An ox (plural oxen), or bullock (Australia, New Zealand, India) is a bovine animal trained as a draft animal. Oxen are commonly adult, castrated male cattle, but cows (adult females) or bulls (entire males) may also be used in some areas. Oxen are used for plowing, transport (pulling carts or wagons or sometimes for riding), threshing grain by trampling, and for powering machines for grinding grain, irrigation or other purposes. Oxen may be used to skid logs in forests, particularly in low-impact select-cut logging. Oxen are usually used in pairs: light work such as carting on good roads might use one pair, while for heavier work further pairs are added – a team used for a heavy load over difficult ground might exceed twenty animals.
Working oxen are taught to respond to the signals of the teamster (also called the bullocky or ox-driver). These signals are given by verbal command, body language, and the use of a goad, whip or a long pole (which also became used as a measure of length: see rod). In preindustrial times, many teamsters were known for their loud voices and forthright language.
Verbal commands for draft animals vary widely throughout the world. In North America, the most common verbal commands are:
In the New England tradition, oxen must be painstakingly trained from a young age. Their teamster must make or buy as many as a dozen yokes of different sizes as the animals grow.
In other traditions, adult cattle with little or no prior human conditioning are often yoked and trained as oxen. This is done for economy, as it is easier to let a calf be raised by its mother, and for lack of adequate methods for housing and feeding young calves.
A tradition in south eastern England was to use oxen (often Sussex cattle) as dual-purpose animals: for draft and beef. A plowing team of eight oxen normally consisted of four pairs aged a year apart. Every year, a pair of steers would be bought for each team at about three years of age, and trained with the older animals. The pair would be kept for four years, then at about seven years old they would be sold to be fattened for beef – thus covering much of the cost of buying that year's new pair. Use of oxen for plowing survived in some areas of England (such as the South Downs) until the early twentieth century. Pairs of oxen were always hitched the same way round, and they were often given paired names (as in the well-known example of the names of Santa Claus's reindeer: Dasher and Dancer, Prancer and Vixen, Comet and Cupid, Donner and Blitzen). In southern England it was traditional to call the near-side (left) ox of a pair by a single-syllable name and the off-side (right) one by a longer name (for example: Lark and Linnet, Turk and Tiger).
Ox trainers favor larger animals for their ability to do more work. Oxen are therefore usually of larger breeds, and are usually males, because castrated males are generally larger – females can also be trained as oxen, but as well as being smaller, they are often more valued for producing calves and milk. Bulls (uncastrated males) are also used in many parts of the world.
Oxen can pull harder and longer than horses, which makes them better with heavy loads. This is one of the reasons that teams were dragging logs from forests long after horses had taken over most other draft uses in Europe and North America. Although slower than horses, they are less prone to injury because they are more sure-footed and do not try to jerk the load.
Heb. bakar, "cattle;" "neat cattle", (Gen 12:16; Gen 34:28; Job 1:3, Job 1:14; Job 42:12, etc.); not to be muzzled when treading the corn (Deut 25:4). Referred to by Jesus in his reproof to the Pharisees (Lk 13:15; Lk 14:5).
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