Horses? Cows? Oxen? Mutated Reindeer?

Cidu Bill on Dec 12th 2012


Filed in Bill Bickel, Close to Home, John McPherson, comic strips, comics, humor | 27 responses so far

27 Responses to “Horses? Cows? Oxen? Mutated Reindeer?”

  1. billytheskink Dec 12th 2012 at 10:26 am 1

    Crazy Harry’s replacement?

  2. James Pollock Dec 12th 2012 at 11:41 am 2

    Process of elimination should have whittled it down, even with Mr. McPherson’s drawing style. They’re not horses, because horses do not have horns. While we can’t discount MUTANT reindeer, ordinary reindeer don’t have horns this time of year, either. They’re not dogs, because dogs have paws and not hooves.

    Eventually, you get to “oxen”. (”oxen” and “cows” are the same animal, except that oxen are hooked up as draft animals while cows are, well, cows.)

  3. Kilby Dec 12th 2012 at 12:34 pm 3

    @ James Pollock (2) - …”oxen” and “cows” are the same animal, except that …

    … AND that cows are females, whereas oxen are typically castrated males.

  4. chemgal Dec 12th 2012 at 12:38 pm 4

    I thought it obvious that they are oxen, because they are being used as a draft animal, after all. And the joke is just that the post office can’t afford modern vehicles. Might explain why it takes a letter so long to get anywhere!

  5. James Pollock Dec 12th 2012 at 12:47 pm 5

    Cows are all females, yes. But when they’re yoked up, they’re oxen, just like the bulls and the castrated male oxen are oxen.

  6. Soup Dragon Dec 12th 2012 at 01:08 pm 6

    James: I’m no expert on bovine transportation, but I’d guess the separation of genders in the traditional agricultural workplace is a just as much a reality. Cows would be set to grace so they would produce milk. Oxen would either be slaughtered and eaten, or kept for pulling the heavy loads. Cows are not that strong, and time in front of a wagon means less milk. But then, when the cows eventually are slaughtered, they transmute into oxen :-). Did you ever see cow’s meat in the store?

    Also, female reindeer do have antlers in winter. Apparently, it helps the pregnant does chase the bucks away from the sparse vegetation.

  7. Jeff S. Dec 12th 2012 at 02:01 pm 7

    “Also, female reindeer do have antlers in winter. Apparently, it helps the pregnant does chase the bucks away from the sparse vegetation.”

    This is correct. The animated ‘Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer’ got it wrong (the males have antlers at Christmas-time), as does most everyone else, typically.

  8. Keera Dec 12th 2012 at 04:27 pm 8

    Soup Dragon, English speakers don’t have the weird post-slaughter gender-changing cows we in Norway do, since they call the meat “beef”, not ox meat. :-)

  9. Paperboy Dec 12th 2012 at 05:29 pm 9

    Is this cartoonist the guy who does “Bob’s Burgers”? The people look similar.

  10. AMC Dec 12th 2012 at 05:29 pm 10

    If I remember correctly, the ox I ate in Scandinavia was called entrecote.

    And isn’t there meat called oxkött in Swedish?

  11. Todd Dec 12th 2012 at 06:33 pm 11

    Wouldn’t keeping such critters be more expensive than motorized vehicles? You’ve got to buy or rent land to graze them on, and if you have enough to replace all those cars, that’s a lot of land. Plus, the slowness of such critters means smaller routes, meaning more carts and oxen and the people to run them.

  12. Mark in Boston Dec 12th 2012 at 07:06 pm 12

    Also note the ox yoke, the bent wooden thing over the oxen’s necks. Oxen have a bony hump behind the neck that pushes on the yoke. You can’t use the yoke on horses or reindeer.

  13. AMC Dec 12th 2012 at 08:59 pm 13

    So the yoke explains the joke. Mark has spoke.

  14. James Pollock Dec 12th 2012 at 09:04 pm 14

    Soup Dragon, I would like to hear more about these magic transmuting cows, because as Keera notes, here in the states the terms “ox” and “oxen” are more often used to describe people than cattle. People are often sloppy and refer to cattle as “cows” regardless of gender. (I’ll confess to being openly mystified by those languages that divide up all nouns by gender… there always seem to be some weird decisions about just which objects are “male” and which are “female”.)

