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The average profit per head of cattle, as calculated by Professor Moore-Colyer, was just over ten shillings in the currency of the time.  They were bought at, say, £4 in Wales and sold for double that in London; but grass (at the inns en route) and tollgates had to be paid for; and the drovers, their boys and dogs, needed food and beer – one has the feeling that the whole enterprise ran on beer.   

But the most surprising expense was shoeing.  Before cattle reached the metalled roads of England, each beast had to be shod, two shoes to a foot because of their cloven hooves.  This involved wrestling the animal to the ground, tying its feet together and sitting on it until the blacksmith had done his work.  

The first picture, of an ox being shod (presumably for ploughing), was taken in Saddlescombe, Kent.  All the men  in the picture are doing vital jobs:
  • the boy on the left is preventing the animal getting to its feet by sitting on its neck.
  • the smith is putting the nails in, obviously.  Less obviously, he probably had to tap the hoof gently with his hammer for fully half a minute beforehand - just to get it used to the strange ordeal & quieten it down.
  • the man at the back is holding a tall conical wooden frame - perhaps one used to keep the air flowing inside hayricks & prevent mould.  This holds everything steady for the smith, and for...
  • ...the man on the right.  Look closely and you'll see a short stick in his right hand. Twisted around this is a leather tourniquet - you can just see it in the gap between his hand and the hoof - which binds all the hooves together so there was no movement.  The smith had very little margin for error because nearly all a bullock's hoof is quick.  (This explains why the nail-holes are so near the edge.)  In his left hand the man is holding the beast's tail.  Why?  Because an accurate flick with a befouled tail might have cost him the sight of an eye.
  (Many thanks to Monica Susan Howe for this superb picture.)

The bulges the holes made on the edge of the metal ciw can be seen even in the picture at the bottom.  (Courtesy of Bert Manton of Woodford Halse.) 

The little ciws were sickle-shaped plates, only thick enough to last one journey, so they are a rare find. One was presented to me in 2013 by Gerald Ditum, to whom I shall be eternally grateful.  I had complained to an audience at Hanslope that my life had narrowed down to one ridiculous quest: to find a ciw before I died!  The example in #4 is the right shape & weight; note the turning-up at the front to provide extra grip but also to prevent a stone getting wedged between shoe & hoof.

Each beast cost tenpence to shoe in the early 19th century – nearly 10% of the average profit on each beast.  Rustling, lameness and rinderpest were other hazards that put profits at risk. 


The coming of the railways cut the cost of the journey by £1 a head and took 36 hours instead of three weeks; it also eliminated need for shoeing.  So long-distance droving died quickly, but a journey of 50 miles or less was still cheaper on foot..

(If you'd given the beasts the vote, there would still be droving today.)
Expenses image 1
Ox-shoeing at Saddlescombe
Expenses image 2
Ox-shoes (ciws), Llandovery Museum
Expenses image 3
Shoe on hoof (Bert Manton)
Expenses image 4
Ciw, found by Gerald Ditum