Massive oxen draw stares at Champlain Valley Fair

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ESSEX JUNCTION, Vt. (WCAX) "They are amazed at their size, their gentle demeanor," ox handler Gail Billings said.

If you want to know anything about oxen in Vermont, just ask Billings.

"I always loved oxen," she said. "As a young child my parents would take me to the Tunbridge Fair and I always wanted to go see the oxen. They were just gentle giants."

She didn't actually get a pair of her own until she was 38.

"I owned a guinea pig before my oxen," Billings said with a laugh.

Now, she's become one of the leading trainers in the state. Oxen are adult castrated male cattle. Billings says they don't get the title of ox until they are 4 years old. They are primarily used to move equipment from one end of the farm to the other.

"The oxen do a lot of things that technology can't get to," she explained. "For example, they can get in places where a lot of the stubble from the wood that's been cut in a lot of these areas would pop tires on automated vehicles."

The oxen are the largest animals here at the fair. When they're born, they start out between 75-100 pounds. Full grown Stratton weighs more than 2,500 pounds.

"For 4-H, they have to pull 60 percent of their combined weight," Krystin Skoda said.

Skoda, 19, has two pairs of her own in Randolph. She says just like little kids, oxen can be hard-headed and push your patience when you are training them.

"Building up to that weight and trying to make sure that you're doing it right, working on the chain and making sure it's not too long, not too short," Skoda said.