    But, to answer your original complaint, yes, you would normally separate the males, then castrate them and put them to work because they’re stronger, and keep the cows specifically for milk production. But, if you ONLY had cows, and you REALLY needed your oxcart pulled, you could yoke up a pair of cows, and they would be properly referred to as “oxen”.

  15. Dave in Boston Dec 12th 2012 at 10:33 pm 15

    To my knowledge, that is not true: if you yoke up a pair of cows, they’re still cows. (And while the word “ox” isn’t commonly used at all, I wouldn’t at all say it’s used to describe people, except of course in the aphorism “strong like ox, dumb like ox”, which is an explicit analogy.)

  16. The Bad Seed Dec 13th 2012 at 12:54 am 16

    By the way, oxen aren’t yoked because of a bony bump behind the neck. Head and neck yokes are used on oxen because their necks are set and angled lower than a horse’s, and their shoulders stick out prominently toward the front so a collar or harness like that used on a horse would interfere with an ox’s motion. A horse’s neck-chest configuration is better-suited for a collar or breast collar, because a head or neck yoke would choke it as it pulled.

  17. fj Dec 13th 2012 at 01:29 am 17

    Unless the cows had already been trained as oxen, the result of yoking a pair of cows to an oxcart, is likely one upset oxcart, and two **REALLY** upset cows. And probably one dead farmer. Placing a yoke on a cow does not make it an ox any more than placing a tutu on Dwayne Johnson makes him a ballerina. Transforming bovine critters into oxen takes a fair degree of training and dedication. Oxen are typically trained as pairs (a “yoke” of oxen), starting when the animals are still calves.

    If a bovine critter has not been trained to work as an ox, it may be a steer (a neutered male), a heifer (young female, up to having its first (or second, depending on where you live) calf), a cow (an adult female that has already had a calf), or a bull (an intact juvenile or adult male), but it is NOT an ox: oxen are cattle that have been raised and trained for draft work purposes. They can be male or female, but are most typically (>99% of the time) castrated males (as females are more valuable for producing calves and (in the case of dairy breeds) milk. Oxen can be of any breed of cattle, but favorite breeds for use as oxen are often the old dual purpose breeds or dairy breeds, as they tend to have better termperment for the job. Popular breeds among oxen enthusiasts include Devon, Shorthorn, Ayrshire, and Brown Swiss, and various crosses.

  18. cydu Dec 13th 2012 at 02:17 am 18

    The joke here is that the cartoonist seems to think $8.5B is a big deficit. For the federal govt, it’s about 2 days worth.

  19. James Pollock Dec 13th 2012 at 02:30 am 19

    “To my knowledge, that is not true: if you yoke up a pair of cows, they’re still cows.”
    Yes, they can be referred to either way. In much the same way a person who gets behind the wheel of a car and operates it can be called a “driver”, even though they are still a “person” as well.


    “Placing a yoke on a cow does not make it an ox any more than placing a tutu on Dwayne Johnson makes him a ballerina.”
    No, but featuring him in the female lead role in a ballet would. It’s not the fact that they have a yoke on that makes them oxen, it’s the fact that they do the work of draft animals that makes them oxen.

    “Transforming bovine critters into oxen takes a fair degree of training and dedication. Oxen are typically trained as pairs (a “yoke” of oxen), starting when the animals are still calves.”
    OK. Is there any reason that a pair of cow calves can’t be so trained? Yes, it’s usually more practical to have the cows bearing calves and giving milk and the steers pulling heavy things. That’s assuming you can afford more than 2 bovine units, however. All I said was that if you only had 2, and they happened to be girls, they CAN pull a cart or a plow, and if they do, they’re oxen, just like the boys are when THEY pull a cart or a plow. Bessy can have a family AND a career. Where’s the bovine equal rights crowd when I need them?

  20. Keera Dec 13th 2012 at 02:34 am 20

    AMC @10, yes, and it’s the same term in Norwegian and Danish. The word translates literally to “bull meat”. However, our meat industry acknowledges that it uses cows too for meat, and so we get that transgendered beef product unique to Scandinavia. ;-)

  21. Kilby Dec 13th 2012 at 05:11 am 21

    @ AMC (10) - Keera is commenting (@20) on “oxkött”, of course, and not “entrecote”, which is French, not Swedish. Entrecote refers to a specific cut of beef (literally, “between the sides”), and tends to be liberally marbled (having fatty inclusions), but it is quite good when properly done. Still, I prefer to cut away the larger chunks of fat before cooking it.

