Carl Heth guides his team of six Milking Shorthorn
cattle through a pasture at a horse farming event near Gerald.
The Rolla-area home remodeling contractor is teaching the steers
to work as a draft animals. At age 4 they can properly be called
leisurely air of familarity as draft horse enthusiasts and day-trippers
from the city mill around a small park on the outskirts of Festus
for a weekend old-time farm festival. Tourists enjoy horse-drawn
wagon rides around the grounds and snack on chuckwagon apple cobbler
while exhibitors tend to their livestock.
A sudden surge
of excitement builds, however, as Carl Heth begins readying his team
of six Milking Shorthorn cattle for a demonstration. A crowd gathers
around a makeshift corral to watch Carl, a home remodeling contractor
from Rolla, place yokes across the necks of his cattle.
people have never seen anything like this before,” Carl says
of the steers he’s trained to pull a wagon, plow fields and haul firewood,
among other chores. “They can’t believe I can do what I do with
them. Once they see it, it blows their mind.”
2-year-old cows average 1,000 pounds each, they can’t
correctly be called oxen until they’re 4 years old. By then, Carl
says they’ll weigh over a ton a piece. Already, though, they’re
For his afternoon “working
steer seminar” Carl hitches
his team to a walking plow and begins to turn a furrow in the event’s
demonstration field. Halfway through the second pass one of the steers
refuses to stay in the furrow. Carl coaxes him back on track but, eventually,
the team balks and determines to plow no more.
Carl removes a yoke from a pair of cattle following a workout
at his farm near Rolla. The finish carpenter and home remodeling
contractor has made four sets of yokes to accomodate his ever-growing
Despite the abbreviated
show, the crowd of onlookers is satisfied.
like this people aren’t interested in seeing how long
they can work. They just want to see them do stuff,” Carl says. “If
it’s only for a short period of time, that’s OK.”
all, these six steers are relatively new at farm chores. And, despite
four decades of experience with draft horses, Carl is still learning
to work cattle.
here, I consider them to be green broke,” he says. “They’re
broke enough to do what I want to with them, but they’ve
got a lot of learning ahead. And so do I.”
Carl, 59, has driven
draft horses all of his adult life. He farmed with horses in
his native Iowa and later earned his living building horse-drawn
vehicles for the likes of beer magnate Auggie Busch. For a number
of years the Intercountry Electric Cooperative member organized draft
horse events for Rolla-area fairs. As a draft horse hobbyist he has
owned teams of six and eight horses and once helped drive a 40-horse
|Verlene Vaughn of Hillsboro
pets one of Carl’s steers prior
to a demonstration at the Festus event. Vaughn says she attended
the event specifically to see Carl’s cattle work.
An elbow injury
several years ago made it difficult to reach up and harness his draft
horses, which all stood more than 18 hands. Carl sold his team and,
for the first time in 45 years, owned no horses. He wasn’t
through driving a team, however.
a daughter in Pennsylvania, Carl watched oxen being used for fieldwork.
He re-searched the practice and learned draft cattle are common in
New England and that raising and showing oxen is a popular 4-H project
for children there.
ox is a mature steer trained for farm work. Almost any cow can be
used but Holsteins, Brown Swiss and Durham, otherwise known as Milking
Shorthorns, are the most popular draft breeds.
Oxen were likely
the first animals used for farm labor. During America’s
pioneer days they were popular because they cost less
than horses to buy, were simpler to harness and would eat food that
horses and mules wouldn’t. Also,
unlike horses or mules, oxen would often be butchered
at the end of their useful life.
Carl, though, the allure of a team of oxen was largely novelty. While
there are other working cattle in Missouri, Carl’s not aware of many
other large teams. “There’s nothing like this in this
whole part of the country,” he
Carl decided to
develop a hitch of six Milking Shorthorns and, two years ago, located
a dairy farmer near Houston, Mo., with calves for sale. Equipped
with his horse experience and a copy of Drew Conroy’s
A Teamster’s Guide,” Carl brought the
2-month-old calves home and set about to teach himself
and them to work as a team.
Carl brushes his cattle to keep them used to human contact. The
team of six steers live in an octagonal-shaped barn Carl built.
got them broke to where they’d lead good, one
at a time, and started their gee and their haw and
their back,” he
says. “Gee is going to
the right, haw is going to the left — the
same commands you use with horses.”
with each animal individually until they learned
to recognize voice commands and then began leading
them by halter around his pasture in pairs. Like
horses that learn their master’s touch
by constant attention, the cattle came to know
human contact by Carl’s handling.
Carl made a tiny yoke from red cedar and tried
hitching two calves together. “I
put it on them and they just walked off like
they didn’t even know the
difference,” he says.
At 4 months old,
two pairs worked together. Three months later
the third team joined the hitch. “When
it came time for haying, we put all six of
them on the hay rake and raked a little bit
of hay with them,” he says.
Carl has built
a unique octagon-shaped barn to house his cattle and continues to
develop his team. Some-times their workouts involve
hauling firewood or pulling a manure spreader.
Other times, he’ll teach them to re-main idle in the
yoke by having them stand in place for an
hour at a time. Whether pulling concrete blocks on a sled or driving
a sorghum press at a farm show near Gerald, his team has adapted
and taken to the task at hand.
|Carl leads a pair of his steers around a sorghum press at a old-fashioned
farm field days near Gerald. It was the first time the team had
ever worked a sorghum press but they adapted easily.
says cattle are dumb. Cattle are not dumb. Cattle are smart,” Carl
says. “You don’t think they’re
listening, but they’re
watching what I do and picking up on different
stuff. They may be chewing their cud, but
their eyes are still on me.”
of Carl’s teaching has been aimed
toward preparing for public demonstrations.
Carl bangs on pots and rattles cans to
accustom the animals to noise. He tugs
at their tails and horns and brushes
against their hooves with a rake to teach
the cattle to be calm, even when disturbed.
With each appearance
becomes more comfortable performing
in public and Carl is increasingly confident
in their abilities. Now he’s
turning his attention to sharing what
he’s learned with others.
goal is to get more people interested
in oxen,” he says. “I
want to see more people doing this
and have something that we can go
to with the cattle, just like they
do with the horse shows.”
the meantime, Carl attends horse-farming
events where his “guys” are
regular crowd pleasers.
are just delighted and entranced
by it,” says Gail Cross,
who hosts the Mid-Missouri Horse
and Mule Farming and Historical
Crafts Days at her farm near
of the fascination is that people
realize that cattle will work.
The fact that he has six that
work together is even more interesting.”
group of volunteers helps Carl demonstrate plowing with his team
of six Milking Shorthorn cattle at a horse farming field day
near Festus. The 2-year-old steers weigh 1,000 pounds each. At
age 4 they will tip the scales at more than
a ton apiece.
fascination will only increase
as Carl’s team grows. Already Carl
has made four sets of yokes
to accommodate his steers’ ever-increasing
size. They’re not much
bigger than cattle ready for
market now, but give them another
couple of years and they will
be a sight to behold.
growing up to be oxen,” Carl
says. “They mature
out at 4 years old, but they
don’t stop growing
until they’re 7 years
Carl expects each
of his steers to weigh
2,000 pounds in two years. By then,
they should easily pull
half their body weight. Already,
they stand chest-high to
Carl but he looks forward
to a day when he can barely
see over them.
people walk up to them
I want them to say, ‘Oh
my gosh, look at that big
steer!’ When they
come out of the trailer: ‘Wow!’ That’s
what I want.”
For more information,
write Carl Heth at 11570 County Road 5160, Rolla, MO 65401; or call
Carl at (573) 364-6425.