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Beauty and the beasts

Local pageant queen reveals an unusual passion

Kathy Salinitro in her Ms. Senior New Hampshire sash and gown. (Jeff Ferland) (click for larger version)
August 10, 2011
One doesn't normally associate a 2,700-pound animal with the spectacle of a beauty pageant, but Gilford resident Kathy Salinitro, the recently crowned Ms. New Hampshire Senior America, and her four inspirational oxen bridge that void.

The Salinitro family has raised oxen since 1982, when their son brought home two calves which he helped deliver at a dairy farm where he worked. For years, the Salinitros and the oxen toured up to 26 fairs per season in New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Maine and Vermont, including an invitation to the Saratoga, N.Y. fair.

Salinitro feeds Max an alfalfa cube snack before she puts him in a yoke. (Jeff Ferland) (click for larger version)
According to Salinitro, two years ago, she and her oxen found a new purpose. They began working with a high school teen with social issues. The teen would not get along with faculty nor other students, and was in danger of being removed from the school.

Salinitro learned the teen had an interest in the veterinary field. Through work with Salinitro and her oxen, the teen gained self-confidence enough to not only complete high school, but to go on to college.

This success gave Salinitro the idea that learning to interact with the tremendous yet gentle animals, anyone could grow in self-confidence, patience and self-discipline. One could learn more about one's self by learning to work with the oxen. And it is truly a humbling feeling standing next to the six-foot-tall, 2,400-pound animal.

Salinitro leads Chip (right) and Max (left) as they pull their thousand lb weight around the tenth-mile track. (Jeff Ferland) (click for larger version)
Salinitro founded the Ox-K Farm Discovery Center, a non-profit organization, to encourage personal development and promote knowledge of oxen.

"Every kid gets to drive the team," said Salinitro. "Some kids are afraid of big animals. By the end of the day, they are feeding them alfalfa cubes."

According to Salinitro, the oxen have been driven by children as young as two-years-old, and have interacted with infants.

"There are no other oxen like this anywhere else in New Hampshire," said Salinitro. "It's unusual for oxen to be this friendly and take commands from strangers."

Dale waiting patiently for his alfalfa cube. (Jeff Ferland) (click for larger version)
Through training, which started when the animals were only two-weeks-old, the oxen will interact and take commands from anyone Salinitro places in charge.

Unlike horses, which have reins and a bit, one guides oxen only by voice commands and taps with a stick.

Salinitro brings the oxen out at least three to four times a week, two per team, to pull a 1,000-pound sled around a track in the field measuring a tenth of a mile. Each team completes 10 laps, or a mile, with the weight to keep the animals in shape. Each team can complete this task in about an hour.

"They have the ability, if they wanted to take off in a yoke and gallop together," said Salinitro as she led Chip and Max in a yoke to the field.

According to Salinitro, oxen can gallop at speeds similar to those of horses, but not for the same duration; they tend to tire quicker. When they do "take off," Salinitro says one can really feel the ground shake.

At one point, the Salinitros had up to eight oxen, and over the years, had one six-foot-two-inch tall, 3,000-pound giant. Currently, the lineup consists of Chip, Dale, Max and Jake, who were born from the same farm all within the same week, and are all now seven-years-old. They all weight about 2,400 pounds, and are not yet fully-grown.

The Ox-K Farm Discovery Center sees visitors ranging from single families to high school classes and groups of 40 youths from summer camp. Salinitro and Chip even makes visits to the Taylor Home in Laconia to visit seniors.

Salinitro will travel to Atlantic City, N.J. for the national Ms. Senior America pageant on Oct. 2 to 7, where she will compete against the other 49 state winners. The oxen will have to stay home and prepare for the Sandwich fair. For the pageant's two-minute and 45-second presentation, Salinitro plays a video and talks about the Ox-K Farm mission and multiple accomplishments but it is nearly imposable to explain exactly what she and her oxen do in that short time frame.

"Trying to get someone to understand what I do is hard," said Salinitro.

She said her typical visit with a small group usually lasts a few hours and, prior to their arrival, visitors are usually skeptical that a session can last more than a few minutes.

Salinitro and her oxen will lead the Gilmanton Old Home Day parade on Aug. 13 at 10 a.m. Children are envied afterward to take turns driving the oxen and will be given a commemorative certificate.

The team will also participate at the Prescott Farm Harvest Festival Sept. 17, and the Ramblin' Vewe Farm Agriculture and the Classroom program Sept. 27.

Salinitro and two oxen will make another trip to the Taylor home on Sept. 26.

They are venturing into the world of writing, as Salinitro aims to create children's books telling stories of her unusual extended family.

For more information about the Ox-K Farm Discovery Center or to set up an appointment, visit their Web site at www.oxkfarm.com or contact Kathy Salinitro at oxk@metrocast.net or call 630-4554.

Salmon Press
Martin Lord Osman
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