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4-H Working Steer Manual
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and State laws and regulations on nondiscrimination regarding race, color, national origin,
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counties cooperating. 01/00 Reprinted May, 2007
This manual is dedicated to teamsters past and present who have the energy and drive, the pa- tience and skill, to help keep alive an all but forgotten tradition.
Author: Mackenzie Chauncey – UNH Self-designed Agriculture Journalism, Sophomore Contributing Authors and Editors: Lisa Townson – Extension Specialist 4-H Jim Carrabba – Extension Educator 4-H Drew Conroy – Associate Professor, Applied Animal Sci- ence, Thompson School, University of New Hampshire Special thanks for the contributions and critiques of the New Hampshire 4-H Working Steer Cur- riculum Committee. The combined experience of this dedicated group has not only enhanced this manual, but enriches the experiences of 4-H Working Steer members across the state.
Cover illustrations and oxen line drawings are by Analesa Harvey. Photos are by Drew Conroy.
Working Steer Manual Table of Contents Selecting project animals
Feeds and feeding
Cart driving commands
Fitting and showing
Parts of a yoke
Parts of a steer
1 2 Selecting Project Animals The first step in purchasing a pair of steers is deciding what breed of cattle you want to train.
Although availability of particular breeds is dependent on the region you live in, it is important to understand breed differences with respect to size, temperament and suitability for a Working Steer or Oxen project. Use the following guide to determine what breed would work best for you in terms of size, temperament and availability.
Holstein The Holstein breed originated in the Netherlands and continues as the distinctive black and white or red and white cattle popular in the United States today. Because of this, Holstein bull calves are abundant and can be found at dairy farms without a problem. Holsteins have an even temperament but they grow very fast. Often they can exceed the height of a young teamster, making them difficult to control unless already well trained.
Holstein breed Getting a perfect match of spots on Holsteins is difficult, but can be done. Half- brothers can often be found on the same farm and may be better matched then trying to get calves from two different farms.
Despite their growth rate, Holsteins make fine oxen and a nice first year team.
Jersey The Jersey breed, originally from the Isle of Jersey, is the most varied colored breed. They can range from a shade of fawn with or without white markings to almost black. This makes it difficult to exactly match a team, for they have been known to change a few shades as they grow. Jerseys are relatively easy to find at dairy farms and are inexpensive.
Jerseys are the smallest dairy breed and do not grow too fast or too large. The breed is also known to be very aggressive and somewhat high-strung. The novice teamster would be well advised to keep a close eye on this team.
Jersey breed Milking Shorthorn (Durham) The Milking Shorthorn originated in northeastern England and also varies in color though not as widely as the Jersey.
Shorthorns are generally red, white, red and white, or roan.
(Roan is a mix of red and white, though neither color is exactly solid). Shorthorns tend to be even-tempered and mature at a relatively slow pace. The shorthorn can also be polled or horned, so when you make your choice, make sure your calves will have horns!
Shorthorns are typically less available and are generally more expensive then Holsteins or Jerseys. You may want to Milking Shorthorn breed let several farms know you’re looking for bull calves and try to match a team for color and size between farms.
Beef-type Shorthorns may also be used for oxen teams.
3 American Milking Devon The Devon breed, which originated in England is also a characteristically red breed. The American Milking Devon is a smaller breed. They are very fast, remarkably smart and aggressive. The American Milking Devon is a strain unique to America and distinctively different from the beef-type Devon. The horns on Devon steers grow faster than their bodies. Devons are very difficult to find and tend to be expensive. Often breeders American Milking Devon breed will have a waiting list of teamsters who want a team, but they are relatively easy to match.
Devons have a high resale value as they make excellent teams for working around the farm. Their intelligence may be used to the advantage of an experienced teamster, but they can be challenging to handle and not recommended for the novice teamster.
Brown Swiss A less popular breed, Brown Swiss originated in Switzerland. They are very docile animals and tend to move much slower than other breeds. For a dairy breed, they tend to have a heavier muscle covering with strong feet and legs.
The breed is not as easy to find, and may affect the cost of a team. Brown Swiss are easy to match, as they generally stay in the light to dark gray range. These cattle have a slow maturing rate, but make excellent pullers and a good, strong team.
Brown Swiss breed Other and Crossbreeds There are many other purebred and crossbred cattle available. Examples include: Herefords, minor breeds (such as Linebacks or Dexters), Charolais, Chianina, Whitefaces (which are Holstein/Hereford crosses), Devon-Holstein, and Ayrshire.
These breeds may be more difficult to find and therefore more expensive, but have been known to make award winning teams. Consult someone who has a team or knows of the desired breed to decide which breed would be best for you.
Age of Cattle Most young teamsters will want to purchase young calves which gives them the ability to handle the team easier. Purchasing a mature, trained team is not recommended for a younger teamster.
Oxen can sense if the teamster is incapable of maintaining control and can become difficult to manage for an inexperienced teamster. In addition, a primary objective of the project is to learn to train a team of oxen. Unfortunately cattle don’t grow at the same rate as humans and calves will quickly out grow their handler. If a young member isn’t able to handle their team, it may be necessary to purchase new calves as the steers outgrow the child.
4 Recognizing an ideal team / Recognizing good conformation, abnormalities and faults Once you have decided on a breed and have located a team, it is wise to go and see the calves for yourself. Buying a team sight unseen is not recommended.
