Gee, Haw, Whoa. Not terms you use when you are listening to an old farmer tell a story but commands to use for training oxen. Once trained, an oxen pair can move from A to B with only verbal commands and can pull up to 13,000 pounds, that’s two times their body weight! I can’t even get my dog to stay…
Ron Navis has had aspirations for training a pair but with a few trials over the years. What first sparked his interest in draft animals goes back to his childhood witnessing his grandpa open up cornfields. They always used horses. The tractor in this case was inefficient because you had to get on and off. The horses were trained to follow commands. This made it possible to get through the field in time to come home and enjoy a slice of warm pie.
Surrounded by fields of corn, beans, wheat, hay and livestock, Ron Navis grew up helping out on the farm in Shelbyville, IL. He found himself helping out a lot on the farm cutting firewood, raising chickens, tending to a large garden and helping can that produce. Both his parents had full time jobs so he and his brother had responsibility for a good part of the homestead. The brick house they lived in centered around fields surrounded by woods. Ron spent a lot of time in those woods walking to his grandparents that were both not too far. They always had cows and calves on the farm and every summer he would usually show a steer or heifer at the 4-H fair. He grew fond of the company of cattle which made it very difficult to sell them when the time came. He always enjoyed working with the animals so he pursued a degree in animal science at the University of Illinois. Today he lives on a small homestead now with his wife, Jill Navis. He ended up taking a career in crops but living on the farm fills the void of his love for gardening and animals that he knows so well. For him it is a way of life and he wouldn’t want it any other way.
Ron always wanted a team of horses, but realizing this was an expensive hobby, he looked into oxen. They can pull more than a horse, calves are much cheaper, and you can build the yoke instead of investing in harnesses. The big challenge with finding the right pair is finding a pair that complements each other. He has had Holstein, Jersey, and milking Shorthorn teams over the years. The jersey pair were named Stop and Go. That didn’t work out as their names were given to them for their personalities and they did not complement each other. Winter 2020 he was blessed with Brown Swiss bull twins from a local dairy. Then the Navis Farms oxen pair Brutus and Cray were born. Bull twins are like finding a double yoke egg so one could say it was meant to be. He didn’t give up. As with any difficult task, the key to success is practice, patience and persistence. The best teachers are repetition, failure and repetitive failure. These words come from much experience as a man of many talents.
Ron Navis is my father and I am so proud to have his story be featured first in my blog. This is the story that started my story. I like to think my love for animals came from my father and his never ending passion to be connected to the farm. If you see a Brown Swiss pair in your local community parade in the Bloomington, IL area, it will most likely be Ron, Brutus, and Cray. Until then they will be working on the farm and eating lots of hay. Follow along their story on Twitter: https://twitter.com/tryingoxen\