Ox Yokes and Collars: Withers Yokes and Ox Collars

3 Types of Yoke and a CollarWithers Yoke

The withers yoke is only used with humped zebu-type cattle, such as Brahmans. The yoke is a wooden pole resting on the hump of the animal and is held in place by a rope or leather strap around the neck. Note that the rope does not take any of the weight of the load. Sometimes wooden staves projecting downward from the pole add extra stability; these do not bear any weight, either.

This yoke is by far the simplest and is easy to make, repair, and fit to a team. Unfortunately, its very simplicity tends to invite some slipshod construction that will inflict pain on the oxen. This is quite unnecessary—the withers yoke is easily modified to allow for maximum comfort.

On the other hand, the withers yoke is also easily broken. It tends to give the teamster less control of the animals than other yoke types.


3 Types of Yoke and a CollarOx Collar

A good ox collar is made out of wood with leather pads lining the inside surfaces for comfort.

One of the most critical differences between an ox collar and a horse collar is the way the power of the draft animal is applied. A horse pushes into the lower part of its collar, while an ox pushes into the upper part. The ox also has more prominent, mobile shoulders, which are accommodated in the design of the proper collar.

A major advantage of an ox collar over a yoke is that the teamster can use one ox instead of two. From the ox’s perspective, it is probably more comfortable, as well, as the force is applied over a larger (and better padded) area. The result is greater efficiency.

However, cattle are herd animals. While one ox can provide sufficient pulling power for a small farm, it will probably be calmer and more content working with a friend. But a whole team of oxen can still be worked with collars. In fact, collars are easier to fit to oxen than yokes.

Probably one of the biggest disadvantages of the ox collar is its cost. Due to its complexity, it can be difficult to manufacture at home, as well. Please do not try to economize by putting a horse collar on your ox—it is guaranteed to rub and cause painful sores.

The ox collar frequently requires more maintenance than any of the three types of yoke.


A Final Note

Perhaps even more important than the type of yoke is the fit of the yoke. No ox can work efficiently if his yoke or collar does not fit properly. If the ox tosses his head frequently or is unwilling to work, he is probably uncomfortable.

Proper training and conditioning is also important for best results, regardless of yoke type.

Getting Ready for February 2017?

Getting Ready for February 2017?Looking for seasonal reminders and fun things to do this February? We have moved our monthly Get Ready updates to On the Range, our free weekly country living newsletter.

Subscribing is easy! Just follow this link and enter your email address. You can start receiving your weekly newsletter as early as tomorrow!

Other features you can look forward to include:

  • Links to our latest posts.
  • Timely tips on country living.
  • Hints to help you complete the reading challenge.
  • Updates from around the site.
  • The latest additions to the bookshelf.
  • New photos in the gallery.
  • News headlines that affect you.
  • Quotes and fun facts to keep you thinking.

We’re looking forward to sending you your first issue!

American Wigeon

American WigeonThe colorful male American wigeon (Mareca americana) has earned for himself the nickname of “Baldpate” with good cause. His gray cheeks and big green eye stripe contrast sharply with his white crown. Overall, however, he is a rosy brown color, almost pink. His flanks are white, setting off his black tail.

The female wigeon is brown overall, with a gray cast on the head and neck and a rustier look on the sides.

In both sexes, note the bluish bill tipped with black. Other key characteristics that the male and female share in common appear in flight, including a green speculum, a white shoulder patch on the upper side of the wing, a white belly, and a dark, pointed tail.


Best Field Marks

  • White crown of male.
  • Blue bill
  • White patch on forewing, visible in flight.
  • White “wingpits,” visible in flight.


American WigeonVoice

The male American wigeon is known for his continual whistling, a high-pitched whew-whew or whew-whew-whew. This is believed to be useful in courting, maintaining a bond with a mate, and keeping contact with a flock in flight. The whistles are slower in breeding season and faster in the winter. Courting males also growl softly.

The female gives a guttural quack.


Distribution & Occurrence

The American wigeon is readily found across Kansas, especially from September through May. It will frequent just about any body of water, but it prefers those with both woods and an open place to forage. It will temporarily depart in the winter if the water freezes over.

This duck tends to be more of a casual resident in the summer, as it typically breeds in Canada and the northernmost states. However, Cheyenne Bottoms has proven to be an attractive nesting site for this species.


