Oxen Training Yoke
Date: c. 1890
Description: In the earliest days of agriculture much of the work was done by hand. Once animals became domesticated farming became easier as strong, load-bearing animals could take some of the work from humans. Until the days of big industries load animals were an essential part of agricultural production. This small, wooden yoke was used by early Iowa farmers to train young oxen to pull a plow (alternatively spelled plough). Oxen are a special variety of cattle that were bred and trained specifically for work. Oxen could pull carts, wagons, and logs, but they were useful on agricultural farms as well. They could trample certain grains like wheat for threshing, loosening the grain from the inedible chaff. Oxen dung was an essential fertilizer. But most often oxen were used for pulling plows. The animals were driven in pairs using yokes like this one to attach them to a plow. A plow back then was a bladed tool that could dig down into the soil and turn it up, bringing the fresh nutrients underneath to the surface. Grain seeds depend on these nutrients to grow, and thus plowing is necessary to ensure a good crop. The first plows were driven by hand, but oxen could pull heavier plows for longer amounts of time, making plowing fields much easier. However oxen had to be specially trained to pull plows, which is why yokes like these were necessary for young oxen. This yoke would have been attached to some kind of load to allow the oxen to grow accustomed to pulling, and once they became used to it they could be attached to a true plow. Today Iowa farmers use large machines like rotary tillers pulled by large tractors to plow the fields.
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