A yoke is a wooden beam which is used between a pair of oxen to allow them to pull a load (oxen almost always work in pairs). There are several types, used in different cultures, and for different types of oxen. A pair of oxen is also called a yoke of oxen, and yoke is also used as a verb: to yoke a pair of oxen.

Bow or neck yoke

A bow yoke is a shaped wooden crosspiece bound to the necks of a pair of oxen, or occasionally horses. It is held on the animals' necks by an oxbow, from which it gets its name. The oxbow is usually U-shaped and also transmits force from the animals' shoulders. A swivel beneath the centre of the yoke, between the animals, attaches the pole of the vehicle (when the animals steer the vehicle) or chains (traces) that are used to drag a load.

Bow yokes are traditional in northern Europe and in the United States and Australia.

Head yoke

A head yoke is a yoke that fits onto the head of the oxen. It usually fits behind the horns, and has carved-out sections into which the horns fit. The yoke is then strapped to the horns of the oxen with yoke straps. Some types fit instead onto the front of the head, and ox pads are then used for cushioning on the oxen's foreheads. A tug pole is held to the bottom of the yoke using yoke irons and chains. The tug pole can either be a short pole with a chain attached for hauling or can be a long pole with a hook on the end that has no chain at all. Sometimes the pole is attached to a wagon and the oxen are simply backed over this pole, the pole is then raised between them and a backing bolt is dropped into the chains on the yoke irons in order to haul the wagon.

Head yokes are widely used in southern Europe, much of South America and in Canada.

Withers yoke

A withers yoke is a yoke that fits just in front of the withers of the oxen. The yoke is held in position by straps and a pair of wooden staves either side of the ox's withers; the pull is however from the yoke itself, not from the staves. Withers yokes particularly suit zebu cattle, which have high humps on their withers.

Withers yokes are widely used in Africa and India, where zebu cattle are common.


Although all three yoke types are effective, each has its advantages and disadvantages. Head yokes need to be constantly shaped to fit the animals' horns, while bow yokes do not. However a head yoke is better for teaching animals to stand quietly without fighting because they cannot move their heads around freely.

Other uses

"Yoke" can also mean a bar by which the end of the tongue of a wagon or carriage is suspended from the collars of a harness; a bar carried across the shoulders, by which a person can carry goods, such as two pails of milk, one at either end; or the shoulder piece of a shirt.

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