carved, painted wooden ox yoke from Portugal

Portuguese farmers replaced their ox-drawn carts and ploughs with tractors a long time ago but much of the traditional farming equipment, including wooden cattle yokes, can still be found in their sheds or decorating restaurant walls up and down the country.

Some of the farmhouses which have been converted into rural tourist accommodation display their old carts and tools in mini museums while other pieces form part of the collections in ethnographic museums.

Traditional dress for a Portuguese farming woman with simple ox yokes on the wall
Traditional dress for a Portuguese farming woman with simple ox yokes on the wall. Lousã Ethnographic Museum

I may not get wildly excited by cracked wooden carts and rusted, broken-toothed saws but I have been impressed by the decorative ox yokes I’ve seen, especially the ones in ethnographic museums.

Some of them are far too pretty for use in the fields by peasant farmers. The introduction of corn to Portuguese agriculture made some farmers quite wealthy and when people have money, it’s only natural to want to have nicer things and to show off a little. Or a lot.

As a consequence, the cattle yokes used on market days were carved with flower motifs and crosses and when the local festivals took place, it wasn’t just the villagers who dressed in all their finery. The animals would be scrubbed down and strapped into a luxury carved painted wooden yoke and paraded around for all to admire.

Festival ox yoke, Portugal, 1936
Decorative festival ox yoke, Portugal, 1936
Decorative yoke from Ovar, on display at the Palace hotel in Buçaco
Decorative yoke from Ovar, on display at the Palace hotel in Buçaco

If you scour local Feiras de Velharias /Antiguidades (Antique fairs), you’ll probably find an original example or two but they won’t come cheap. Canny traders have realised their decorative value and hiked the prices accordingly.

Alternatively, wander around any of the bigger markets in Portugal keeping an eye out for the farm equipment stalls and you might find some miniature reproduction yokes on sale at a lower price.

Reproduction decorative ox yokes at Barcelos market
Reproduction decorative ox yokes at Barcelos market


If you're interested in visiting or moving to Portugal, why not get my free insider tips and resources by email? These newsletters also include blog updates and information about relevant products, services and special offers.

See my privacy policy

No spam. Unsubscribe any time Powered by ConvertKit


  1. Don’t think I’ve ever seen decorated yokes like these. I’ll have to be more observant in future 🙂

    1. Author

      You don’t tend to see them out and about, except at markets. You’re more likely to find them in ethnographic exhibits 🙂

  2. Yes is also for Yes! We’re taking your recommendation of Taberna in Coimbra for a special dinner tomorrow night, Thanks again for all your great info and leads.

    1. Author

      You’re welcome! Have a lovely meal. I’d recommend the ‘vitela’ 🙂

Over to you. Please share your thoughts in a comment.