By Paul Lonardo
You have probably seen Maple and Sugar in the open field when you drive by Blackbird Farm Stand located at 660 Douglas Pike in Smithfield. These Brown Swiss cattle, considered the oldest of all dairy breeds, are the unofficial ambassadors for Blackbird Farm, and the pride and joy of Grandpa Ted. The presence of these two thirteen year-old oxen are as much about education as it is for plowing these days, and that is something that Grandpa Ted and Blackbird Farm want to continue for many years to come. This was the motivation behind the recent adoption of two baby calves. They will be pets, new additions to the Blackbird Farm family, not a replacement for Maple and Sugar. The calves are just weeks old, and have yet to be named. That’s where the people of Smithfield and surrounding Blackstone Valley come in. Blackbird Farm Stand is seeking your help in giving names to the young calves, and the person who comes up with the best pair of names for the animals will be awarded a prize.
The winner of the naming contest, and their family, will be given a tour of the farm, including a meet-and-greet with the animals and farm personnel. Grampa Ted, who is a teacher with RI 4-H, the biggest youth organization in the world, will give a lesson about these animals and their importance in early American life. The winning family will also receive a delicious farm fresh lunch and ice cream.
Blackbird’s Grandpa Ted is more than happy to share his knowledge about these animals and their fascinating, if largely forgotten, history in shaping the New England landscape.
“Before any other technology,” Grandpa Ted says, “This was what we had. I love to tell the kids, and the adults, all about these animals and what they can do. People are amazed at how big they are. Maple and Sugar weigh 2,800 pounds each. They are powerful animals.”
Oxen (the plural form of ox) are bovine that are trained for hard work. Oxen are commonly castrated adult male cattle, making them more docile. Oxen are used for plowing and transport, such as pulling carts, hauling wagons and riding. By comparison, steer are castrated male animals that are grown for meat. In the New England tradition, young castrated cattle selected for draft are known as working steers and are painstakingly trained from a young age. The steers are normally considered fully trained at the age of four and only then become known as oxen.
Oxen are thought to have first been harnessed and put to work around 4,000 BC. The animals are usually yoked (tethered) in pairs and are taught to respond to the signals of the teamster, or ox-driver. These signals are given by verbal command and body language. In North America, the most common commands are: “Back” for back up; “Gee” for turn right; “Get up” for go; “Haw” for turn left; “Whoa” for stop.
The rules are simple. There will be one winner, who must provide two names, one for each calf. The only stipulation is that the names do not rhyme or sound too much alike. Also, a name should not be lengthy, consisting of one or two syllables, which is considered best for training purposes.
The drawing for the contest will take place on October 20, so take the time to consider appropriate names for these two adorable calves, then fill out the form (to your right), or pick up a form at Blackbird Farm’s Ice Cream Trailer at the Blackbird Farm Stand any day of the week, and get your entry back to the farm stand before Wednesday, October 17th.
Good luck to all!