Training cattle

What is your cattle's weight?

where to measure cattle for weight

Rather often it seems necessary to estimate your cattle's weight, either to calculate their requirements of fodder, to administer drugs or to estimate how much work can be done.

the chest girth should be measured about 10cm behind the front legs

the body length is a straight line connecting the shoulder joint and the ischium

What kind of cattle is suitable to be put to work?

Firstly it must be said that just about every bovine is capable of being trained to undertake agricultural tasks and other draft work.


Bulls, Oxen and Cows

There are examples in history of bulls being used as working cattle. Their chief advantage is their strength, which makes them particularly suited to pulling heavy loads. Bulls, however, are also known for their spirited temper, which makes them difficult to handle, especially when they are not trained or cared for properly. Consequently they have not been so frequently employed as working cattle.

Oxen (castrated males) and cows played a much more prominent role and provided essential pulling power for small farms right up until the late 1960s. Frequently the cows work and draft performances were more important than their milk or beef production. They were truly triple use animals.

Typically oxen were only kept on larger farms, where the volume of draft work justified their upkeep. Dependant on the age at castration (from a few weeks to over a year) oxen either developed a rather cow-like appearance (slim but very tall, long horns and a cow-like face) or developed more muscled bull like characteristics. The later castrated oxen remained quite spirited compared to the early castrates, which were more sociable and easier to handle. However all oxen excel at persistence, strength and doggedness.

The use of cattle for draft work in the low mountain ranges persisted much longer than in other areas of Germany. Lowland areas appear to have been quicker to adopt alternative farm practices and means of motive power. The pace of farm mechanisation was certainly faster in these areas. Consequently the traditional upland breeds are more frequently regarded as the classic draft breeds. But the issue of which cattle breeds are best suited to draft work remains debatable.

Information regarding the relative draft power of different breeds is documented by the German Agricultural Society (Deutschen Landwirtschafts Gesellschaft). These relative measurements were carried out in the 19th century and also far into the 20th century.


Historically, the training of draft oxen was always accomplished by harnessing the animal to be trained with one or more experienced animals. In this way the trainee draft cattle gradually became accustomed to the work required and to responding correctly to the commands. Today many would be hobby Bullockies ask themselves ‘How on earth do I begin to train a bull, cow or ox to obey commands and do useful draft work.’ The following simplified approach may help:

  • Select the animal early and start training shortly after birth. A calf is much easier to train than an adult.
  • Handle the animal early and frequently so that it quickly becomes accustomed to human contact, in particular to the voice and intonation of its handler.
  • Within a few weeks, begin to train the animal to be led with a halter. The aim is to be able to easily lead the animal and for it to stop and stand and then start again at command.
  • Begin to get the animal accustomed to being harnessed by gradually introducing an old sack, chain, a light collar or similar object over the neck and/or trunk.
  • Regular and frequent practicing of consistent commands is required. These can be voice commands with associated body position and/or commands via lines.

Now it turns interesting. The animal should at this time be at least 18months old

  • Gradually accustom the animal to a complete and well fitting harness.
  • Attach a light load such as a branch or a car tyre – something that will give a constant dead pull. Then practice, practice, practice ...
  • Try out all commands while gradually introducing the animal to unexpected events such as loud noise, fluttering coloured flags, traffic etc. Occasionally vary the load so that the animal also gets used to pulling heavier loads.
  • Only when the animal can 100% reliably do all of the above and correctly responds to commands, should you try to attach a cart. And then: Lots of luck!!

           definitely not the way to go!                                  that's how to do it ...