American WigeonBehavior

Few ducks are as wary as American wigeons. They refuse to approach anything suspicious and will take flight on the slightest provocation. If only moving a short distance, they tend to fly in loose, irregular flocks. In longer flights, they typically move in a long light alongside each other, rather than following a leader.

The diet of the American wigeon is varied, consisting of snails and insects during the breeding season and relying almost exclusively on vegetation the rest of the year. This wigeon is extremely flexible in its methods of finding food. On the water, it may pick up plant matter floating on the surface, or it may find a flock of diving ducks and steal their dinners as they come up to the surface. On land, the wigeon is quite comfortable walking along the shore or in fields, sometimes with geese, searching for grass and grain. The American wigeon is considered a pest by some farmers because of its habit of devouring lettuce and alfalfa.

American wigeons court during the winter. The males are extremely aggressive in their pursuit of a mate, repeatedly growling, raising their wings, and jumping out of the water. Pairs breed in April and May, then separate. The female makes a shallow depression lined with plants and down to serve as a nest. She tends her eggs alone, laying seven to nine and sitting on them for 23 to 25 days. The ducklings grow their feathers after five to six weeks.



Most birdwatchers do not actively work to attract American wigeons. Hunters must decoy them with care, keeping in mind their suspicious nature. However, these ducks may respond to a soft whistle.


American WigeonSimilar Species

Eurasian Wigeon
Breeding male wigeons are easy to tell apart. Look for the Eurasian wigeon’s reddish head and gray sides. He has a crown that may be confusing at first glance, but pay attention to the color. The crown of the Eurasian species is buff, not white like that of the Baldpate. Female wigeons are, unfortunately, nearly impossible to tell apart. Try to get a glimpse of the “wingpits” when the ducks are in flight. The Eurasian wigeon’s “wingpits” are dark, while the American wigeon’s are white.

Female Gadwall
If the duck has an orange bill, it is a female gadwall. Also note the location of the white on the upper surface of the wing. The gadwall’s white patch is on the trailing edge, not the shoulder.

Female Northern Pintail
The wings are a good clue in this case, as well. The upper surface of a female pintail’s wing is completely dark with no shoulder patch. If the duck is sitting on the water, get a look at its head. A female wigeon will usually show some contrast between the grayer head and the redder neck and body, while the female pintail only displays a whiter throat and neck. Size can be deceptive, but the pintail is larger than the wigeon.


Helpful Resource

American Wigeon
Photos, audio, and more information from Cornell’s All About Birds site.


Complete Series

Ducks of KansasDucks of Kansas


Ox Yokes and Collars: Neck Yokes and Head Yokes

Ox Yokes and Collars

When most of us think of an ox yoke, we tend to envision the long, gracefully bowed piece of wood resting on the necks of a pair of oxen. This traditional neck or bow yoke certainly has had an important place in American history, but it is not the only option for aspiring teamsters today. In fact, it may not even be the best yoke in some situations.

There are actually three types of ox yoke:

  1. Neck yoke.
  2. Head yoke.
  3. Withers yoke.

There is also an ox collar. At first glance, it appears somewhat similar to the collar typically seen on draft horses, but there are substantial differences, as we shall see.

Neck Yoke

3 Types of Yoke and a Collar

The neck yoke, as you probably know, consists of a wooden beam placed across the necks of a pair of oxen and attached with ox bows. The bows can be made of either metal or a durable wood like hickory. However, there are two variations on this design:

  • Stationary—the kind you probably think of when you think of an ox yoke.
  • Sliding—provided with a pivot in the center of the yoke to allow each bow to move independently.

The design of a well-built and well-fitted neck yoke distributes the load across the neck, shoulders, and chest of the animal. Oxen adapt to this type of yoke easily.

Both neck yokes are readily available and simple to use. The teamster can yoke the oxen and be ready for work in short order. The oxen do not have to have horns for attaching the yoke.

Both designs (but particularly the sliding yoke) also offer a good range of head motion, helping the oxen work more comfortably. Improved comfort for the ox generally translates to an efficient working day.

The stationary yoke keeps the team close together, allowing for better coordination between the oxen. This close connection, however, can cause difficulties on broken ground. The stationary yoke can make it difficult for each ox to find its own footing, and one may resort to leaning on the other to keep its balance, reducing the power of the team and creating the possibility of a serious accident. Using a sliding yoke will avoid this problem.

Be aware, however, that the range of motion that allows for comfort and safety in the ox team can also invite poor behavior, such as fighting or pulling in two different directions. Good training can prevent some of these problems.

