View Full Version : Oxen/Cattle Health/Temperament Issue

05-01-2013, 12:24 AM
I have two characters who need to obtain an ox in mid-18th c. Pennsylvania. I want to give the ox health or temperament issues.

Any ideas as to what health/behavioral issues would make an ox appear to be a lost cause? Other than general lameness, that is.

05-01-2013, 12:26 AM
Do you want the ox to die or to get better?

05-01-2013, 12:32 AM
Temperament issues are easy. Some oxen are just SOBs. They can kick and are pretty much useless if they don't stand still.

05-01-2013, 01:23 AM
If they're anything like Whiteface (Hereford) cattle there's basic intransigence -- pure unadulterated cussedness. And destructiveness. They can do a number on a barn if they've a mind to, tear down fences, wanderlust, and that old saying, "the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence" had to be about cattle, most likely Whiteface.

They'll also run you down if they don't want to go where you want them to go. And they're bad about leaving their new calves laying down and forgetting where they left them.

05-01-2013, 04:35 AM
Do you want the ox to die or to get better?

I'd like him to get better so they can use him to break open their field in the Spring. Is there anything short-term that "looks" terminal?

I also thought I could have my character "rescue" the animal from someone who was beating it silly for being temperamental. A cantankerous beast could add danger and struggle to the journey.

Thanks everybody.

Any cattle sickness come to mind?

05-01-2013, 04:44 AM
Could be worms. Worms can kill an animal but if treated it would be right as rain. Could be bloat from bad feeding, also potentially fatal.

05-01-2013, 04:46 AM
Could be worms. Worms can kill an animal but if treated it would be right as rain. Could be bloat from bad feeding, also potentially fatal.

Ah, excellent, thank you! Now I have to Google 18th century cures for worms and bloat. *anything but write*

05-01-2013, 05:18 AM
I'd go with hoof or foot rot. Nice stinky disease. It's a bacteria, so in the 1800s wasn't too easy to treat. You need to get the infected animal out of the herd immediately, which could be how your characters acquire the ox. (Understand that the market price for a live ox is always above the price the ox would get as hamburg.)

Treatment back then would be wrapping the hooves in some weird concoction. Anything that dries out the hoof, and better yet makes it look like something is happening would work. What actually makes a difference is getting the animal out of a wet environment and getting the hooves dry. Takes a few months on dry terrain for the ox to be cured. So gets sick in the fall, your characters take care of him all winter, next spring he's good to go for plowing.

Best of luck,

Jim Clark-Dawe

05-01-2013, 05:37 AM
Treatment of footrot shouldn't take months unless it is relapsing. It would take more than the days quoted here if it's the 1800s- http://www.merckmanuals.com/vet/musculoskeletal_system/lameness_in_cattle/disorders_of_the_interdigital_space_in_cattle.html

A bad case with necrosis would take longer so maybe Jim was considering that. Cattle feet are funny with how crap can get between the toes. So necrotic hoof has to grow out and if it keeps getting shit in there, the bacteria start to grow but daily treatment gets them to not do any firther damage.

A wet spring could cause a major relapse as the ox started to do work, infuriating the poor characters (at which point they can slaughter it and pull the plow themselves!)

05-01-2013, 06:36 AM
I'm sorry, bad way of explaining it. The foot rot back then would get cured in a couple of weeks (modern medicine reduces the time down a lot). But the damage to the hoof prevents the ox from being comfortable walking for several month, as the hoof has to regrow. (You would cut out the rotten parts back then.)

And as Fenika points out, it would be essential the following spring to keep the hooves dry to prevent a re-occurrance.

Best of luck,

Jim Clark-Dawe

05-01-2013, 03:37 PM
The ox may have gotten into loco weed.

They can get emaciated and difficult to handle. An unscrupulous processor might still buy such an animal because they get paid significantly more than the farmer for livestock, being a rung higher on the processing chain and could buy such an animal for a song. However an honest processor would refuse to buy it for fear of it transmitting some disease to the consumer.

For people with good knowledge of livestock and more time than money it's not unusual for them to go to auctions and pick over the rejects, take them home and nurse them back to health. Generally animals that get nursed back to health remember that and like their new owners.

05-01-2013, 05:47 PM
Foot rot! Why didn't I think of that? It's brilliant, and having had horses, I know what it looks/smells like. Miserable feet would lead to behavioral issues as well. I'm going with that.

Thank you!

GeorgeK, locoweed is also a great idea, but does it grow in Pennsylvania? I Googled and couldn't find anything. I thought it was more of a Plains or SW problem.

05-01-2013, 06:59 PM
GeorgeK, locoweed is also a great idea, but does it grow in Pennsylvania? .
Oops, forgot about that stipulation

05-01-2013, 07:04 PM
In terms of temperament there is also the "make me" ox. You might want him to pull the wagon, but he isn't really into it. That can be a tad frustrating.

05-01-2013, 07:07 PM
instead of loco weed, ergot poisoning from moldy hay

05-01-2013, 07:38 PM
If you live in PA, and not Ireland, spend a week-end in Amish PA, do a little research. Put your hands on an ox. To do that, stop at a country store, ask if they know someone you can talk to. They will and you'll get real info. I've spent a bit of time around cattle but it's a lot different now than when you are talking about.
I imagine a google search will locate somebody you could interview as well. There will also be veterinary info regarding both animals that is at least as accurate as you'll get here on the forum.

05-01-2013, 08:11 PM
All good, thanks. I live in the heart of farm/Amish country, so I do have plenty of opportunity to see/hear/SMELL cattle, but mostly beef/dairy cows. Oxen are never used to drive here, unless it's at a living history museum for educational purposes (and believe me, I've searched!). It looks like most of that goes on up in New England, where there are shows, etc. (Those wacky New Englanders...)

I did find a really good online cattle forum, and a lot of the folks there recommend the foot rot, too, but they say a bad case will require antibiotics, so now I'm on the trail of 18th century alternatives. Garlic comes to mind, as well as lavender.

I have hope that I can do this!

05-01-2013, 09:21 PM
The real treatment back then was the cutting off of the infected parts, good drainage of the hoof, and dry land to stand on.

But I think a poultice of some turpentine, whiskey, mustard, garlic, and maybe rattlesnake poison would be good. But if you want something more likely to work, contact a herbalist and ask how they'd treat athelete's foot. Remember back then, successful treatment of foot rot was a lot of showmanship, picking an ox likely to survive, and then good basic care -- cut the bad away, let the wound drain, and dry ground. If you were someone doing this, the last part of this wasn't mentioned.

Best of luck,

Jim Clark-Dawe

05-01-2013, 09:39 PM
The real treatment back then was the cutting off of the infected parts, good drainage of the hoof, and dry land to stand on.

I think this is quite workable.

BTW, tea tree oil for athlete's foot (and ringworm, yeast infections, etc.).

Thanks, everybody!

05-01-2013, 09:52 PM
Something as simple as a tick? Could make the cow all irritable but easily cured once removed.