Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Cutting the Grass: Part 1

A 54" walk behind mower, not being used.  
Depending where you live, you may: "mow the lawn," "cut the grass," possibly "cut the lawn," or some other regional variation.

Regardless of the moniker, the task remains the same:  culturally-enforced drudgery.  Make the yard look pretty by keeping the grass short, while at the same time making yourself too busy to do what you'd really like to be doing.

Luna makes sure the boys are back in their paddock and
 that all is right with the world
One way around this is to shoot the moon and ignore what the neighbors might think.  String a wire and put the oxen on the lawn.  Oxen fed?  Check.  Lawn shortened?  Check.  Two birds for the price of a solitary rock.

With a fairly wet spring, things in Michigan are growing really well, but as of Memorial Day, a couple of sections of lawn haven't been touched by the mower.

Maybe the neighbors whisper behind closed doors; Maybe they don't.  Either way, the feed and fuel bills are less.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

First Timers

For the last several years, I've taken my Government class out to Tillers International for a day of service / field trip.  One course requirement is that students complete 4 "volunteering" events throughout the year, with the service day acting as the final event.

 Also, for the last few years we've included a unit on global development and foreign aid, so the trip provides a great learning opportunity to see what non-profits do in this field (no pun intended).

But anyway, we usually try to get the oxen out for a little bit to demonstrate what they can do.  I find that, even in a rural school like ours with an on-site AG program, kids love to see the oxen and are fascinated by being that close to such a large, calm animal.  

This year, we were lucky enough to be clearing brush, which meant we needed to haul some to the burn pile.  "You can use the red farm-truck," we were told, so we fetched a red cart and a team of
oxen.  That seemed close enough.

With a few long straight lanes to navigate, quite a few students experienced driving success with Castor and Pollux.  They were well-mannered, if a bit plodding.  

They may not all run home and beg the folks until they get their own team, but someday they'll tell their kids how they once drove a 2-ton team of oxen (with embellishments, four-part harmony, and
orchestration, of course).

Friday, May 12, 2017

Look Ma, No Hands!

When teaching people to plow, we often throw out the standard advice: lean to the left to go right, lean to the right to go left, keep a light grip on the handles (so you could peel an orange with your fingers is how I describe it),  stand up straight, walk a tightrope in the furrow, etc.

With this cacophony of instructions, beginners often get overwhelmed.  Their brains can't keep up with the action, even with a slow team (see "Stuck in First Gear").

When they've been overloaded, most people follow their instincts- grabbing the handles and wrestling the plow down the field, trying to push it along.  The predictable result is frustration and sore muscles.

Lately though, I've tried a different approach.  Similarly to teaching handsawing, the goal is to let the tool cut, while the operator stays out of the way.

To demonstrate, I walk the plow, occasionally letting go of the handles.  If the oxen are pulling straight and the plow is set up right, it makes little, if any, difference.

Try it sometime.  Peeling the orange is optional.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Hit the Dirt

My boys are big.  Probably a ton each.  Not unusually tall for shorthorns, but tall nonetheless.

So, there's really no need to accentuate their size with camera tricks, but getting down low makes for a much better shot.  Elise, who is interning at Tillers International this season, takes great photographs.  When I saw her working her camera during plow day, I spotted the secret.

"You can't be afraid to lie down in the dirt," she suggested.  Two shots from this afternoon as we gathered some mowed grass bear this out.

Though both photos were simply shot on a phone (an iPhone 5 for you technophiles), ignoring the rules for layout and lighting, the difference is stark anyway.

The top photo has depth and strength, while the bottom photo. . .  doesn't.  For it, I walked up a small rise (about 2 feet, really) and held the phone over my head.  7 feet of elevation separate the two shots, but it's a world of difference.
Elise getting down in the dirt for a shot.

Shoot your oxen.  From the dirt.  Send us the results (email:  We'd love to see how it turns out.