Wow, this year’s Great Salt Lick contest, held Sept. 19 in Baker City, Oregon, brought in $12,000 for Parkinson’s research! This was the ninth year for the annual event. Typical proceeds from years past averaged around $4,000, so this year was exceptional!
Kudos to Whit Deschner, the brains of the contest, and all of those who helped make it so successful, including the organizers and art buyers. And, of course, a big thank you goes out to all of those critters for their artistic tongue sculpting abilities.
Our cows occasionally produce a finely tuned piece of salt block art, perhaps worthy of the competition, but then some cow with a big ‘ol tongue will inevitably come along and lick it flat before I can pick it up and take it to town.
I’m always on the lookout though for cow lickers with talent in our herd. I’ve been contemplating starting a new breeding program that passes on the artist/tongue gene required for producing an entry in the Great Salt Lick contest, but so far can’t convince my husband of a need for this type of selective breeding. He is more interested in producing cows with good udders and feet that have offspring that will gain and grade well — go figure…
For those unfamiliar with the Great Salt Lick Contest, here are some excerpts from an article I had written a few years ago for the Ruralite magazine:
Art Takes A Licking
By Debby Schoeningh
Some people see beauty in paintings, drawings, sculptures and prose. Whit Deschner sees it in salt blocks. The true beauty within a salt block becomes visible only
after it has been licked by the artists: cattle, goats, horses, sheep, deer or elk.
Whit says he began to see the potential for art in salt blocks while he was sitting on the porch of a friend’s cabin admiring the shape of a block a deer had worked on.
“I began thinking that salt licks sure beat some of the sculptures in parks and in front of buildings,” he says. “You know the ones — they look like misplaced boulders that really are misplaced boulders, but that some artist has gotten large sums of money to put there and call art. Somewhere the thought struck me that salt licks were far more aesthetically pleasing to look at than abused rocks going under the disguise of art. Of course, there may have been a beer or two involved…”
Whit is partial to salt blocks licked by cows because of their broad-brush-tongue approach. “There is no such thing as a mad cow,” he says. “They’re really just frustrated artists. Heck, look at Van Gogh.”
Goats, he says, are very detailed.
Horses don’t seem to have as much imagination when it comes to design, he notes, as they tend to bite the blocks.
In order to showcase the work of these artisans, Whit started the “Great Salt Lick Contest,” an annual event in Baker City since 2007.
One year, Whit gave an award to the contestant who entered a block that most closely resembled Janet Reno, former U.S. attorney general. Shortly after the contest was held, Reno contacted Whit and asked for a photograph of the winning block.
“I just FedExed the whole block to her, and I never did hear back from her,” he says with a chuckle.
Salt licks are a diet supplement given to livestock and wildlife. The blocks submitted for the contest have come from as far away as Las Vegas. Whit even received one for a prior contest from Germany, submitted by photograph.
All different types of supplement blocks are eligible, including mineral and selenium. However, Whit says, it must be licked by livestock or wildlife. Blocks licked by humans are not permitted.
“Licks may be subject to DNA testing,” Whit warns. “Blocks with human DNA will be eliminated and offenders banned from future contests.”
Although Whit admits to trying to fake a licked block one time by taking a grinder to it, he doesn’t recommend that anyone try it.
“In the end I ruined every tool in the shop, so it wasn’t worth it,” he says. Several local businesses sponsor the contest each year and give contestants a free replacement block for their entries.
After the entries are judged, Whit auctions off the salt blocks as a fundraiser for Parkinson’s, a disease he shares with 7-10 million people worldwide. The proceeds from the contest go to the Parkinson Center of Oregon at Oregon Health and Science University.
Whit has been known to bring in an expert judge — a cow — to select the winning block.
One year, Whit took the salt lick contest to a new level by having an entry, “Cowlick Cathedral” bronzed for the discerning salt lick art collector.
Whit says the Great Salt Lick Contest started out as a joke, but the event has since garnered national media attention, and continues to entertain local residents. The fundraising auctions have been “a heroic effort from the small, but great community of Baker County, Oregon,” he says. For more information visit: hhttp://www.whitdeschner.com and https://www.facebook.com/The-Great-Salt-Lick-117803748234160/timeline/ .