, and horses. Horses
and mules doing heavy work might also be fed some oats or corn. Chickens and hogs being fattened also received
During the summer and fall months the farmer was busy getting ready for winter. Part of that work was putting aside
feed for the animals. In some areas, this was mostly hay, corn, and oats. In other areas, the farmer might also store
some vegetables for his animals.
Because raising and storing feed was extremely hard work, only necessary animals were carried through the winter.
Extra pigs and beef were sold or killed as soon as it was cool enough to do so.
The farmer had to have an idea of about how much feed to store for his animals to be sure that they
were able to survive the winter.
In general, a HORSE eats about 2% of its body weight every day. That's 20 lbs. of hay for a 1,000 lb. horse.
A COW eats about the same amount.
A GOAT or SHEEP will eat less, and a goat will eat any type of vine or small tree for roughage.
PIGS would often be let loose to forage for acorns. If kept up, the pig might be fed slop (household scraps).
CHICKENS need about ___________________ of corn a day, and they were also usually let out to forage a bit for