  22. fj Dec 13th 2012 at 10:43 am 22

    @19, James Pollock
    As I said in #17, oxen can be female, and I wholeheartedly agree that adult female oxen are still cows. The practical concern is that if you wait until the animals are cows to decide that that you would like them to perform as oxen, I think your odds of successfully training them are near zero: training is more easily accomplished when they are young, and much less dangerous. Furthermore, oxen need to be worked fairly regularly to continue to perform. But, yes, if you decided to train Bessie and Bossie as oxen when they were small heifers, they could still periodically serve as oxen when full grown.

    Most female cattle do have a career. For beef breeds, their occupation is producing and weaning calves. Once the calves are weaned, they go to feedlots and become beef. For dairy breeds, they produce calves and produce milk. Beef cows get to keep their calves for a while, but the vast majority of calves get sent to slaughter. Dairy cows have their calves taken from them shortly after birth. Generally speaking, Bessie gets her career (as limiting as it may be), but what she doesn’t get is much of a family life.

    Cows who do not perform sufficiently well at one of these two careers typically become hamburger (and meat and meat by products).

  23. fj Dec 13th 2012 at 11:12 am 23


    $8.5 billion was the US Postal Services total loss for 2010. The loss for 2012 was $15.9B.

  24. Soup Dragon Dec 13th 2012 at 11:18 am 24

    Thanks for the reminder, Keera. On the other hand, in the English-speaking world, the animals turn French when slaughtered. Cattle -> beef, sheep-> mutton, deer -> venison. etc…

    As for gendered nouns (James #14): Some of them are natural, as for cow/bull, boy/girl, etc. But in most cases it’s just an arbitrary rule, like how to inflect irregular verbs. In some cases one can suspect a “sexy” etymology, but usually not. For instance, sword (in Norwegian) is neutral, but sheath is male, despite the obvious symbolism (just look up the etymology for “vagina”).
    Also, words that basically mean the same thing can have different gender, eg. the Norwegian words “skip” (ship) is neutral, “båt” (boat) is male, while “skute” (also ship) is female.

    Thanks for the short essay on the difference between ox and bull (fj #17). I was not aware there was such a thing as oxen enthusiasts!

  25. fj Dec 13th 2012 at 02:27 pm 25

    @24, You are welcome!

    I guess in the interest of completeness, I should add that there is one formal sense of the word “ox” that IS gender-specific: the term “ox” can be used to describe an adult neutered male bovine (age 4 or greater). In this sense, and ox would be differentiated from a steer by age.

    From a practical agricultural standpoint, the only reason to keep such an animal would be for use as a draft animal. So practically speaking, oxen are draft cattle, and steers are young neutered bulls being raised for slaughter.

    There are oxen enthusiasts groups in New England, the Midwest, and in the prairie states. They have annual get-togethers with pulls and other competitions. There is even a facebook group for oxen enthusiasts:

  26. The Vicar Dec 14th 2012 at 07:03 am 26


    Yes, animal-driven transportation of goods is more expensive than motorized equivalents. Animals are slow, and they eat and eat and eat. (And need to rest.) (In fact, now that I come to think of it, the main practical problem with this cartoon’s execution is that there’s nothing for the animals to eat in that cart.) That’s why the ancient world used ships whenever they could. (Heck, until the construction of the Erie Canal, it was easier and cheaper for farmers on the west side of the Smokies to send their crops down the waterways to the Mississippi, around Florida, and then back up to New York than it was to ship them over land.)


    And the deficit for the Post Office if the Republicans under Bush hadn’t passed a law which effects the Post Office alone out of all entities in the entire world and which requires their pension funds to be suddenly entirely paid for up front: pretty close to $0. (Had to punish the Postal Service for being unionized and competing with well-connected private industry, after all.)

  27. cydu Dec 15th 2012 at 06:31 pm 27

    @fj — Good find. Thanks for pointing it out.

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