One of the greatest aspects of coming to Cerridwen Farm is being able to visit its animals. Many students and residents have come to know them by name. They perform various tasks; the pigs have helped to turn our compost and Artichoke supplies us with sweet raw milk. But the hardest working animals we have are our oxen. Big Bill and Little Lou is the mnemonic I was told to use to tell them apart. They are both brawny and tan; they even sway and walk the same way. But they have different patches of white fur on their foreheads. Bill’s is noticeably larger than Lou’s. There’s no need to be intimidated around them. They are large and strong, yet easy-going and temperamental.
Right now the oxen are being used for a new energy program. In an interview with farmhand Ben Dube, I learned that Timothy Johnson, who operates the bike shop, has built an oxen cart that can create electricity. The type of energy the oxen produce comes from hay of all things. He explained that by eating hay, Bill and Lou get the energy to move, “the same way we make energy from ourselves from our food.” They would then be moving a cart that powers a battery. This is definitely a sustainable effort. “It’s a neat concept, and it lowers our dependence on electricity from the grid,” Dube says. The energy will be used to power the lighting in the barns. The oxen cart power will be most useful in the winter, but training sessions have already begun to provide people with experience as “teamsters;” people who drive draft animals like Bill and Lou. “Generating electricity with the cart [is] a great thing for newer teamsters to do to get practice with driving with equipment.” Dube also noted that this is a great way for Bill and Lou to continue performing work during the winter.
Training sessions are usually done by Christopher Bergen who has also lead general driving and experiential lessons in dealing with the oxen. Dube closed out with a few tips. “To be a good teamster, you need to be sensitive and attentive, but also not afraid to express authority and dominance. I think that most people who start out on Bill and Lou have more trouble with the latter. Sometimes you have to be a little mean with them, which isn’t easy to do with such sweet animals. I don’t like it, but over time, you learn that they don’t really resent it or mind it much.” In being around Bill and Lou I have seen that this is definitely the case, and understanding how to work with them is a good learning experience. It will be interesting to see what this energy program yields for the fall semester. You can contact Ben Dube and Christopher Bergen about upcoming training sessions.