Note that both types of neck yoke must be fitted carefully to avoid bruising or galling. A different yoke size may be necessary if the oxen in the team gain or lose weight.

If you are interested in making your own yokes, you may find this design somewhat challenging (though not impossible) to make. The beam piece is easy to build, as long as care is taken to avoid cracks and imperfections that will gall the oxen. The bows, however, are the main difficulty. They must be steamed and bent into shape.

The most common use of the stationary neck yoke today is in pulling contests, as this type of yoke lends itself well to hauling extremely heavy loads for relatively short distances. The sliding variety is excellent for a wide range of small-scale farming activities, from plowing to hauling logs. It is also suitable for pulling carts, as it can help the team navigate turns with good balance.

Head Yoke

3 Types of Yoke and a Collar

The head yoke comes in two variations:

  • Yokes that distribute the load across the forehead of the ox.
  • Yokes that rest on the back of the head and attach directly to the horns of the ox.

The yoke is usually made of wood and attached to the oxen with leather straps.

Pushing into a head yoke is a natural movement for oxen, since they frequently shove with their heads when displaying dominance over other cattle. Furthermore, an ox wearing a head yoke can make his own adjustments in the hitching angle by moving his head up or down, giving him an element of control over his load, particularly useful for braking on a grade.

One concern about the head yoke is the way the weight of the load is distributed. With a neck yoke, the soft tissues of the neck and shoulders can provide some padding. With a head yoke, particularly one that attaches to the horns, the weight of the load is pulled by the spine, which is tiring to the animal. Oxen wearing head yokes must be conditioned for peak strength, or they will wear out quickly and possibly become injured. The yoke also rests on some of the more tender parts of the skin, so it is essential that it fit properly. Remember—every shock will be absorbed by the head and neck of the ox.

Coordinating the movements of the team can be another challenge. Head yokes keep the oxen closely connected with minimal side-to-side head motion. For best results, the oxen must be similar in size and trained with skill. Also note that they cannot protect themselves from flies when yoked.

Finally, remember that a head yoke can only be used on oxen with horns strong enough to pull a load. A head yoke on an ox with weak horns is a recipe for disaster. The yoke must be re-carved to fit as the horns grow, and it must be strapped on with care to avoid slipping. A well-made head yoke generally fits one team so well that it is useless to any other team.

Because of the strain that this type of yoke can place on the necks of the oxen, it is generally not recommended for everyday farm work. However, it is probably safe to use with light carts on a smooth, level surface. If properly used, it can even be advantageous to a team pulling a heavy load for a short distance, thanks to the extra control it provides.

Next week: Withers Yokes and Ox Collars

Eurasian Wigeon

Eurasian WigeonThe male Eurasian wigeon (Mareca penelope) sports a distinctive look. His head is marked by contrast, thanks to his red-brown face, buffy cap, and blue-gray bill. But the remainder of his body is not less striking. His breast is a deep pink. At a distance, his back and sides may appear to be gray overall, but this is due to fine black-and-white barring all over his feathers. This pattern terminates in solid white, which then gives way to a solid black tail. In flight, note the white forewings and metallic green speculum.

The female comes in two varieties—more grayish and more reddish. Overall, however, she is some shade of brown, almost black on the wings and sometimes the top of the head. Her “wingpits” are dark and her speculum is black.

Young Eurasian wigeons sometimes display a grayish speculum.


Best Field Marks

  • Red-brown head of male.
  • Generally gray body of male.
  • Reddish-brown head of female.
  • Dark “wingpits” of female.


Eurasian WigeonVoice

The male Eurasian wigeon gives a high-pitched whistle similar to whee-oo. The female quacks or croaks when disturbed, and also purrs.


Distribution & Occurrence

The Eurasian wigeon is not too common in the United States, but may pop up just about anywhere on occasion. A handful have been spotted in Kansas at various times in the following counties:

  • Barton.
  • Coffey.
  • Crawford.
  • Johnson.
  • Morton.
  • Riley.
  • Sedgwick.
  • Shawnee.
  • Stafford.

Most sightings have been from mid-March to mid-April, but there have been some later sightings, as well.


Eurasian WigeonBehavior

The Eurasian wigeon is a dabbling duck, frequently feeding in mud or shallow water. However, it also walks with ease and is quite comfortable foraging in fields and wooded areas away from the water. Its favorite foods are aquatic leaves and stems, but it will also eat seeds, snails, and small insects.



