Twelve Year Old Spends Summer Training Oxen To Compete In Statewide Events
For most 12 year old girls the summer school vacation consists of a continuous round of going to the swimming pool, trips to the mall and hanging out with friends until school starts up again in the fall. But for Northfield’s Analiese Morvan the summer means something else.
At least two times a week the 12 year old middle school student makes the short trip from her home on Vine Street to her Grandparent’s farm on Frost Road to work with her pair of year old Brown Swiss Steers.
Analiese is training them to work in a yolk so that she and her team can compete in several events this summer.
Last week she had some help and some company in her task. On Tuesday and Wednesday leaders and members from the 4H “Green Mountain Teamsters”, of Pomfret Vt., came to Ray and Hannah Morvan’s “Sweet Retreat Guest House and Sugarworks” on Frost Road to train on an obstacle course that Ray Morvan had set up for Ox and Steer training.
Analiese had the advantage of working with 12 year old Zach Potter, of Pomfret, who brought his own team of young Steers and with 17 year old Robert Miller, of Bradford, who brought his own team of full grown Oxen. (The short version for the uninitiated is: castrated bulls are Steers until they are about 4 years old and when they are full grown they are known as Oxen.) Also in attendance were 4H Leaders Neil Lamson and his daughter, Terri Chamberlin, of Pomfret. Neil said has been working with 4H kids for 20 years to help them to train steers to work in a yolk “and get the cattle to do it because they want to, not because they have to.”
As the morning sky cleared and the temperature rose the three youngsters each took turns with their teams making a circuit of the obstacle course from hooking them up to a wagon, traversing a prescribed path and backing them into a space to simulate a barn. While each team was on the course they came under the watchful eyes of Neil and Terri. They received encouragement, courteous correction and help from the leaders. Even to the first time viewer it was apparent that training Steers requires a great deal of patience and even some brute strength to help to get the cattle to move where the trainer wants them to go. “ The hardest thing is getting them to back up,” said Neil. “Cattle don’t like to back up. It takes a lot of repetitive training,” he added.
The work of training Steers may be repetitive and arduous but it has its’ rewards. “I’m surprised at how rewarding it is. Especially when they do something you have been working on,” Analiese said. Zach Potter said he enjoyed the training for a slightly different reason. “I’m really into cattle,” said the 12 year old who lives on a Pomfret farm. The third student present at the Morvan farm, Robert Miller, a six year veteran of Steer and Ox training said that although the training is necessary he prefers to compete with his team. “ You get to meet a lot of new people,” he said.
The Ox has gotten a bad rap in the eyes of Northfield’s Ray Morvan, who has been working with them for seven years. “They’re a lot smarter than people think. The term dumb as an ox is not a good statement,” Ray said.
Historically, the Ox played a big role of shaping Vermont. “What you are seeing today goes back over 200 years. Oxen were used for a number of reasons. Back then horses were only for the rich but cattle were affordable. And, because the Oxen had a split hoof they were more surefooted than horses and could work well on the steep rocky slopes of Vermont hill farms. Most of the early Vermont farm work was done with oxen. It can be said that Oxen made Vermont what it is today,” said Neil Lamson.
Last week up on Frost road a new generation of Steer trainers was getting ready to compete in this summer’s events that will hopefully qualify them for a chance to show their teams at the Eastern State’s Exposition in Springfield Mass. in September. “Eastern States is the Stanley Cup of Ox driving. But to get there the kids have to compete in the Windsor County Fair, the Connecticut Valley Fair in July and at the Billings Farm Museum in Woodstock in August,” Neil Lamson said.
It takes a lot of patience, countless repetitions and a spirit of perseverance to drive a team of Oxen and when you add excellent instruction to the mix it all seems worthwhile. Just ask Terri Chamberlin who has been a 4H leader for 23 years. “What I find most rewarding is when I compete against kids I have trained and when they go into the show ring and beat me,” she said.
But 12 year old Analiese Morvan gave the best reason of all for working with the cattle. “ I have a lot of fun with animals,” Analiese said.