The two terms “ox” and “bull” can cause some confusion sometimes, especially since an animal can be a bull, an ox, or both, or neither.
The main difference between an ox and a bull is that bulls are used for breeding and oxen are used to pull heavy machinery or cargo.
In this article, we’re going to look at all the differences between bulls and oxen and learn how to accurately use the terms.
1. Oxen Are Bred For Draft, Bulls Are Bred For Breeding
This is the number one difference between bulls and oxen.
‘Oxen’ is a term used to refer to any bovine animal which is used as a draft animal. In practice, this usually means a cow which is used for pulling farm equipment or carrying cargo.
By contrast, a ‘bull’ is a male cow that has desirable characteristics for the farmer and is kept specifically for reproducing and expanding the size of the herd.
The term ‘Bull’ can also be used to describe other male mammals which have not been castrated, but in this article we’ll be talking only about domestic cows.
There are lots of differences between bulls and oxen, but this is the main one and the most fundamental difference since it’s related directly to the definition of each term.
2. Oxen Are Usually Stronger Than Bulls
Oxen are usually stronger than bulls since they are selected for strength and durability.
In comparison, bulls are usually chosen for their meat, for their dairy production genetics, and/or for their easy calving ability.
Read More: How Strong are Bulls?
3. Oxen Are Usually Castrated, But Bulls Aren’t
Since oxen are only used for draft and not for breeding, male oxen are usually castrated to make them less aggressive and easier to work with.
By definition, a bull is never castrated, since it would render them useless for its intended purpose (breeding).
4. Oxen Can Be Female, Bulls Can Only Be Male
One thing many people don’t think about is that oxen can be either male or female.
Female oxen are more often used for carrying people because they are less aggressive. Male oxen tend to be physically larger and are better for plowing fields and hauling cargo.
Both male and female oxen are still called “oxen”. There is no separate name for a female ox.
5. Oxen Are Used To Being Yoked
Oxen are usually trained from a young age to accept a yoke, to carry cargo, or to pull other heavy farm equipment.
Bulls are usually kept separate from the herd until they are needed, so they aren’t as used to being handled and would not accept a yoke or any other equipment without a fight.
6. Oxen Are Usually Friendlier Towards Humans Than Bulls
Bulls are always males, and by definition, they still have their reproductive organs intact since they are used for breeding.
Males are inherently more aggressive than females, and bulls are also kept isolated from the herd when they are not being used, meaning they don’t have the chance to socialize as much with other cows or with humans.
Oxen are usually males too, however they tend to be castrated to make them easier to handle.
In addition, oxen work with humans every day, so they become accustomed to being around people and working cooperatively.
Read More: How Sociable are Cows?
7. Bulls Are More Expensive Than Oxen
In general, bulls are much more expensive than oxen.
Oxen can be sourced from any strong cattle breed, and since they are not used for reproducing the genetic qualities of the chosen animal isn’t too important.
By contrast, bulls are used to create entire cow herds, so a small investment into a more genetically desirable bull is multiplied over potentially hundreds of births.
Bulls are extremely expensive because they are selected from only the most desirable breeds, and from specific lines of cattle which have high milk or meat yields, and which have a record of successful births.
The most expensive bull ever sold was named “America”. He was a Black Angus bull and sold for over 1.5 million dollars.
8. Oxen Aren’t Used Much Anymore In The Western World
You will find bulls in every cattle ranch in the world, but you won’t always find oxen.
Oxen have been largely replaced in the western world by vehicles and machinery, which are more effective at plowing, transport, and hauling cargo.
While oxen aren’t used much in the west, they still have their place in the developing world, where agriculture hasn’t developed to the same level as it has in the west yet, and rough, mountainous terrain makes it impossible for farmers to use heavy machinery.
9. Bulls Are More Dangerous Than Oxen
Over 100 people are killed every year by cattle in the United States.
As far as cattle go, bulls are the most dangerous due to their high aggressiveness, muscular bodies, and their lack of socialization with humans compared to oxen and dairy cattle.
By contrast, oxen are usually castrated and are trained from birth to work cooperatively with humans, meaning oxen are less aggressive and become accustomed to humans being around them more quickly.
10. Oxen Aren’t Always Domestic Cows
We often think of oxen as cows, because the most common method for creating oxen in the past was to use male dairy cattle, who would otherwise be slaughtered.
In truth, oxen can be any bovine species. For example, in China and Southeast Asia, water buffalo are commonly used as oxen, as they are more well adapted to working in waterlogged paddy fields.
11. Bulls Are Usually From A Sought After Breed
The final difference between oxen and bulls is that bulls are usually selected from a highly desirable genetic line of cattle.
High-yielding breeds (either beef or milk), fast-growing, polled (naturally hornless), and easy-calving genetics all play a part, and only the cream of the crop is chosen to be bulls.
By contrast, the only requirement for an ox is that it is strong enough to pull a plow, so oxen can be drawn from any breed.
To finish off, here are some frequently asked questions about oxen and bulls:
Are Oxen And Bulls The Same Species?
Oxen and bulls are usually both the same species, but not always. In common language, an ox and a bull are usually both male domestic cattle (Bos Taurus), however the definition of each word doesn’t tie them to any specific species, and both words can refer to animals from different species.
The word “Oxen” can refer to any bovine animal used as a draft animal, which means it can also apply to buffalo or bison.
The word “Bull” usually refers to a male domestic cattle (Bos Taurus) but it can also be used to describe a male of any mammal. For example, a giraffe bull or an elephant bull.
Are Oxen Beef?
An ox is any bovine animal (usually a domestic cow) that is used for draft purposes and not for meat or dairy production.
Most of the time, oxen are domestic cattle (the same species as beef or dairy cows).
You might have heard of ox-tail soup, which is made from the meat around the tail of beef cattle.
What Is A Female Ox Called?
Oxen are usually males since males are stronger than females, however, female oxen are possible too.
There is no separate term to describe a female ox. All oxen are simply called oxen whether they are male or female.
I hope that you found this article useful and are now aware of the differences between bulls and oxen.
To sum up, the main difference between an ox and a bull is simply what the animal is used for. Bulls are used for breeding, oxen are used for draft.
All other differences are common but not set in stone, and you can find exceptions to most of them.
Stuart is the editor of Fauna Facts. He edits our writers’ work as well as contributing his own content. Stuart is passionate about sustainable farming and animal welfare and has written extensively on cows and geese for the site.