Do-It-Yourself Oxen Yoke

Handcraft your very own do-it-yourself oxen yoke with hand woodworking tools.


| March/April 2015



handmade yoke

Beautiful handcrafted ox yokes have been a part of the homesteader's repertoire since the earliest American frontier.

Photo by iStockphoto.com/Thomas Arbour

Cattle were one of the earliest species of livestock to be domesticated, around 7000 B.C. in western Asia. One of the biggest benefits they brought to humankind was the tremendous power that could be harnessed by training the animals to pull. Oxen—cattle that have been trained for draft purposes—revolutionized life for early farmers by lending their strength to pulling plows, carts, sleds, and countless other implements over the course of history. Cattle and breeds vary widely across the world, but one thing remains fairly consistent: the need for a yoke to harness that power.

The yoke is a supremely simple instrument in both design and construction. It has very few moving parts to fuss with, and unlike a horse harness, which usually has an elaborate system of straps and buckles to fit and adjust, it is simple and quick for even a single person to hitch up a trained team of oxen.

Three basic types of yoke can be used with oxen. The withers yoke is most commonly used on humped breeds of cattle such as the Zebu. This yoke is quite simple and generally consists of a round pole placed across the animal’s neck, with two shafts sticking downward from the pole. This yoke rests against the animal’s hump, and the ox pushes against the load with his hump.

The head yoke, traditionally used in southeastern Europe and western Asia, actually straps to the horns of the oxen. This yoke requires that each apparatus be custom-fit to an animal’s horns, and as such can only be used by one team of oxen without substantial re-carving. The advantage to the head yoke is that it allows the animals more braking power, which is especially helpful in hilly terrain. It also holds them in place in the yoke more securely. The disadvantage is that it can only be used on horned cattle, and it will not work well for young cattle without fully developed horns.

The yoke most familiar to us is the traditional neck yoke, used by European and New England teamsters with great success. American teamsters generally prefer a neck yoke, both due to the prevalent cultural tradition and the fact that there is a lot to like about a neck yoke. A neck yoke is also easier for a novice to make and to use.

Creating a yoke

Among the first steps in creating a yoke is to decide what size you need, and what materials are available to make your yoke.





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