In early January, through the magic of video-conferencing, I interviewed Kevin Cunningham and Tom Jenkins about their oxen. Kevin is "a straight-ahead organic, tractor-based vegetable farmer" who started working oxen 6 years ago in Northern CA. Tom is a low-impact forester in NH.
RC: Every teamster you know has a trick. As professional ox teamsters, what tricks have you learned to make you work more efficient?
|Kevin C (left), Tom J, and mini-me (lower corner), talking oxen|
TJ: I’ll walk mine over the log a lot of times. I’ll turn them over one end of the log and walk them all the way up the log with the log in between the team. You know, just because it’s easier than backing them up.
A couple of other things: I'll almost always throw a pole on the ground before I drop the tree. So if I've got a heavy saw log, I'll drop a four-inch pole or even a couple of branches off another top. And I'll throw those on the ground and then I'll drop the tree on top of them. It helps the team get it started. That log will slide along that pole you threw down and it gives them an easier time getting it moving.
And another thing I do is I try not to start them with the full weight of the log if I can help it. If I drop a tree (facing) exactly away from my landing, I could grab the butt and head straight to the landing, but I’ll buck a log off from it and then grab the tip of the log so I spin it around in a circle; And that way they gain momentum and they're moving a few steps before they actually have the full weight of the log. I think that makes a really big difference.
I'm always saying: I do everything I can all day long to make it as easy on the team as I can. You know it's fun once in awhile to watch them pull and do really hard work and be proud about that, but anything you can do to make it as easy as possible, the more they're going to be happy to work for you you want to make sure that every day they go out and give you a hundred percent, so you want to make it easy for them to do that.