Grace McCrum spent the past eight months raising Admiral, a Hereford steer, who will go into the show ring and eventual baby beef auction at the Northern Maine Fair in early August.

With fair day and the baby beef auction just weeks away, Grace McCrum is down to the final preparations before introducing her hereford bull Admiral to potential buyers.

“I need to pick up some pink oil,” McCrum said. “And I need to finish our stall sign.”

Pink oil is a sort of beef beauty product McCrum will use on Admiral after he gets his baths at the fair.

Yes, his baths.

The steer has already had several baths to get him used to the process. Once at the fair, bathing will be a daily event.

“I bathe him and then spray him with the pink oil before I blow dry him,” McCrum said. “It makes him really fluffy.”

Fluffy and huge.

When Admiral arrived at the McCrum farm he weighed in at 800 pounds. As of this week he was topping the scales at 1,400 pounds — his target weight.

“He’s right where I thought he’d be,” McCrum said. “And he’s still gaining weight.”

Also hitting the target weight of 1,400 pounds is Sugar, the Hereford-cross steer McCrum’s 15-year-old sister and Baby Beef Club member Lila is raising for the fair.

But where Admiral is tall with the body of heavyweight muscle-builder, Sugar is a bit more, well, stout.

“He looks like a barrel,” Lila McCrum said with a laugh. “He’s short and round.”

For the past eight months the sisters have spent 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.

It’s a bittersweet time for both girls as they know all their hard work will pay off when they say goodbye to Admiral and Sugar after the steers are auctioned off to meat buyers and taken away for slaughter.

The sisters’ parents Nichole and Troy McCrum are co-leaders with Erich and Alana Margeson of the Aroostook Valley 4-H Baby Beef Club, and eldest sister MacKenzie raised several steers before turning 18 and “aging out” of the club.

Participating the club and annual fair is as much social as it is work, Grace McCrum said, with the club members all camping out on the fairgrounds with their steers once the fair begins.

This week both Grace and Lila McCrum were working on drafts of the signs they will make for their stalls at the fair as part of a fun art competition in the club.

On a sunny, warm afternoon this week the steers were napping peacefully in their pen outside the barn.

Both slowly stood up as the McCrum sisters entered the pen and ambled over to have their ears and noses scratched.

“Look at him,” Grace McCrum said with a laugh as Admiral ambled away. “It looks like his leg fell asleep while he was laying down.”

A bit of the sadness of saying goodbye to Admiral and Sugar is mitigated by the $1,000 in profits both girls expect to realize on each animal.

And, for Grace McCrum at least, an annual tradition of sorts of her steer doing something less-than-endearing in the days leading up to the fair.

True to form, Admiral got a tad rambunctious this week.

“He was out in the stocks one day for his bath and he just sort of ‘blew up,’” Grace McCrum said. “He kicked me as I was clipping [the hair] on his face telling me he was done being in the stocks that day.”

This will be Grace McCrum’s last Northern Maine Fair baby beef auction as a member of the Aroostook Valley 4-H Baby Beef Club. She turned 18.

“It’s a lot of work during the year, but I know I am going to miss it,” she said. “I like it, I really mean it. I like doing this.”

But the baby beef tradition at the McCrum farm is in safe hands, she said.

“Lila still has a few more years,” she said. “And my younger brother Sam is going to start next year.”

There is one last task to complete before loading the steers up and taking them to the Presque Isle Fairgrounds July 26.

“We have to start giving them Kool-Aid,” Grace McCrum said. “We want to get them used to it [because] it will get them to drink water at the fair.”

And not just any flavor.

“Probably cherry,” Lila McCrum said with a grin. “So they have red tongues and sometimes red noses.”

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Julia Bayly

Julia Bayly is a reporter at the Bangor Daily News with a regular bi-weekly column. Julia has been a freelance travel writer/photographer since 2000.