November 24, 2017
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For generations of one Maine family, fall means the start of 4-H baby beef season

By Julia Bayly, BDN Staff

Like most high school seniors, Grace McCrum spends her fair share of time on social media.

But these days, the 17-year-old Easton High School senior is doing more than posting selfies or updating her friend status. She’s on the hunt for the perfect match.

Grace McCrum is a fourth generation participant in the Aroostook Valley 4-H Baby Beef Club. Like her sisters, mother, grandfather and great-grandfather, she has raised calves into beef steers over the course of a year and is getting ready to do it again this year.

During this upcoming year, Grace McCrum will spend countless hours in all kinds of weather feeding, watering, tending, grooming, training and hanging out with the bull getting him ready for their ultimate goal — the show ring at the annual Northern Maine Fair in July.

It’s there that Grace McCrum, and all the members of the 4H beef club, will say goodbye to their steers when they head to the auction block for sale as part of the fair.

“It’s really a generational thing,” she said on a recent Sunday afternoon, as she checked out a likely looking young bull in Old Orchard Beach on Facebook. “It goes all the way back to my great-grandfather.”

Grace’s parents Nichole McCrum and Troy McCrum are co-leaders with Erich and Alana Margeson of the Aroostook 4H baby beef club.

“They learn so many life lessons taking part in this,” Nichole McCrum said. “They learn how to budget money, how to care for something and so many responsibilities along the way.”

As soon as the young steer arrives — likely a Hereford or Hereford Cross — Grace McCrum’s work begins.

“You really need to start training them right away,” she said. “They need to know how to walk with their heads up high in the show ring.”

She will also get the steer accustomed to baths, haircuts and related grooming procedures.

“You think women have a lot of hair products?” Nichole McCrum said with a laugh. “You should see everything they have for the steers.”

Everything about the next 10 months is about getting the new steer ready for the fair.

This is Grace McCrum’s fifth, and final year as part of the club — she ages out when she turns 18. In the four previous years she’s raised steers named Caramel Cream, Tubbs, Mud Flap and Maverick — names chosen not only to reflect any physical or personality quirks of the bull, but that will also lend themselves to the creative process.

Club members, Grace explained, compete every year to see who can make the best sign for their bull’s stall at the fair.

Each have come in number one in the annual fair weigh-in topping out at more than 1,400 pounds of live meat on the hoof.

“Fair time is my favorite time of the year,” Grace McCrum said. “We bring our steers in and every night all of us in the club have an hour or so in the [show] ring with our steers practicing and during the day we are cleaning the stalls and bathing our steers.”

That’s when the participants learn if their animals are “fair steers” or not.

“Some will do really great walking with the kids in their barns,” Nichole McCrum said. “But once they get into the show ring, it’s like they fall apart.”

Leading up to the fair, Nichole McCrum said, the club puts on the “June Jam” during which there is a clinic and training on preparing a steer for display.

“It’s a really big and serious deal,” she said. “Every year, the grooming requirements and rules change [and] the members need to be prepared.”

Grace nodded in agreement.

“Every year there are specific ways we have to trim their tails and clip the hair on their faces,” she said. “And if they have horns, we need to have them dehorned.”

All the club members, Nichole McCrum said, know going into the project that it ends with their steers going off to market and, quite likely, someone’s dinner plate.

“Two months before the fair we are taking calls from [beef] buyers from the previous years,” she said. “All of the kids in the club gather information on those buyers and are responsible for inviting them back to the show and auction.”

That’s the reality of raising an animal for food, Grace McCrum said.

Plus there are the financial benefits.

“I paid for my first semester of college in New York with the profits from my steer,” Mackenzie McCrum said. “It’s also just fun, I was in the club for four years and made some really strong friendships.”

Grace McCrum said they realize about $1,000 in profits on each steer.

“I bought my first car with steer money,” she said.

“You know you will have to sell the steer at the end of the season,” Grace said. “But that’s never been all that hard for me — you sort of get to a point that you detach [and] my cow always does something to me toward the end like step on my foot, so that helps.”

Grace McCrum acknowledged it’s getting late in the season to be selecting and getting her steer — she started looking for one back in April — but intends to have her new animal in the barn by the end of the month.

“I’m just so thankful my girls are having this opportunity like I had,” Nichole McCrum said. “I have such fond memories of my days in the club [and] now they are making their own memories.”

This is the first installment of what will be an ongoing series of stories following Grace McCrum and her family as they prepare the fifth generation of baby beef as part of the Aroostook Valley 4H Baby Beef Club.

 


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