Pulled to the oxen draw
Youngsters get to showcase talent at fair
GREENFIELD (September 8, 2013) Tucker Hicks, 6, of Charlemont weaves his oxen Duke and Luke through a series of cones to demonstrate his skills in the youth Oxen Draw at the Franklin County Fair Sunday morning. Photo by Beth Reynolds
GREENFIELD (September 8, 2013) Taylor Mason, 7, of Worthington, MA moves her team into position for the next judging. Her twin sister Olivia won the trophy for their division in the Youth Oxen Draw at the Franklin County Fair Sunday morning. Photo by Beth Reynolds
Hunter Lanoue guides his team in the youth Oxen Draw at the Franklin County Fair in 2013.
File photo for The Recorder/Beth Reynolds
GREENFIELD — Tucker Hicks of Charlemont stands head and shoulders above his team of oxen. Not because he is very tall, but because the animals are very small.
Hicks, age 6, competed in Sunday morning’s youth draft oxen pull at the Franklin County Fair with 4-month-old bull calves Luke and Duke.
Tucker’s father, Ryan Hicks, explained that the animals are not yet technically oxen, an operation requiring a veterinarian armed with pliers and a process that Tucker has been discouraged from describing in future to teachers new to the area when asked what he did over the weekend.
Ryan Hicks had an adult team waiting by the trailer for a turn dragging a sledge loaded with concrete blocks, but the youth pull showcases less the animal’s strength than the trainer’s effort.
“He yokes them every night and spends an hour a night with them,” Ryan Hicks said.
Tucker and brother Brody, 4, hitch the animals to a tire for exercise and training in the driveway, arguing about every detail as they go, and care for the animals in their stalls.
“It shows them good responsibility,” Ryan Hicks said. “They’re in the barn at 6:30 every morning cleaning them, feeding them.”
Seven-year-old twins Olivia and Taylor Mason of Worthington showed their calves, Wild and Thing, as well as Fire and Cracker, who belong to their older sister.
The twins bottle-fed the calves through the winter — to the tune of $100 worth of milk a week, their father added — and trained the animals in the driveway through the spring.
“It’s fun and you get to play with your calves,” Olivia said. “And when you first get them when they’re babies, you walk them around on the harness and they bounce around with you,” she added.
Fran Mason, father to Olivia and Taylor, said the twins are now on their third pair.
“We sell them in the fall and get new ones in the spring because the calves grow faster than the kids,” he said. “There’s tears.”
Divided into the 12-and-up senior and 11-and-under junior divisions, contestants compete in presentation, training and “stone boat,” weaving through a series of plastic cones with a tire in tow.
Olivia went on to win the junior category overall with Wild and Thing, while older sister Samantha, 13, won the senior category with the larger Bud and Mick.
While the animals are diminutive compared to the half-ton adult version, they take some controlling.
The handlers tap, prod and cajole the calves with words and sticks.
Hunter Lanoue, a first-grade classmate and friend of Tucker’s, competed with calves Tom and Jerry.
In a moment of inattention, one of the two knocked Hunter over with a casual turn of his head, a reversal Hunter rebounded from unscathed.
Jenni Lanoue, Hunter’s mother, said there’s always a risk working with animals, but it’s not a significant one if they’re well-trained. Hunter has competed since he was 5 years old and trains the animals with the help of his sister Natalie, 4, Lanoue said.
“That’s my other son, and he can go right up to them,” Lanoue said, indicating rapidly toddling 15-month-old Jared.
The event begins at 9 a.m. when the fair parking lot is nearly empty and the midway is empty except for workers and volunteers sweeping up or beginning to unbutton stalls shuttered for the night.
“Most everybody’s definitely here for a reason,” said Peter Sibley of Northfield, pointing to most of the couple dozen people in the bleachers as relatives of the children competing.
Sibley himself was there to work in the main oxen pull, and watched the early youth event with his wife, Kellie, and 7-week-old daughter Bailey.
The Sibleys own oxen and expect Bailey will compete in the youth pull when she’s a little bigger.
“I hope so. It’s a lot better than other things she could be doing,” Peter Sibley said. “It keeps them into something besides video games.”
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