– by our ox trainer Syamasundara Das, who has 20 years’ experience persuading young oxen to go to work.
There they are lying on the grass ruminating the days grazing, each with their place in relation to the others. The two oxen Dharma and Gautama were destined for work….. well that was the plan. The herd of 19 cows and oxen were sitting at the farthest end of the Ahimsa farm in Leicester.
Better get started. Come Ooon, Come ooON. Positioning myself behind the herd I gradualy coaxed them up and back to their holding area and the place where training was to begin. No way would the two work candidates Dharma and Gautama be herded by themselves so the whole herd had to move to position these two.
Stage one. They needed to recognize the harnessing area as a place of fun and pleasure. After segregating Dharma and Gautama from the rest of the herd I walked them around and down through a narrow corridor for cows (race) and a holding frame (for medical attention), out the other end and then around again a few times.
Stage Two. Today when Dharma and then Gautama entered the race we stopped them going forward and reversing and then gave them a nice brush all over so they identified this type of work activity with some muscle massage. Once brushed a rope was placed around their horns and they were gently coaxed to move forward to the harnessing area. This place was prepared so that there would be access to the oxen during yoking and a safe area for the ox trainer. With some gentle calls and gentle tugs on the horn ropes Dharma and later Gautama moved along the high fence line to the place they were tied on short reins. Once they were side by side they were left for a bit to get used to each other’s close proximity.
Stage Three. Each day the oxen were moved in the same way, herding into their segregation, coaxing down the race, brushing, placing a lead rope around their horns, taking them to the yoking area. Today, once they had settled after moving, I placed the yoke on their shoulders and secured the U bars. Wow this seems very straight forward! They were very calm. Perhaps we can try walking them around the pen. Quickly Dharma remembered that he was a posing Ox, the head of the herd and was not really inclined to training with the probable outcome of working around the farm. He had somehow heard that if you flip the yoke the training had to stop…. He gave it a go, the pin came out the U bar dropped and that was the end of the training session. It was apparent that Dharma was very nervous and preferred to hide in the shed or run around the holding pen rather than consider working. As there was only a week dedicated for training it was considered that we should team Horatio (he was taking a keen interest in the training and watched closely the proceedings) with Gautama.
Stage Four Gautama yoked with Horatio and little movement around the pen. Not much, just a few steps, plenty of calming words, everything to reduce anxiety in the oxen. “Why am I so close to the ox next to me who would like to poke his horn in my side? Why is there a piece of laminated plywood shaped like a yoke on my shoulder (not sure if the oxen know all the intricacies of yoke making though). Why is there some metal U bars keeping the yoke on my shoulder? Why is there a rope harnessed to me and nudging me to slow or reverse……… such are the many questions that traverse the mind of an ox in training”
Stage Five. Segregated, groomed, yoked and moved…….Gate open….. here we go, better to give them space to walk rather than the small space of the 30m pen. Oh my!, Oh my! this is amazing they were walking side by side. Not sure of each other, not sure exactly how they should walk together, not sure exactly what they should do but they walked to the end of the land, a big turn round and back to the pen. Stopping form time to time, wow, wow, (In low reassuring tones). Plenty of petting, plenty of thankful scratching. Walk a bit stop and thank. Enough for the day, a great success.
Stage six. Yoked and walked to the farthest pond and back. Once done a spring harrow was connected to their yoke. This would be a bit scary for them. Something following, something noisy, some ropes touching their legs from time to time. Off we went.. sure a bit nervous they were… should they run or should they stop… yes the rope startled them the first time it touched their legs. Calming words, steady reins, plenty of stops, plenty of petting. A full circuit of the pasture grounds two oxen who only days before sat and chewed cud and watched cars and pedestrians go by are now pulling farm tools. Amazing oxen. Training oxen is natural, it’s as though they are hardwired for it.
Stage seven. Yoked and walked around the pastures. Today a step up again. A platform was placed on the harrow and with the driver sat on it the oxen coaxed forward…….” Hang on this is heavier than yesterday rushed through their minds…… so after a few metres they stopped and looked wondering”. After walking half the route with the oxen only pulling an empty harrow the driver again mounted the makeshift sledge and tapped them on again. This time they pulled into it and with a bit of wondering who was to blame for the extra weight they walked and pulled the sledge around the whole pasturing ground. Amazing oxen made for work and they can still pose and chew cud the rest of the day.
And there it is. Two oxen yoked together semi-trained and farm machinery pulled. What remains now is regular light farm work and gradually increasing the loads they pull. Working oxen now at the ahimsa farm in Leicester.
These two oxen don’t yet know how strong they are but with steady and reassuring work they will develop their powerful physique and display power and majestic grace.