But as chardonnay and cabernet replace cows and sheep it thins the ranks of livestock ranchers. For 30 years, the fair has honored a top rancher and the outstanding dairy from Sonoma County. This year is the first time the search for the top rancher and cream-of-the-crop dairy has been expanded to include Marin, Mendocino, Napa and Lake counties. Sonoma County is running out of ranchers to honor.

"It's a sign of the times," said Crane, who was the first recipient of the top rancher award in 1976 and who now serves as chairman of the committee that selects ranching's best.

Crane and his committee went across the Sonoma County line to Tomales to select sheep rancher Chris Cornett for the first "North Bay Rancher of the Year."

Cornett, a fifth-generation Marin County sheep and cattle rancher, counts himself among the survivors. He's become the largest sheep rancher in the North Bay, running 1,400 ewes on more than 800 acres of owned and leased land in Marin and Sonoma counties.

"Chris is one of the few people left who makes his living solely off livestock," Crane said. "Not only is he a great farmer, he is a community leader, always willing to lend a hand or offer advice."

Cornett said it takes a special breed to make it in ranching, someone, he said, "willing to put up with wind, dust, coyotes and price gouging."

This year's top rancher said he's crazy enough to keep going:

"I like what I do despite all the challenges," Cornett said. "If you have passion for ranching you will do whatever you have to do to make it work."

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