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Workshop teaches ins and outs of oxen

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POTSDAM — Learning how to make oxen pull their weight (and more) was the theme of the day Saturday at a workshop teaching the ins and outs of using cattle for hauling.

The workshop was held at the farm of Joseph L. Brant, who explained the basics of dealing with oxen. For example: watch out, they kick. Don’t cut off their horns, as they are needed to hold the yolk in place. But be prepared, as bulls tend to enjoy sparring with each other and injuries may follow.

Technically, Mr. Brant’s steers are oxen-in-training rather than actual oxen. The official definition of an ox is a castrated bull that has been trained for draft purposes for four years, and Mr. Brant’s steers Cotter and Key still have a bit more than a year to go.

The workshop was hosted by the Local Living Venture, a group devoted to teaching skills for rural living to north country residents.

“We have all sorts of programs to help people live more simply,” said coordinator Chelle S. Lindahl.

Not everyone has a use for trained cattle, but by holding a wide variety of workshops the group hopes to improve lives through simplification.

“Take one step at a time,” Ms. Lindahl said.

West Potsdam resident Brad K. Clements attended the workshop to see if oxen were right for him.

“I just wanted to see what it was all about,” he said.

Mr. Clements works as a computer programmer, but he also raises chickens, goats, cows and pigs on his farm.

“Everybody has to have a hobby,” he said.

He is looking for a way to haul trees, and said he wanted to find out if oxen were a valid option.

“I have a large wooded area that I could use them on instead of a tractor,” he said. “It would certainly be quieter.”

Mr. Brant is an engineer who runs his farms on weekends and summer nights. He first became interested in training cattle to work when he realized he had lots of logs to haul but no way to haul them. Many of the people he spoke with recommended horses, but he had never worked with horses. Finally, he came across the idea of training oxen.

“It was a challenge, because I didn’t grow up around large animals,” he said.

Now, he doesn’t know what he would do without his two steers.

“I work with them every single weekend,” he said.

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