Hair fell in piles as I pushed the clippers through Stash's matted hair. Stash, one of my working oxen, was long overdue for a haircut. Scottish Highlanders are cattle that grow long, shaggy coats; great for protection from the cold, but brutal in the summer heat. Some of my cattle shed their hair naturally - most don’t. So, starting in early May, we pull out the clippers and cut off their coats. We clip the cows first, then the yearlings and lastly, the older oxen.
While the clippers buzzed over his back and down his sides, Stash (also known as Moo-Stash) lowered his head and, except for the occasional tail swish, did not move a muscle. He loves being clipped, not just because it removes his winter coat, but because the gentle vibration of the clippers on his skin is soothing. He may enjoy being clipped, but I knew I'd pay a big price the next day as hair and dander flew into my face.
Several years ago during the summer, I developed an unexplainable rash on my face and arms. After many trips to the dermatologist and $1,000 worth of tests, they said the cause was cinnamon. They were wrong! Three years later, I have concluded that I have an allergy to sun, hay, heat and, sadly - cow hair; all of the ingredients that make a farmer. Rather than give up farming, I cover myself from head to foot and wear gloves all summer leaving only my face exposed. I often look at my friends in shorts and t-shirts thinking how comfortable they appear… but I know better as I tuck my sometimes-gloveless hands into my sleeves.
Sure enough, the day after clipping Stash, my eyes got puffy and my hands were itching…. but Stash was happy which made me happy. Stash was one of a pair of working Oxen. I started working Stash when he was three-years-old and paired him with Topper, an experienced ox I had trained since he was a baby. Both are now age seven and work together as a yoked team. I've taken them to the Hopkinton and Deerfield Fairs as well as Strawbery Banke and Shaker Village. They respond to both voice commands and body language as directed to pull a cart, a stone boat, or drag a log. I am always in awe when “My Boys,” (who weigh over 1,400 pounds each with horns “out to here”), do what I ask.
Because my boys give me so much, it's only fair that I return the favor and do my best to make them comfortable. Topper is next on my clipping list. I wonder if I can get one of those Haz-Mat suits? Maybe someday they'll make a “farmers version” out of breathable cotton for those of us with allergies to farming?