Cover Image
close this bookBetter Farming Series 14 - Farming with Animal Power (FAO - INADES, 1977, 57 p.)
close this folderWorking animals
close this folderOxen
View the documentChoosing oxen for farm work
Open this folder and view contentsTraining oxen
View the documentHow to feed working oxen
View the documentLooking after working' oxen

Choosing oxen for farm work

You should choose:

· Big and rather heavy oxen

The bigger an ox is, the stronger it is. An ox that is too small cannot do much work.

Some oxen are too small for clearing the land and deep ploughing.

· Healthy oxen

The animals must breathe easily and not cough. The bones and muscles must be well developed. The legs, especially, must be strong. The hocks (joints) must be well formed, the hoofs must be solid and smooth.

An animal that walks with difficulty is not good for work.

Look at how an animal walks and you will see whether it will make a good working ox.

The horns must be hard; they must not be tender. You cannot put a head yoke (see page 19) on an ox with broken horns. The neck must be short and strong.

· Oxen not too difficult to train

If an ox is vicious, you cannot train it easily.

Bulls are castrated in order to make them easier to train. But they should not be castrated too young. Wait 18 to 24 months before castrating a bull, for then it will be stronger for work. But in that case it must be separated from the herd so that it does not cover the cows.

If an ox is spiritless and lazy it is not good for training, for it will not do much work.

· Oxen of the same size

If one ox is bigger than the other, the yoke cannot fit well. Then the yoke bothers the oxen and they cannot work well.

If one ox is stronger than the other, the strength of the stronger ox is not fully used.

· Oxen of about the same age

They will be able to work together for several years.

· Oxen of the right age

Do not take animals that are too old. Oxen that are too old are difficult to train. After being trained they will work for fewer years than oxen trained when young.

Do not take animals that are too young. They are not strong enough; they have not finished growing. Their bones are not hard enough. An animal that works when it is too young does not grow,

At the age of 2 or 3 years, you can begin to train oxen. If you begin early, the oxen get into good habits. But before the age of 4, let them do only light work.

At the aye of 4 years, oxen are strong enough to work hard. You can then keep them for several years. Oxen can work up to the age of 10 years.


Oxen can be very useful if they are well trained.

When oxen are very well trained, one man alone can drive them and hold the plough.

If the oxen are not well trained, three people are needed: one in front to lead; one at the side, to make the oxen go forward; one behind, to hold the plough.

It takes time to train oxen well, but this time is not wasted. Afterwards, only one man will be needed to drive the oxen and hold the plough.

Once oxen are trained, they should be harnessed fairly often.

Never leave them too long without harnessing them. If you do not harness your oxen for 6 months, they will lose their good habits. In the dry season when there is no ploughing or cultivating to do, harness your oxen for transport. Then they will not lose their good habits.

Harnessing oxen with a yoke

A yoke is a piece of wood placed on the heads or necks of oxen which is used for pulling farm implements.

The yoke must be made of strong wood; it must not be too heavy; it should weigh 6 to 9 kilogrammes.

· The neck yoke

There are neck yokes for harnessing a single ox, and yokes for harnessing two oxen together.

The yoke is placed on the neck of the animals.

When the oxen pull, the yoke settles down in the right place.

Farmers can easily make such a yoke, or the village blacksmith or carpenter can do it.

It is used mainly for zebu oxen which have a longer and weaker neck than some other oxen.

With the neck yoke you cannot make the animals walk backward because the yoke is not fastened to them.

With the neck yoke the animals have more freedom but they more easily spoil the crops during cultivation.

Double neck yoke for two oxen

· The head yoke

The head yoke is placed behind the horns and is tied to them with rope or thongs of leather.

In order not to injure the animal put a pad of straw or kapok wrapped in cloth between the yoke and the head.

Hook for a fixing chain

A yoke with its chains costs between 1 500 and 2 000 CFA francs.

The head yoke

· The single yoke

The single yoke is used to harness one animal.

A chain is fixed to either side of the single yoke.

Single neck yoke

It can also be used as a collar, in the same way as for donkeys (see page 37).

A collar

Ox with collar

How long should the yoke be?

The yoke should be rather short. The oxen should be quite close to each other. But there should be 20 to 25 centimetres between the two oxen so that the chain that pulls the tool does not bother them.

So the yoke should be 1.10 to 1.30 metres long. If the animals have large horns, make the yoke a little longer.

For certain work, like ridging or cultivating between rows of crops, longer yokes are sometimes used, so that there are two rows of crops between the two animals.

So you must have two yokes, a short yoke and a long yoke.

Two oxen harnessed with a long yoke for cultivating

How to train oxen

You have chosen two oxen of the same age, the same size and the same strength.

· Men and oxen must get used to each other

Before beginning to train your oxen, you must get them used to being with men.

Putting the animals in a modern pasture is itself enough to make the animals used to the presence of men.

If a man is unkind to his oxen, if he hits them, the oxen will be afraid of the man and become vicious.

If a man looks after his oxen well, they become quieter.

The man and the animals must become friends.

· Teaching oxen to wear the yoke

Two days before beginning the training, tie the oxen for a few hours to a tree. The animals will get used to being tied, and will be quieter.