Eurasian wigeons will come to decoys. However, they are not widespread enough to present much opportunity for either the hunter or the birdwatcher.


Eurasian WigeonSimilar Species

American Wigeon
Distinguishing breeding males is easy—the American wigeon has a gray head, white crown, and brilliant green patch extending from the eye toward the back of the head. Females and immature ducks are extremely difficult to tell apart. Pretty much your only hope is to get a look at the underside of the wing while the duck is in flight. The axillaries (or “wingpits”) of the American wigeon are white, not dark gray as in the Eurasian wigeon.


Helpful Resource

Eurasian Wigeon
Photos, audio, and more information from Cornell’s All About Birds site.


Complete Series

Ducks of KansasDucks of Kansas


Introducing Cowboy Poetry

Introduction to Cowboy PoetryThe early cowboys seem to have been artists at heart.  Every aspect of their daily lives seems to have made it into verse, from their love of nature to their battles with wild horses to their prosaic bacon-and-beans diet.

Many of the first cowboy poems were song lyrics.  Thus, this poetic style shares the same cultural origins as Western music.  The ballad form of the British Isles became a key feature early on.  The repetition and sense of rhythm popular among black cowboys did, as well.

That said, cowboys did not always set their verses to music.  Recitation was a popular pastime all over America in that day.  Often at night, the cowboys would simply enjoy reciting and listening to recited poetry, copying the example of their acquaintances back East.


A Range of Topics

Cowboy poetry primarily deals with the West.  Long-standing favorite subjects have been cattle chores, love-hate relationships with horses, observations on nature, religious musings, and thoughts of home and family.

As the West has evolved to fit the modern era, so has cowboy poetry.  Favorite topics today include everything from politics to the woes of adapting to new technology, but the traditional ranching flavor will remain as long as the cowboy way of life does.


Key Characteristics

In the days of the cattle drives, cowboys had to find ways to pass long nights on the prairie.  One favorite was swapping yarns.  Ever since, telling a story that can evoke a laugh, a thrill, or a tender sentiment has been a key goal of cowboy poetry.  The method of concocting the story varies by poet.  Some prefer to stick to the facts, especially if offering a historical narrative, but the tall tale still rides on today.

The poems that tended to last the longest were those that could be memorized the easiest.  Cowboy poetry was frequently published in newspapers, but recitation was at least half the fun.  Here is where the African-American influence proved to be extremely helpful.  A definite rhythm makes memorization easy.  So does a good rhyme scheme.  As previously mentioned, the ballad form has long predominated, but anything with a solid rhythm and a catchy rhyme scheme is commonly accepted.


Is That Cowboy Poetry?

One sticky question is whether only true cowboys and cowgirls can write cowboy poetry.

The stricter school of thought is that it takes a working cowboy to write about the life of a working cowboy.  A tenderfoot will never be able to properly appreciate the joys and hardships of the Western way of life and will sooner or later betray his inexperience in his poetry.

The looser school of thought is pleased to recognize an appreciation of the West wherever it can be found.  So the poet only rides in his imagination?  Well, at least he showed his love for all things Western.  After all, some of the earliest writers of cowboy poetry were Easterners who never worked cattle in their lives.

The result of this diversity of thought on and approach to cowboy poetry is an equally diverse genre.  Cowboy poetry, one might say, is the poetry of life, life in the West in particular.

2017 Reading Challenge: The Chisholm Trail

2017 Reading Challenge: The Chisholm TrailTaking on a reading challenge is a fun way to broaden your reading selection and therefore your knowledge base.

Homestead on the Range is happy to announce our first annual reading challenge. We would like to challenge to you commit to finishing 12 books before the end of the year (about one a month).

The theme for our first reading challenge is the Chisholm Trail, in recognition of the 150th anniversary of this cattle trail. The categories for this challenge reflect a variety of cattle-, horse-, and history-related topics.

To complete the challenge, you must read at least one book from each category:

  1. A book about Kansas in the 1800s.
  2. A book about horse or cattle breeds.
  3. A book about Western horsemanship.
  4. A book about cattle care written in the 1800s.
  5. A book about the Spanish conquistadors.
  6. A book about an event or time period foundational to the Chisholm Trail.
  7. A book about the modern cattle industry.
  8. A book about working cattle with dogs.
  9. A book about livestock behavior or handling.
  10. A book about a place or places relevant to the Chisholm Trail.
  11. A book about mustangs.
  12. A book about an event that ended the Chisholm Trail.

