How to Train a Cow to Pull a Cart

A cow doesn't have to be just for milking. Learn how a cow can serve three purposes - milk, meat and draft animal.

| September/October 1976

Anyone who's ever owned draft animals knows that there's one big drawback to keeping horses, mules, oxen, etc.: namely, the beasts tie up a considerable quantity of valuable land, while producing only a modest amount of power and manure. Now, on a 100-acre farm where a great deal of draft power is required, this expenditure may be justified ... but on a tiny farmstead where every square foot of land is needed, it's just not practical to devote precious acreage to the upkeep of draft animals.

There is an "easy way out" of this dilemma, of course: buy a tractor (and add to the world's problems by fueling it with petroleum products). That's not a very satisfactory solution, however, economically OR ecologically.

Another very real alternative — although seldom thought of by most people — does exist, however, and to introduce it I'd like to step back to the mid-1960's and recount a bit of personal history.

A decade ago, I made my living as a small milk producer in the hills and dales of North Yorkshire, England. My "spread" totaled 35 acres, most of them steep and craggy. Since I've never personally liked tractors (I despise them, in fact), all the everyday work around that farm was done with the aid of Peggy, my Clydesdale mare ... whose main duty was to haul 30 gallons of milk to market every day across three-quarters of a mile of steep, rough road. (All heavier farmwork — baling and such — was left to local contractors.)

One early Christmas morning, as the frosty sky was beginning to brighten in the east, I set off with Peggy up the steep road to town with two churns (each containing 15 gallons of milk) secured to my flatcart. The last steep stretch of the country road I traveled twisted between high banks and hedges before joining a paved thoroughfare into the village. We were halfway up this hazardous section in the morning's dim light before I realized that — ahead of us — water had run out from the side ditch and frozen across our path. Rather than try to back down the hill as I should have, though, I decided to risk going the rest of the way up.

What a mistake that was! Peggy missed her footing on the ice and fell, breaking one of the cart's shafts. Luckily, I managed to free the horse from the wreckage and carry the milk cans — one at a time — up the last few yards of the track on my back. My beloved mare, however, was now lame ... and I was faced with the prospect of having to pack 100-pound cans all the way to town on my back every morning in order to get the milk to market.

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