A one-ton ox with two-foot horns appears to be anything but friendly.
Surprisingly, the oxen on display at the Chautauqua County Fair, which ends today, are just that.
According to oxen enthusiast and owner Lewis VanOrd, they enjoy all the attention and friendly pats from children and adults. "They like to be petted," said VanOrd, 65, of Russell, Pa. "They're my pets, my friends, my right arm."
VanOrd yearly travels to 27 fairs and expositions, sharing his knowledge of the animals and a bit of Wild West history, as well. His animals also challenge the belief that oxen are dumb or lazy. They obey voice commands and will "sit and stay" upon order.
Training starts early and employs the use of a small whip. VanOrd is presently mentoring Jacob Chase, 11, of Russell, Pa., and Eric Nowicki, 13, of Mayville, on how to train the oxen.
"I use a whip, but I call it a telephone cord," said VanOrd. "You start with a whip and voice commands and then take the whip away."
Crawling under a midnight black, massive creature named Andy, VanOrd said, "It's all about trust. You have to trust them and they have to trust you."
Another way to take the bite out of the bull is to neuter him.
"They're usually neutered within six months," explained VanOrd. "Then you have a bull body with a female attitude."
Andy, the 16-year-old twin brother of Amos, is known as the instigator of the herd.
"He's always testing me and pushing me and it's my fault because I laughed at him when he did it," his master explained.
VanOrd may be close to these animals, but Andy and his sidekick Amos are practically inseparable, as are the long-hair Scottish Highland oxen Scott and Gideon, and two seven-month-old calves in training.
The steers are hooked in pairs at the head by a "yoke" or harness. The animals use four or five differently sized yokes in their lifetimes. The yokes were once used to attach large groups of oxen together for pulling wagons.
At two weeks old, the animals weigh around 22 pounds. They nearly hit the one-ton mark when fully grown.
"I believe that if it weren't for the oxen, the West would have never been settled," VanOrd said. "An ox isn't like a horse. A horse will give up and rest, but an ox won't."
"I see all of this as part of what our heritage is," he added.
By definition, an ox is any cloven-hoofed animal harnessed for work.
"You can call a pig, a sheep or a goat an ox," noted VanOrd.