Family utilizes oxen for ranching
For more information about ox training clinics or to contact the Bromptons, call (970) 886-4040.
Holly Brompton trains animals to pull wagons for parades, haul water from the family well and more. But when she gets the harness ready, it’s not for a team of draft horses or even donkeys. It’s a team of oxen.
The oxen, the name used for any bovine animal trained to pull, are raised in corrals and pastures in Crook, Colo. They’re Jerseys, Holstiens and crossbreds, Brompton said, and typically, steers are her favorite to train.
“(They’re) more even-tempered and mannerly,” Brompton said. “You don’t have down times when they are cycling or have a fresh calf. But I have worked with some cows, and they are very trainable as well.”
Training an ox starts with halter breaking. Brompton teaches each animal its name and trains them be comfortable with human touch all over its body. Comfort in the harness is the next step in the training. The most common harness in the U.S. is the neck yoke, a single piece of wood that drapes over the top of two oxen, with additional pieces that drape under the oxen’s necks.
Once the oxen are comfortable with the yoke, they work with teams called drovers, who walk to the left of the animals and instruct them using verbal and physical commands.
After they can follow commands, the oxen can try to pull a light load. At the Brompton Ranch, oxen training includes hauling water from the well to corrals, an ox-powered corn mill and other practical duties.
Teams of oxen are picked based on similar size, conformation and color, Brompton said. Once two calves work together, they stay together for the rest of their lives.
Then, the fun starts. Brompton said the oxen show off their draft abilities parades, museums, schools and campgrounds.
Some of the oxen are even trained for riding. The Brompton family — Jim and daughters Holly, Hazel and Heidi, can gather cattle, herd sheep and more from their backs.
“Oxen have a different feel than horses, kind of a rocking motion,” Brompton said. “I have a side-saddle that I use some of the time, which is fun with a long prairie dress.”
She said in some states, typically in New England, there are oxen competitions and 4-H showmanship, driving and training events.
The Bromptons have never sold a team of their oxen, but they assist others with their animals. The family holds oxen clinics, too, where they teach topics like draft animals in history, modern and historic equipment and the benefits of oxen. Brompton said she enjoys teaching people just what her animals are capable of.
“My sisters have oxen who just beg to be the center of attention and love to have crowds of people around them,” she said. “They are very trustworthy and not prone to being spooky. Steers are calm, gentle and very docile animals to work around. I think they are highly intelligent.”
Though the working cattle are an integral part of their ranch, Brompton said she doesn’t think many people raise the animals for real, working purposes. She believes most oxen are owned by hobbyists or living history museums.
“I think more people should work oxen,” she said. “They are so much fun.”