First, look each calf over. The general appearance of the calf will give you some clues to the health and characteristics of the animal. The calf should stretch when you get him up. He should be alert and curious to what you are doing in his pen. Make sure the calf does not have any physical abnormalities such as an umbilical hernia or blindness. Inspect the coat for signs of lice, fleas or mites, as well as ringworm. Check for runny eyes or nose, diarrhea, and for signs of disease in the hooves. Ask the farmer if he dipped the navel of the calf after birth to prevent navel and joint ill.
You may want to check to make sure the calf has two descended testicles, for easier castration.
Also, be sure the team you are purchasing will have horns, as horns will be necessary when maneuvering a cart down hill.
A calf that will make a strong steer will have a straight back with squarely placed feet and strong pasterns. A wide chest floor between the front legs is also desirable.
After the calves have been physically examined, try to match a team. By matching a team, you look to find two calves as close in size, color patterns, and bone structure as possible. A mated team is a team placed together based solely on similar working capabilities. A mated team works well together, but does not necessarily have to be of the same color, nor the same breed. A 4-H member should strive to have a team that is well matched and mated.
Stand the calves next to each other. Pay attention to their markings. It is easy to match solid colored calves, who may only have a star on the forehead to match, but do the best you can with Holsteins and other varied colored breeds. Also, pay close attention to size and bone structure of the calves. A smaller calf can be given more grain to even out height differences, but a calf with smaller bone structure (small, delicate bones) will not be able to keep up with a heavier boned animal.
Once you have purchased your team, don’t think your work in keeping them matched is done. It is your responsibility to monitor the growth rates of your team. Make sure each steer gets adequate amounts of grain and hay. Separate your team at feeding if one steer is more aggressive in eating all the feed. If the horns on your cattle grow in different directions, you may correct them (ask your club leader for help if necessary).
They’re your team and your responsibility—the more work you put into your project now the more successful you will be over the course of your project.
5 Management Housing The housing for your team of working steers is generally dependent upon the amount of space you have readily available. If you already live on a farm, then it will be easy to find a stall or pen for your team. If not, you may have to alter existing facilities.
Steers will do well in most any housing environment, as long as it is kept clean and dry to prevent disease. A barnyard or pasture for your team is acceptable, although not always feasible. Many teamsters prefer that the steers be kept in a solid-walled barn or shed with tie ups. This aids in the training of young steers and will ensure their readiness for the fairs, as they must be tied at such events. Some teams are kept in stanchions and this is perfectly acceptable.
Tying a team is easy. If you don’t have a have a halter for each steer, you can make one out of a length of rope. Call your County Extension office for a fact sheet or information on making rope halters.
Ventilation A barn with proper ventilation is essential to the health and well being of your team. Cattle kept in barns without windows and closed up tight against the cold winter winds may seem like a good idea, but it is a disaster waiting to happen. Instead, leave windows at least partially open to allow clean, fresh air in the barn at all times. To prevent respiratory disease, young calves should not be kept in a direct draft. During the summer months, it may be necessary to install a fan over your team to keep fresh air flowing around them. As long as your team is kept in a clean, dry, well ventilated area and always provided with fresh clean water and feed, they should remain healthy.
Feeds and Feeding Cattle, like sheep, goats and deer, are ruminants, which means their digestive system includes a four-compartment stomach. This specialized system allows ruminants to utilize high fiber forages as a major portion of their nutrition needs.
Digestive System Cattle don’t have top teeth (incisors), but have a tough layer of skin on the top of their mouth, where their teeth might have been. When grazing, ruminants cut the forage with their lower teeth and bite against the thick skin on the top of their mouth. Once chewed, food is swallowed and passes through the esophagus into the first compartment of the stomach.
The reticulum is sometimes called the honey comb chamber because the inside walls of the reticulum resemble a honey comb. The purpose of this compartment is to catch large food material. Calves have larger reticulums in relation to the rest of their stomach compartments. As they mature and begin to eat more forages, the second compartment (rumen) of their stomach develops and becomes the largest portion of their stomach.
The rumen is a large fermentation vat where food is sorted, agitated and fermented. Millions of microbes (bacteria and protozoa) can be found in the rumen. These microbes attach themselves to feed particles and digest the feed, producing by-products in the form of volatile fatty acids (VFA’s). These VFA’s are in turn absorbed through the wall of the rumen to be used as energy for the animal.
6 Fats and sugars are digested in a similar manner, however most fats take longer to digest and are passed to the abomasum (fourth stomach compartment).
Feed is sorted in the rumen. Large stems and hay particles may spend up to 60 hours in the rumen. Ruminants will regurgitate and rechew these large particles to aid in digestion (chewing the cud). Smaller feed particles, such as some grains exit the rumen quickly and pass through to the third stomach compartment, the omasum.
The omasum is made up of many layers of tissue and feed particles move into it and fill up the spaces between these layers. Water and some mineral absorption takes place here.
The abomasum is the fourth compartment of the ruminant’s stomach and is really the “true” stomach. This compartment produces gastric enzymes and digests acid, similar to our own stomach. Starches, sugars and proteins are broken down here.
The small intestine is a long, coiled tube (up to 130 feet in a mature steer). Fat digestion begins here and absorption of all nutrients except water takes place across the lining of the small intestine. The last segment of the digestive system is the large intestine and it’s function is to absorb water. It’s shorter than the small intestine but larger in diameter. The large intestine ends at the rectum, where solid waste product is passed from the animal in the form of manure.
Nutrients There are five major nutrients that are required by cattle. Each of these has a different role in
growth and maintenance of the steer: