A man and two women man a cow in a field.
Abby Caron tugs at a reluctant calf to bring her into the barn with help of her brother Ashton Caron and Savanah Bowden. All three are members of the Penobscot Livestock 4-H Club. For the third year in a row, club members have no Bangor fair to show and sell their animals. Credit: Julia Bayly / BDN

After the pandemic forced the cancellation of the 2020 Bangor State Fair and a scaled-back version of the affair in 2021, Corinna Caron thought this would be the year her 4-H beef club participants could finally show off their animals at the beloved agricultural event.

But when the city demolished the barns and other buildings used to house the livestock on the fairgrounds this spring, it signaled that the group would once again be without a place to showcase and sell animals at the auction typically held at the end of the fair.

The three-year hiatus of any livestock events at the Bangor State Fair has forced Caron to instead bring buyers to her Corinna farm for a one-day steer and lamb show followed by an auction. Without it, members of the Penobscot Livestock 4-H Club would have to seek out buyers on their own and likely be forced to sell their animals for a fraction of what they attract at an auction.

Hundreds of kids across the state purchase animals a year in advance of the next local fair as part of their 4-H club project. They spend months tending, feeding and caring for their animals with the ultimate goal of showing them at a state or county fair. Discovering halfway through that year there will be no fair can be a blow to them — mentally and financially.

“The kids need that finish line,” said Caron, who oversees 25 kids between the ages of 8 and 18 in the Penobscot Livestock 4-H Club. “It really gives them something to work for.”

Penobscot Livestock 4-H Club co-leader Corinna Caron, left, talks with club member Lily Brown at the Carons’ barn. For the third year in a row, club members have no Bangor fair to show and sell their animals. Credit: Julia Bayly / BDN

Lily Brown, 15, has been part of the club for eight years and said the lack of an auction forces members to seek out buyers on their own and negotiate private sales. The money they get from those sales is typically less than what the animal sells for at auction.

Beef calves usually cost between $1,000 and $2,000, Brown said. Then add in the cost of feed, hay, shelter, transporting the animal and veterinary costs, and you are looking at a $4,000 to $5,000 investment for a single animal.

When she shows her animal at the Bangor State Fair, Brown said she at least breaks even with the selling price at auction. Typically, she also makes enough extra cash to purchase the next year’s animal with a bit left over.

Buyers come from around Maine to get a look at the club members’ animals. In the fair setting they could view the livestock in their stalls on the fairgrounds where they reside for the duration of the fair. They can also talk one-on-one with the 4-H members.

The livestock get plenty of exposure at the fair, Caron said. It was not uncommon for 1,000 people a day to pass through the animal barns.

During the animal shows, the livestock are walked through a ring by their owners, allowing the buyers another chance to view them before bidding at the auction.

None of that can happen with private sales. Which is why Caron is committed to hosting a show and auction on her property.

“I really prefer having the fair instead of doing it here,” said 15-year-old Abby Caron, Corinna Caron’s daughter. “It lets more people see my animals.”

Taking care of livestock is a big part of what members of the Penobscot Livestock 4-H Club members learn. Club member Abby Caron bottle-feeds an orphan calf on her family farm.  For the third year in a row, club members have no Bangor fair to show and sell their animals. Credit: Julia Bayly / BDN

Her older brother Ashton Caron disagrees, to a point.

“Having it here is nice,” he said. “But, well, the fair is the fair, and when it’s here we don’t get to talk to members of the public about what we do and why it’s important.”

Ashton Caron is in his last year of 4-H and his first year of college at the University of Maine, where he is studying animal science and paying much of his tuition and related expenses with money he earned raising and selling livestock through 4-H.

“It’s important to talk to the public about farming and where food actually comes from,” Ashton Caron said. “Especially when you consider something like 17 percent of American people think chocolate milk comes from brown cows.”

For the third year in a row, Penobscot Livestock 4-H Club members have no Bangor fair to show and sell their animals. Credit: Julia Bayly / BDN

Corrina Caron is happy to host the livestock show and auction on Aug. 6 but said it does not make up for the fair.

“One of the largest goat shows in the state would happen at the fair,” she said. “And they are totally missing out on dairy animals.”

Earlier this month, the head of the Bangor State Fair said personnel are in discussions with members of the area’s agricultural community on how best to bring livestock back to the event. How to house the livestock is a big part of that discussion.

“It could be temporary structures that are up only during the fair or new barns,” Caron said. “We are fine with whatever works as long as they are secure for the animals.”

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.