Few things can reduce a 800-pound adolescent steer into mindless bliss like a good brushing, especially when the brush gets to the tail. Which is why the two newest bovine members of the McCrum farm in Washburn looked more like half-asleep puppies than muscular baby beef Saturday afternoon.
Grace McCrum, 17, 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 on Saturday, with the arrival of “Admiral,” an 800-pound Hereford Steer, it begins again.
Admiral was greeted by Sugar, an 800-pound Hereford-cross steer who is being raised by 15-year-old Lila McCrum — Grace’s younger sister — as part of her own 4-H baby beef project. Sugar had arrived on the farm earlier in the week.
[For generations of one Maine family, fall means the start of 4-H baby beef season]
During this upcoming year, Grace and Lila McCrum will spend countless hours in all kinds of weather feeding, watering, tending, grooming, training and hanging out with the bulls getting them ready for their ultimate goal — the show ring at the annual Northern Maine Fair in July.
And by then, both should weigh over 1,400-pounds.
“He just really had the look,” Grace McCrum said, admiring her new charge. “He’s got that big head, thick body and deep red color I like.”
Standing nearby, her father Troy McCrum laughed.
“Yeah, she’s a red steer gal,” he said. “And he’s a special bull alright.”
Father and daughter had driven the previous day to Gray to pick up the steer from Wenwood Farm after Grace had spent months online searching for the perfect animal.
She began the hunt for the perfect match last April, scouring social media sites like Facebook and websites from farms where she could not only check and compare out the animals’ stats, breed and pedigree, but also get a good look at their photos.
Lila, on the other hand, took a more sentimental approach to her selection.
“Last year my first steer came up to me and licked my hand,” she said. “So I decided I’d always pick the one that would come up and lick me first, plus Sugar looks really good.”
Sugar is a bit shorter and thicker than Admiral and a lot more vocal.
“He was still in the pasture with his mom when we went to get him,” Lila McCrum said over the young steer’s repeated lowing. “I wake up to mooing.”
Both steers are around 8-months old.
Now that the steers are on the farm, the sisters will work constantly with them to get the large animals comfortable walking with them, posing and being around people. By summer, they will be show-ready buffed up to tip the scales at more than half-a-ton each.
Grace McCrum has a bit of a head start since Admiral is already accustomed to wearing a halter and being lead around by a rope. Lila, on the other hand, is starting from scratch teaching an animal that outweighs her by more than 700 pounds to walk like a gentleman.
Their older sister Mackenzie, who has raised her share of 4-H baby beef, was on hand Saturday to watch her younger siblings with their new steers.
“None of mine ever came halter broke,” she said. “So the first time I’d put a halter and rope on them I’d also hook them to the tractor [and] walk them using the tractor.”
She paused for a moment and laughed at the memory.
“After one or two times, they’d sort of get it and we’d stop using the tractor,” she said. “But they still trample on our toes or take off and we’d have to stop them.”
The two steers appeared more than happy with the attention the McCrum girls were lavishing on them and, when left to their own devices, engaged in some typical adolescent bull behavior.
“They will head butt each other,” Grace McCrum said. “It’s a bit like play but also dominance behavior — sort of like watching moose play.”
Though technically a competition — there can only be one champion steer come fair day — the McCrums are in it together.
“It’s really a team effort,” Grace McCrum said. “We always work together and help each other out.”
Mackenzie nodded, but added, “There is some competition with who can make the best sign on their stall at the fair,” she said. “We are all pretty artistic.”
Troy McCrum took a break from working with his son 11-year-old Sam fixing a piece of farm machinery to examine the steers in the paddock outside the 1900-era family barn.
“I did not have this opportunity growing up,” the elder McCrum said. “I always wanted to do it [and] I am tickled that the girls have the opportunity.”
Troy McCrum and his wife Nichole McCrum are co-leaders with Erich and Alana Margeson of the Aroostook 4H baby beef club.
This is Grace McCrum’s final year in the baby beef club — she ages out when she turns 18 — and Sam is ready to step into her spot — and take over the family farming business.
“I’m ready,” the youngsters said, wiping machinery grease off of his hands after wrestling a wheel of a piece of equipment. “I want to be a fifth generation [baby beef club member] and I want to be the sixth generation farmer working on this land.”
As all the McCrums spent this past Saturday tending the new steers and tending to barn chores, it’s obvious Sam comes by his life goals honestly.
“It’s what we do,” Mackenzie said. “It’s in our blood.”
Outside in the late October sun, Sugar mooed in what sounded like contented agreement.
This is the second installment in an ongoing series of stories following Grace McCrum and her family as they prepare the fourth generation of baby beef as part of the Aroostook Valley 4-H Baby Beef Club.
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