Feeding Oxen on the Trail

“Oxen can do very well on sagebrush,” notes Ford, “and in the spring when the sagebrush is frst starting to grow, they can eat evergreens . . . but dry grass, weeds, bark of cottonwood trees, those were all very good feed for oxen. A lot of those would actually kill horses.” 

Oxen’s versatile palates also proved economical. Hardworking draft horses and mules, in contrast to their heftier counterparts, required grass or hay supplemented with high-protein feed grains. Bags of feed were costly, heavy, and had to be hauled in the wagons—generally, wagons pulled by oxen, Ford points out with light irony. When forced to survive on rough forage, mules—and especially horses— were susceptible to colic and other potentially fatal digestive ills.