When Cows Make Art

It is said that those who seek beauty will find it everywhere. This is certainly true of Whit Deschner, a writer-turned-art-critic in Baker City, Oregon. Deschner is the creator of Baker City’s annual Great Salt Lick Art Auction, which is pretty much exactly what it sounds like. Farmers and ranchers from around the region bring in blocks of salt that their livestock have licked into interesting shapes. The tongue sculptures are judged and auctioned off at a party that brings the whole town together.

If you didn’t know what you were looking at, it really would be easy to mistake the used salt licks for works of modern art. That’s what got Deschner thinking, back in 2006, while visiting a friend who had left a used-up salt lick in front of his cabin.

"We'd had a couple of beers, and it just started looking more and more like art to us," Deschner told NPR. "Could be outside a federal building."

The next step was obvious—to Deschner, anyway. There would have to be an art contest.

Deschner’s neighbors were understandably skeptical at first. But eight years later, the Great Salt Lick Art Auction has become the party—and the art event—of the year. Despite the seemingly random nature of salt-lick sculpture production, a good-natured competition has arisen among the locals.

“I think my cows do an OK job, but I really feel my sheep have brought it home for me,” rancher Kim Jacobs told NPR.

A fresh salt lick retails for about $5, but the finished works of art are auctioned off for much more, between $200 and $1000. The auction is also a fundraiser for Parkinson’s disease research, so every sale is a win. That idea also came from Deschner, who has Parkinson’s disease. He told NPR that living with the degenerative condition has taught him one thing: “You have to follow your folly.”

To date, the auctions have raised tens of thousands of dollars and have inspired a sense of good-natured weirdness among Baker City residents, including cattle ranchers Beth and Fred Phillips. 

“We'd like to think our cows are more artistic than they used to be, but, to be honest, they probably aren't,” Beth told NPR.

“They're definitely more artistic than our neighbors’,” added her husband.

All photographs are courtesy of Baker County Tourism.

Mark Ralston, AFP/Getty Images
How a Hairdresser Found a Way to Fight Oil Spills With Hair Clippings
Mark Ralston, AFP/Getty Images
Mark Ralston, AFP/Getty Images

The Exxon Valdez oil tanker made global news in 1989 when it dumped millions of gallons of crude oil into the waters off Alaska's coast. As experts were figuring out the best ways to handle the ecological disaster, a hairdresser from Alabama named Phil McCroy was tinkering with ideas of his own. His solution, a stocking stuffed with hair clippings, was an early version of a clean-up method that's used at real oil spill sites today, according to Vox.

Hair booms are sock-like tubes stuffed with recycled hair, fur, and wool clippings. Hair naturally soaks up oil; most of the time it's sebum, an oil secreted from our sebaceous glands, but it will attract crude oil as well. When hair booms are dragged through waters slicked with oil, they sop up all of that pollution in a way that's gentle on the environment.

The same properties that make hair a great clean-up tool at spills are also what make animals vulnerable. Marine life that depends on clean fur to stay warm can die if their coats are stained with oil that's hard to wash off. Footage of an otter covered in oil was actually what inspired Phil McCroy to come up with his hair-based invention.

Check out the full story from Vox in the video below.

[h/t Vox]

A New Chew Toy Will Help Your Dog Brush Its Own Teeth

Few pet owners are willing to sit down and brush their pet's teeth on a regular basis. (Most of us can barely convince ourselves to floss our own teeth, after all.) Even fewer pets are willing to sit calmly and let it happen. But pet dental care matters: I’ve personally spent more than $1000 in the last few years dealing with the fact that my cat’s teeth are rotting out of her head.

For dog owners struggling to brush poor Fido’s teeth, there’s a slightly better option. Bristly, a product currently being funded on Kickstarter, is a chew toy that acts as a toothbrush. The rubber stick, which can be slathered with doggie toothpaste, is outfitted with bristles that brush your dog’s teeth as it plays.

A French bulldog chews on a Bristly toy.

Designed so your dog can use it without you lifting a finger, it’s shaped like a little pogo stick, with a flattened base that allows dogs to stabilize it with their paws as they hack at the bristled stick with their teeth. The bristles are coated in a meat flavoring to encourage dogs to chew.

An estimated 80 percent of dogs over the age of 3 have some kind of dental disease, so the chances that your dog could use some extra dental attention is very high. In addition to staving off expensive vet bills, brushing your dog's teeth can improve their smelly breath.

Bristly comes in three sizes as well as in a heavy-duty version made for dogs who are prone to ripping through anything they can get their jaws around. A Bristly stick costs $29 and is scheduled to start shipping in October. Get it here.


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