To the Editor:
Zeus and Apollo, the team of Jersey oxen raised and trained as working animals at the FARM Institute (TFI) have been ‘on tour’ off-Island for the past year, and they’re ready to come home.
The two oxen “washed ashore” on Martha’s Vineyard from northern Vermont in 2009 as week-old calves. They became the learning focus of TFI’s Whippersnappers educational summer program for children 10 to 15 years old. Participants spent three mornings each week learning to walk, groom, feed, and drive the cattle as an integral part of work on the farm. Zeus and Apollo grew from bottle-fed calves to working steers (the name for castrated bulls being trained for work) and finally became oxen when they reached the age of 4.
As working steers, and the only Island contestants, Zeus and Apollo entered the Martha’s Vineyard Agricultural Fair cattle show and won ribbons two years running with their apprentice drover, Edgartown student Jeremy Mercier, who had learned to drive the animals at the FARM Institute.
Taking a page from the history of Nomans Land fishing, the team of Jerseys hit the beach in the spring of 2013, and applied their increasing bulk and strength to haul out Mabel, the 28-foot wooden ketch built in the tradition of Nomans vessels for Vineyard Voyagers, Inc., to take young people on seafaring expeditions.
Reviving a longstanding Island tradition of employing oxen as draft power in parades, Zeus and Apollo joined the Christmas parade as sleigh-pulling reindeer look-alikes on top of a float when they were just calves, and then progressed to hauling a float on their own in the Christmas parade.
In the off-season at the FARM Institute, when there was no seasonal employee engaged to run the program and work the oxen, the TFI farm staff pitched in as default caretakers, trainers, and drovers for the animals. When I had to leave my position at the FARM for health reasons, the oxen program was discontinued, and the Jersey boys had to find a temporary home off-Island. Over the past year, they have been generously hosted at Spotted Dog Family Farm in Brandon, Vt.; FootLoose Farm in Granville, N.Y.; and are patiently awaiting “repatriation” to the Island from the Merck Forest and Farmland in Rupert, Vt.
I am earnestly looking for partners in the effort to bring Zeus and Apollo back to the Island. In order to continue the centuries-long tradition of working with oxen on Martha’s Vineyard, they need space to live, grass and hay to eat, work to do, and people who want to experience the satisfaction of learning to care for and work with animals. For more information and/or offers of partnership in the project, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or call 774-563-0200.