A few guidelines:

  • Books in electronic format count.
  • Both fiction and nonfiction books count.
  • You can read the books in any order.
  • Books cannot be counted twice, even if they fit into more than one category.

If you need help, subscribe to On the Range, our free country living newsletter. The last issue of every month will contain a hint for one of the categories.

Let us know what you’re reading!  We’d love to hear from you!

Helpful Resource

The Homestead Bookshelf
Looking for a good book?  Start here.


GadwallThe gadwall (Mareca strepera) is among the most plain-looking of American ducks. The male appears gray overall, an impression created by white feathers barred with black. The scapular feathers have a reddish-brown cast. Probably the most striking feature of the male gadwall is his solid black rump. His bill is also dark-colored.

The female gadwall is primarily brown with lighter fringes on the feathers. Her bill has more orange coloring than that of her mate. Young gadwalls look basically the same as their mothers, just duller.

Gadwalls fly quickly and directly. It is while airborne that they display their most distinctive field mark—a solid white wing patch on the upper surface of the wing. This patch is sometimes (but not always) visible while swimming, too.


Best Field Marks

  • Generally nondescript appearance.
  • White speculum on both sexes.
  • Black rump on male.



In keeping with generally nondescript appearance of the duck is the fact that it makes very little sound. Gadwalls might quietly repeat tickety-tickety-tickety while feeding or flying, but mostly they are silent until the breeding season. Then the male burps or whistles. The female quacks like a mallard, but with a higher pitch.


Distribution & Occurrence

The gadwall can be found anywhere in Kansas. It arrives in September, spends the winter where temperatures permit, and leaves in May. It prefers shallow, open water with fairly sparse vegetation, such as in marshes, playas, and small ponds.

Although it prefers to nest in the northern Great Plains, the Great Lakes, and the prairie provinces of Canada, the gadwall has been known on rare occasions to nest in Kansas. For this purpose, it requires a shallow marsh with fairly stable water levels, giving it three breeding sites to choose from in our state:

  • Cheyenne Bottoms.
  • Quivira Wildlife Refuge.
  • Slate Creek Marsh.

Painting by John James Audubon


The gadwall is a shy duck, preferring small, compact groups to large flocks. It does not mind mixing with wigeons and pintails, however.

It feeds during the day, mainly in open water. It dabbles for plant materials fairly close to the surface, particularly underwater weeds and many different grass and sedge seeds. It will sometimes eat insects, snails, crustaceans, and fish. In winter, if the gadwall’s food needs cannot be met in the water, it will try grain fields and sometimes wooded areas.

The courtship display of the breeding gadwall is rather unique, involving the male rearing up and whistling. Once pairs are formed, the ducks bond by bobbing their heads and laying their necks out flat on the surface of the water. Next, they go to find a nesting site, preferably near the area where the female was born.

A gadwall nest may be nothing more than a low spot that the female has dug out, usually well hidden in tall grasses near the water. The female lines the nest with grasses, weeds, and down, and then lays an average of nine white to cream eggs. The male guards her during this process. Once the eggs are laid, however, he leaves to find a safe place to molt.

After 24 to 28 days, the young hatch. They are able to hunt for themselves right away, but the female will guide and protect them until they grow adult feathers.



Attracting gadwalls is more the goal of hunters than of birdwatchers. These ducks are very wary, however, and hard to decoy. Both gadwall and mallard decoys can be used to attract their attention. To convince them to land, hunters may use quiet calls mimicking the sound of contented gadwalls, but sparingly—gadwalls can easily detect when the calls are overdone.


Similar Species


Female Mallard
The female gadwall looks almost identical to the female mallard. The most reliable field mark is the color of the patch on the wing. The mallard has an iridescent blue patch, while the gadwall’s wing patch is white.

Female American Wigeon
The American wigeon can present some confusion at first, especially since it also has white on its wing. The location of the white patch is important to note here. When viewed from the top, the American wigeon’s white patch is on the shoulder, while the gadwall’s is on the trailing edge of the wing. If the top of the wing is not visible, another good rule of thumb is to look at the bill. The female American wigeon has a blue-gray bill, while the female gadwall’s bill is more orange overall.


Helpful Resource

Photos, audio, and more information from Cornell’s All About Birds site.


Complete Series

Ducks of KansasDucks of Kansas