Butler, Hoff research oxen use for farm museum

Staff Writer

WESTMINSTER, Md. (Sept. 2) — Karen Butler of Green Gables Farm in Keymar, Md., and Don Hoff of Coldsprings Farm in New Windsor, Md., recently returned from Sanborn Mills Farm in Loudon, N.H., where they learned how to drive oxen, something neither Butler nor Hoff had done before.
They took lessons in anticipation of an ongoing project that will include oxen at the Carroll County Farm Museum in Westminster.
The Hoff Farm project began with the reconstruction of a 1794 log barn donated to the county by dairyman Marlin Hoff, who died in 2004.
The Hoff Farm Committee envisions the project as an ongoing outdoor classroom at the museum that will entertain and teach visitors about the county’s agrarian past.
It was part of Marlin’s dream that someday the barn would be a place where the public could visit and learn about their rural heritage, his wife Kathy said.
Butler and Don Hoff spent two days with Dr. Drew Conroy of the University of New Hampshire, learning the fine points of oxen driving.
“It was our first experience driving them,” Butler said. “Neither of us had ever worked with oxen before.”
Both have experience with cattle, she said.
Hoff grew up on a dairy farm and Butler milked cows until 2011 when she started breeding her cows to a Hereford bull for beef.
“In New Hampshire, we learned to work with the animals — there were 10 teams with oxen of 300 to 400 pounds to well over a ton,” Butler said. “We had a lot of hands-on time driving the oxen teams. We learned how to hook them to sleds and carts and spent time in the woods logging. We cultivated gardens and were immersed in oxen driving the whole time.
“Oxen are really big in the Northeast,” she said. “They even have 4-H clubs devoted to it. … We’re just in the beginning stages of this project and we hope to do cultivating at the farm museum and hope to have our own cart in time.”
Next up is purchasing a pair of oxen, hopefully this fall, said Bob Shirley, who volunteers at the Hoff Barn and is involved with the project.
“Our goal is to have them for the mid-October Fall Harvest Days. … I’m optimistic,” Shirley said. “The Hoff Barn Committee meets Sept. 4, and decisions will be made then.”