Herb Stacy of Lowville has worked with oxen for more than 50 years. He learned how to train them in a “five-minute lesson from my father,” he says.
“We were on the farm in Denmark, NY, and I told him I needed to move manure but could not afford a tractor or horses, so he said, ‘Use oxen.’ He told me to halter them and walk one at a time until they followed commands and then yoke two together. Once they learn, they respond to just voice commands,” Herb says.
Herb says the oxen moved manure on the family farm for many years until “we built a new barn and the gutter cleaners spoiled all the fun of working with the oxen for that.”
Herb has trained oxen ever since and enjoys traveling to about six events a year to educate the public about their use.
“I do it for fun and to show the children especially how the oxen were used as the cheapest means of having draft animals on the farm to draw logs, cut corn, thrash oats, whatever needed doing,” Herb explains. “The young oxen were bull calves that my father used to say were worth only about 25 cents. They were castrated, trained, and lightly used for about a year, and then put to work in the woods and for plowing and haying.”
Herb still uses oxen on his daughter’s farm in Lowville to pull firewood and take hay and water to some dairy heifers, beef animals, and two horses.
“Oxen can do the same things horses can do and the nice thing is that they can go to work as soon as they get some weight. The earliest I have yoked a pair is at two weeks old. By the time, they are four to six weeks old they can weigh 100 pounds each and can easily pull a cart or sled. I call it ‘eight-wheel drive’,” he says.
Herb says he likes to work most with the “little ones” for education programs and have one big team for working on the farm. There are currently three good teams on the family farm.
At the Lewis County Fair, Herb showed a nine-month-old pair of rare Red Dutch Belted oxen that belong to his granddaughter Rachel Van Buren. His grandsons Sam Van Buren and Jonah Stacy also help with the oxen.
The Fairs that include ox classes offer different classes including showmanship, confirmation, obstacles, and costume. Herb says he likes to see the young showpeople earn ribbons at the fairs.
The New York-based events and venues Herb enjoys taking oxen to include Farmer Boy Days at Stone Mills Agricultural Museum in LaFargeville, Z’fest at the Zwangzigstein Adirondack Mennonite Heritage Farm in Croghan, the Lewis County Fair in Lowville in July, Harvest Days with the North Country Draft Horse Club: at Trixie-Belle Farm in New Bremen on Sept. 14, the St. Lawrence Power and Equipment Museum in Madrid, Plow Days with the North Country Draft Horse Club in Fowler on Sept. 6-7, and Interlaken Plowing Day on Sept. 27.