by Laura Steiger, Outreach Team
During their early training, Lars (left) and Tim are getting accustomed to wearing a halter and yoke, and learning how to work together as a team. It will be almost three years before they are ready to plow.
Passion. When people have it, they make things happen. Such is the case with Garrett Franz, who found a way to share his newly found passion for traditional farming methods using draft animals.
Garrett recently completed an internship at Tillers International, where he learned about training and working with draft animals. Thanks to a Farm Fund grant, Garrett and his three new best friends—Tim, Lars, and Deb—are bringing that knowledge to Whatcom County.
As you may have guessed, Tim, Lars, and Deb are the Milking Shorthorn calves acquired by Garrett in February when they were just wee little babes. The trio spent their first weekend in suburban Shoreline at Garrett’s parents’ house (I’m sure they were the talk of the neighborhood!), before arriving at their new and more appropriately rural home at Moondance Farm in Acme.
Since then, Garrett has been training them, which at this early stage largely involves bonding. Brushing is one of the main ways to bond and gain the trust of these creatures that will eventually weigh one ton or more, each. Once bonded, like most creatures (human or otherwise), they are motivated to work and want to please their trainer. Other early training focuses on familiarizing them to people, noises, halters and yokes, and very carefully building their strength and endurance.
Just like in the cowboy movies, it is critical for the team to learn basic voice commands—whoa, come, haw (left), and gee (right)—because you can’t physically control two tons of oxen power.
The key to early training, said Garrett, is setting reasonable goals, so they can successfully learn one concept before introducing something new.
They won’t be ready to do any heavy cultivating or plowing until they are 3 or 4 years old. It seems like a huge investment of time and money, but a team of oxen is a bargain compared to the price of a new tractor and requires much less costly maintenance than an older used tractor. Besides, for Garrett there are other tangible benefits. “For me, it is more enjoyable to work with living things. They are my teammates, not just implements. I pay attention to their needs, and walk right beside them.”
East of the Rockies, many hobby farmers still use draft animals. “People out here look at me like I’m crazy, but most of the developing world uses draft power and a high percentage is oxen, because they are affordable,” said Garrett. Draft power is also starting to move into the sustainable farming movement in the U.S., since it eliminates the need for fossil-fueled tractors, and the oxen provide fertility (aka lots of poop) to the farm.
Garrett’s goal is to preserve this traditional skill, share his knowledge (and his oxen team) with local farmers, support the local sustainable farming movement, and eventually expand his herd.
Garret also has one request for all of us. Back East, draft equipment is everywhere and is inexpensive, but here it is sought after by antique collectors and often sold at high prices for purely decorative use. If you have a neighbor or family member who might have draft equipment to share, Garret, Tim, Lars, and Deb would be grateful to receive it. Contact Garrett at [email protected], specify “Farm Fund Oxen Project” in subject line.
For more information about the Co-op Farm Fund, contact Mardi Solomon or visit the Farm Fund page at www.communityfood.coop.