How does a person learn to train oxen and use them as draft animals? One way is to take a class at Tillers International in Scotts, Michigan.
After the Johnsons bought their first American Milking Devon cow in 2006, Rollie gave Paula a special 40th Anniversary gift: five days of lessons on using oxen as draft animals. The couple worked from 8 am to 5 pm learning the voice commands and basics of driving, how to yoke the oxen, and how to train young oxen at the 430-acre Cooks Mill Learning Center. It is also where they learned to make their own yokes and how to shape the wood into bows.
According to their website, Tillers International is a “501(c)(3) non-profit organization dedicated to improving the lives of rural people around the world.” They do this by teaching traditional skills of working with draft animals, woodworking, blacksmithing/metalworking, farming, food, and fiber classes at Cooks Mill Learning Center.
The tuition for the classes is used to support Tillers’ overseas work with farmers in Africa, both financially and through hands-on training for rural farmers and villages. Currently, Tillers International has a new learning center in Chimoio, Mozambique and an Innovation Workshop in Lira, Uganda.
Their mission is to “preserve, study, and exchange low-capital technologies that increase the sustainability and productivity of people in rural communities.” They find that often historic tools and current innovations in using animal-powered technology can fill the gap for international rural farmer who can’t afford large-scale farming operations using tractors.
Paula says of their week at the Cooks Mill Learning Center, “Rollie deserves a special gift in heaven for taking me. It was a wonderful week!”
For more information about Tillers International and the classes they offer, visit their website at www.TillersInternational.org