Monday, February 27, 2017

In That Moment

Dulcy Perkins and Rob Collins talking oxen.
Both in interviewing drovers and teaching students, Dulcy Perkins' name comes up often. Dulcy taught me to drive oxen and -truth be told- the first time I ever remember seeing a team working in the field, Dulcy was driving them. (see Wading Out. . .) I knew at that moment that I would own a team.

Here's a brief excerpt of an interview I did with Dulcy in 2015. The complete interview appeared in Rural Heritage magazine.

RC:  What’s the best team you ever drove? Well, your “favorite team” to drive, because I’m guessing that your favorite team wasn’t the best behaved or the best trained or anything like that. (note:  Dulcy is somewhat legendary among ox drovers for her ability to make progress with especially difficult teams or to apply incredible empathy for oxen and in so doing, achieve a positive outcome in challenging situations)

DP: Traveller and Grant -a team of Dutch Belteds that Tillers used a few years ago -were really nice, but they didn’t like to be micromanaged.  You could do anything with them.  So, they were a nice team.  And Lewis and Clark (Tillers first team of Milking Shorthorns) were really good because they kind of drove themselves.  I don’t know, they all. . . probably the only team I really didn’t like driving were the little Brown Swiss team (note: a pair of calves that were trained in the Oxen Basics class at Tillers. They were a little stubborn about moving if memory serves correctly)   

Especially the calves are always fun to drive.  But in terms of just being able to drive animals and not say anything and just be able to do your work. . . I guess not all oxen are always in that moment.

RC:  If someone wants to learn to drive cattle, what’s the best “non-traditional” source of help?  I mean, everybody says to get the Drew Conroy Book, get the Ray Ludwig book (respectively, Oxen: a Teamsters Guide and The Pride and Joy of Working Cattle), take a Tillers class. . .

DP: Temple Grandin I would say, because of her cattle handling.   There are a few others in that same vein that talk about handing groups of cattle, or wild cattle, or something like that.  (pauses)  There’s not a lot of formal things written.

RC:  What was your best day of driving oxen?

DP:  Umm. . . So, I’m a little worried about getting struck by lightning, probably because of where I’m from.  We were up at the spring house by the Spring Hill Barn doing a stone masonry class and we had Tug and Suni up there which - I don’t think they were a team you met- they were a team I trained and I trained them to ride and stuff.  And, we were hauling rocks with the stoneboat and pretty soon here comes this storm almost right on top of us.

So I undo the stoneboat - and I had also trained them to run- and we, I jogged, and they galloped all the way down here. (Note:  The distance is somewhere between a quarter and a half mile between the Spring Hill Barn and the hitching post)   And when I stopped, they stopped and we walked to the hitching post.  That was kind of nice to be able to do that.

RC:  What job that the oxen do here do you think is the best suited for oxen?  Is there an implement they pull, or is there a task where that seems like the perfect match?

DP:  The slip scraper is nice.  We don’t use it that often, but digging into a heavy load, no pun intended, then all of the sudden that load is gone.  They seem to do really well with that and they can turn tightly.

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