PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — On the busy second day of the Northern Maine Fair in Presque Isle on Saturday, most of the teenagers who had come to the fairgrounds weren’t interested in the activities going on in the livestock area. They were drawn to the midway, with its swirling Gravitron and Ferris wheel, oblivious to a group of their peers just a short distance away who did not see the fair as a place to be entertained, but as a venue to exhibit the results of the hard work and effort they put in throughout the year as members of the Aroostook Valley Baby Beef 4-H Club.
On Saturday evening, club members gathered in the livestock show ring on the fairgrounds for the first practice “walking” their steers around the grounds. Approximately a dozen youth have raised steer throughout the year that will be auctioned off on Thursday to the highest bidder. The best steer in the pool will be named the grand champion at the annual 4-H Baby Beef Show, which will be held on Wednesday.
Just before the start of the 5 p.m. walking of the baby beef on Saturday, Justin Buck, 15, of Presque Isle was frantically tending to all of the animals that he was exhibiting at the fair. They included miniature horses, goats, and his 1,200 pound steer, Uncle Buck.
“I’ve been in 4-H Club for four years, and I like it a lot,” he said, “This is my first year getting involved in the auction and caring for a steer, though. Being in 4-H teaches you a lot about responsibility and hard work, and you have to have those skills when you are caring for an animal like this. They need a lot of food and grooming and care.”
4-H — which stands for head, hands, heart and health — is the youth development branch of University of Maine Cooperative Extension. In Maine, 4-H involves nearly 30,000 youth across hundreds of schools, according to the cooperative extension website. While 4-H members participate in a variety of agricultural projects, they also take part in robotics, photography, adventure camps and a variety of activities that enhance their sense of community and personal responsibility.
Buck said that he spent at least two hours a day caring for his steer and he had to invest more money into it as time went on and the animal doubled in size.
A short distance away, Noah Margeson, 12, of Westmanland was preparing his steer, Big John, for the walk. It was Margeson’s second year in the auction. He said that his family has a long history of farming and involvement in 4-H clubs, and he wanted to “carry on the tradition.”
“It is a lot of work because it takes a half an hour to an hour just to feed and groom him,” he said. “And that does not count the time it takes to make sure he has clean hay and the barn is clean and all that. It is a lot of work, but you learn that early through 4-H. We have meetings where we talk about responsibility and how to prevent the animals from getting sick, we do community service projects. There are a lot of things you learn and you also learn about doing things for others.”
Darcie Campbell McCarthy, 14, of Littleton said on Saturday that she spent two to three hours a day caring for her more than 1,200 pound steer, Bandit while helping with her family potato farm. Campbell McCarthy’s steer, Ribeye, was named the grand champion at the baby beef show at the Presque Isle fair last year. According to figures provided by the the cooperative extension service, the auction can bring in an average price per pound of $3.20 and total sales of $53,357. The money for the steer goes to the club member who raised the animal.
Campbell McCarthy said that she invests the money into purchasing food for the animal she plans to raise for the following year’s auction and also puts it into a college fund. She also said that she enjoys the responsibility that 4-H has taught her, along with the accountability.
“They come and do barn checks and also weigh the animals to make sure that you are caring for them properly and they are being taken care of,” she said. “They also make sure they are being led around and things. You have to be involved in taking care of them, they make sure of that.”
Club members raise the steers for about a year before showing them at the fair. A lot of work goes into grooming, teaching the animal how to behave during the show at the fair and caring for the steer. During Saturday’s first practice session, several steers got away from their owners and took a few laps around the ring before being wrangled back under control.
Both Margeson and Campbell McCarthy said that it is sometimes difficult at the end of the year to send the cow they have raised off to be slaughtered. But it is also a lesson in the cycle of life and where food comes from, they added.
“You feed it and care for it and raise it as your own,” said Margeson. “But you also know its not a pet. It is going to feed people that want and need it for food. I think that is how most people see it.”