We recently decided that we could no longer keep our ox Lucky. He had come to us at the age of 5, a full grown holstein. In retrospect the combination of a very large animal and two inexperienced trainers was not a good idea, no matter how trained he was to begin with. We had high expectations of being able to work with him to haul firewood and other heavy loads around the farm. As we tried hitching him, reality soon hit. Early on there were several incidents of him running with loads. We made many mistakes along the way and he was quick to learn that he was much bigger than we are. Over the last year and a half we kept working with him twice a day leading with a halter and practicing commands. There were many ups and downs of stretches of good behavior and hope that he was improving followed by some erratic behavior like running. Over this past winter his behavior got worse and degraded to the point that he was very difficult to get a halter on. He learned how to pull his head away so that he was difficult to correct. Eventually his behavior made me feel unsafe and I dreaded working with him. We knew the prospect of hitching him and doing useful tasks on the farm were not likely, so we decided to slaughter him. It was a hard decision as we had grown to love him and had spent so much time trying to make it work.
The up-side is that we learned a lot about working with oxen in the process. We would like to try working with another single ox or team in the future, but want to take the summer off and think things over. Next time we plan on starting with a calf/calves and really establishing a relationship of respect when the animals are small.
We thank Lucky for the friendly bovine energy he brought to the farm, his good grazing work, and his big pile of manure.