Always put the same ox on the same side of the yoke.

The left- hand ox must always be on the left, and the right- hand ox must always be on the right.

To get young oxen used to the yoke, you can put the ox which is to be trained along with an ox already trained. Be sure to put the left- hand ox always on the left, and the right- hand ox on the right.

When tie the oxen to be trained to the same yoke for 2 or 3 days. Let them go free for 2 or 3 hours, but keep an eye on them. To prevent them moving too much, tie a rope to a foreleg and loop it round the animal's back.

On the fifth day, get the oxen to walk in a straight line.
Do not hit them.
You need a lot of patience.
It is better to drive the oxen from behind; then the trainer disturbs them less.

When the animals are used to wearing the yoke and to walking side by side, tie a chain or a rope to the middle of the yoke, and to the other end of the chain or rope fix a piece of wood weighing about 40 kilogrammes.

Training oxen

When the oxen are used to wearing the yoke, and to walking while dragging something, you must teach them to walk straight ahead, to stop, to turn to the left, to turn to the right.

You can get oxen to obey at the words:









The driver's voice should be the chief means of driving the oxen.

You have to do the same movements over and over again.

The oxen learn to obey by this means. To get them to obey better, you can give each one a name, and give them orders by calling their names.

You must teach the oxen to walk steadily in a straight line.

At the beginning of training, use the oxen only for light work, such as cultivation and light transport.

Gradually make them do more tiring work. After ten days, harness the oxen to a plough (see page 42).

The oxen must walk in a straight line, and pull steadily. To begin with, do a light ploughing (see Booklet No. 7, page 8).

At the end of each furrow, let the animals rest for 1 or 2 minutes.

In this way the oxen gradually become used to all kinds of work, and the farmer also becomes used to handling the tools.

In some places there are animal training stations where the farmer can learn how to train his oxen.

Remember that oxen should not do very tiring work before they are 4 years old (see page 16).

The animals must do some work such as transport even outside the main farming season; they must not lose the habit of work.

How many hours a day can oxen work?

When a man works, he gets tired. When an ox works, it gets tired.

We know too that oxen need plenty of time to find their food and digest it.

For tiring work like ploughing, oxen should not be worked for more than 5 hours a day.

For less tiring work, like light transport, oxen can be worked a little longer.

It is best to make the oxen work when the sun is not too hot, early in the morning. When it is very hot, the oxen get tired more quickly, and work less.

You must not work the oxen too long. They will get too tired and will fall sick. The farmer must know his oxen well, so that he can judge what work they can do and remain well.

How to feed working oxen

A man who does not eat well cannot work well.

An ox that does not eat well cannot work well.

Working oxen must be well fed.

We know that cattle need a lot of time to feed.

An ox that works has less time to get its food than animals that do not work.

So rich pastures near the village must be kept for working oxen, and grass or hay must be taken to them in their shed.

You must store green fodder for the dry season, by making silage or hay (see Booklet No. 8, page 28).

You must also give working oxen feed supplements.

An ox that works 5 hours a day must have, besides green fodder, a feed supplement.

A well- fed ox works well and does not get thin.

The oxen stay well, can be used for a longer time, and then sold for a good price. You spend money to feed the oxen well, but you earn more by their work and by selling them.

You are advised to give working oxen every day 2 feed units for light work, and 3 feed units for heavy work (see Booklet No. 8, page 13).

This feed supplement is provided by: 2.5 kilogrammes of rice bran mixed with crushed maize, or 2.5 kilogrammes of rice bran mixed with crushed sorghum, or 6 kilogrammes of groundnut stems and leaves, or 5 kilogrammes of good brush hay.

You must also give the oxen a mineral supplement every day.

For example, calcium carbonate mixed with dicalcium phosphate.

And do not forget a salt lick.

Even when the animals are not working, you must give them enough to eat.

If you do not do this, when you need them for working, they will be too weak, they will take too long doing the work; sowing will be late, and the harvest will not be so good.

Without good feeding, animal power is useless.

Looking after working' oxen

The cattle shed

Working oxen must be able to rest.

To shelter them from the wind, sun and rain, build a shed for them. Use wood, millet straw, other local materials.

The shed should not cost much.

Next to the shed, make a paddock.

In the paddock put feeding racks or troughs for the feed supplement you give the oxen (see page 27).

Put feeding racks or troughs in the paddock

Watching over the health of working oxen

· Every week look to see if the oxen have ticks. Ticks prevent oxen from working well; the animals get restless, walk with difficulty, and lose their strength. You can kill ticks with paraffin or mineral oil. They can also be cut out.

· Look out for any injuries. If an ox is injured, find out why. Has it got a thorn in its foot? Has a piece of wood or iron torn its skin? To avoid hurting the oxen, the yoke must be well placed (see page 19); make sure that the cloth is in place.

When you have found what hurts the ox, take away the cause of the injury. Do not make the ox work. It is better to lose a few days' work than to lose an ox.

You must treat the wound.

Clean the wound with hot water. Add disinfectant to the water to prevent the wound getting infected, for example, soap, or potassium permanganate or cresol. Wash the wound often. A wound that is kept clean soon heals.