Sunday, May 3, 2009

Art and Stockmanship

This weekend, I volunteered for two very different, but oddly related, community events. On Saturday evening, I was the auctioneer for Placer Arts Outside the Box 2 fundraiser. Today, I volunteered to bring sheep, goats and cattle for an emergency response training for Placer County Animal Control. On the surface, these seem like apples and oranges, but they are related in my mind.

The Outside the Box event featured 80 pieces by professional and amateur artists using a wooden box as the foundation. This is the second year I've done the live auction, and I really enjoy it (so much so that I'm trying to convince my oldest daughter, Lara, to partner with me on an entry next year).

The emergency response training was designed to train a cadre of volunteers who can help evacuate livestock in the event of an emergency (like a wildfire or flood). More than 50 volunteers should up at Stage Stop Ranch in Auburn for the training, which also included horses and alpacas.

The connection for me comes in the mix of art and science that I find in our approach to farming. Even in high school, I found myself attracted to the applied arts - woodworking, metalworking and drafting were among my favorite classes. Function doesn't preclude beauty, and I still find that I most enjoy the tools that are aesthetically pleasing and highly functional.

There is an art to my daily work. Understanding animal behavior is a science, but applying this understanding to loading sheep in a trailer using a border collie is an art. Managing grasslands requires an understanding of range science, but the daily activity involved requires creativity and technique. Objects that I use in my profession also reflect this balance. A well-made gate, one that I constructed from wood that I milled, has both beauty and function (at least to me). This balance between the rational and the creative is one of the things I love about farming.

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