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.

Courtesy of The National Aviary
Watch This Live Stream to See Two Rare Penguin Chicks Hatch From Their Eggs
Courtesy of The National Aviary
Courtesy of The National Aviary

Bringing an African penguin chick into the world is an involved process, with both penguin parents taking turns incubating the egg. Now, over a month since they were laid, two penguin eggs at the National Aviary in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania are ready to hatch. As Gizmodo reports, the baby birds will make their grand debut live for the world to see on the zoo's website.

The live stream follows couple Sidney and Bette in their nest, waiting for their young to emerge. The first egg was laid November 7 and is expected to hatch between December 14 and 18. The second, laid November 11, should hatch between December 18 and 22.

"We are thrilled to give the public this inside view of the arrival of these rare chicks," National Aviary executive director Cheryl Tracy said in a statement. "This is an important opportunity to raise awareness of a critically endangered species that is in rapid decline in the wild, and to learn about the work that the National Aviary is doing to care for and propagate African penguins."

African penguins are endangered, with less than 25,000 pairs left in the wild today. The National Aviary, the only independent indoor nonprofit aviary in the U.S., works to conserve threatened populations and raise awareness of them with bird breeding programs and educational campaigns.

After Sidney and Bette's new chicks are born, they will care for them in the nest for their first three weeks of life. The two penguins are parenting pros at this point: The monogamous couple has already hatched and raised three sets of chicks together.

[h/t Gizmodo]

Bleat Along to Classic Holiday Tunes With This Goat Christmas Album

Feeling a little Grinchy this month? The Sweden branch of ActionAid, an international charity dedicated to fighting global poverty, wants to goat—errr ... goad—you into the Christmas spirit with their animal-focused holiday album: All I Want for Christmas is a Goat.

Fittingly, it features the shriek-filled vocal stylings of a group of festive farm animals bleating out classics like “Jingle Bells,” “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” and “O Come All Ye Faithful.” The recording may sound like a silly novelty release, but there's a serious cause behind it: It’s intended to remind listeners how the animals benefit impoverished communities. Goats can live in arid nations that are too dry for farming, and they provide their owners with milk and wool. In fact, the only thing they can't seem to do is, well, sing. 

You can purchase All I Want for Christmas is a Goat on iTunes and Spotify, or listen to a few songs from its eight-track selection below.


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