Fair makes happy 4-H campers

13 years ago

    PRESQUE ISLE, Maine – While spending a week at the Northern Maine Fair & Music Festival may sound like a dream come true for most teenagers, it’s not all fun and games for members of the Aroostook Valley 4-H Baby Beef Club. It’s work, too.
A week at the fair involves feeding, grooming, walking and weighing their steers, cleaning the stalls, and more.
“I’ve been staying here so long it’s just part of my summer … but it’s the highlight of the summer,” said Caleb Buck, 17, of Mapleton. “When I was younger I was a very excited kid when it came time for the fair.”
To cut down on travel time, many club members and their families bring campers to the fairgrounds.
“My whole family stays in a camper. It’s easier to watch the animal when you’re here the whole time,” Buck said, noting that the fair “is a great social gathering.”
Caleb’s mother, Lauri, who leads the 4-H program with her husband, Bruce, said before her sons had their drivers’ licenses, they would literally spend the whole week at the fair.
“We’d come on Friday and they would not leave the fairgrounds until the animals left the following Saturday morning,” she said. “Now that they have their licenses, they leave a little bit more.”
“Sometimes we’ll go get some cheaper food in town and go home to take a shower,” said Caleb. “For most of us it’s a way of life.”
This is Mapleton’s Carter McLaughlin’s second year in the club. He not only has to take care of his Baby Beef steer, but his herd of display animals, as well.
“I have eight animals, plus my steer, so that takes some extra time,” the 13-year-old said. “I stay here in a camper, but I go home every other day. I go and mow the West Chapman Advent Christian Church lawn and pick potatoes. I have a farm stand, so I’m quite busy during fair week. I’m pretty tired at the end of the week. I don’t have a lot of spare time to do anything else.”
In addition to taking care of her steer, Rachel Donovan of Mars Hill also works at the Mars Hill House of Pizza.
“They give me extra time off because I usually work quite a bit,” said Donovan, “but I’ve been working there during fair week. My boss is very helpful in terms of scheduling my shifts, and even comes to watch. Whenever he can get some time away from the restaurant he’ll come up, walk around and see all the animals.”
Donovan, 18, who graduated from Central Aroostook High School in June, used to play soccer and was a cheerleader.
“You just have to prioritize and make sure everything is going well,” she said. “If you have to be at practice at 10 a.m., you make sure your animal is clean before you go.”
Lauri Buck said a few club members this year are involved in athletics and they work with their coaches to coordinate schedules.
“They’ve got it worked out so it’s not interfering with walking time or with them taking care of their animal,” she said. “A lot of them will go to their coaches ahead of time and say, ‘This is my schedule; this is what I need.’”
While many teens can’t stand the thought of living without their video games, TVs and other electronic gadgets, the 4-H’ers don’t mind at all. They survive quite well with just their cellular phones.
“Most of us are so busy during fair week that we don’t even notice it. Plus, I think some of us are technologically challenged,” said Caleb.
Though the 4-H members try to hit the midway as often as they can during the evening, the last day of the fair – Saturday, Aug. 7 – is when they can truly cut loose.
“Most all of us pack up and take everything home Saturday,” said Lauri, “and then come back that night and be ‘fair people’ just like the rest of the public.”
“Since you’re no longer responsible to go back and make sure your cow has enough water, for example, you can relax and hang out with your friends,” said Donovan. “It’s fun going on rides and having fair food. We like that stuff, too.”
This is Donovan’s last year in the club as she will be attending Husson University in the fall.
“I like hanging out with people … that’s always fun. That’s probably what I’ll miss the most,” she said. “I’ll also miss taking care of an animal. It’s a fun experience and you get attached to them.”
Bruce and Lauri Buck have been leading the Aroostook Valley 4-H Baby Beef Club for 11 years.
“We’ve been leaders since 1999,” said Bruce. “Me, my sister and brothers were all in 4-H when we were kids. Lauri and I like being leaders and it’s an awesome experience for the kids, and we want to keep it going for our kids.”
Eighteen youngsters can participate in the 4-H club at one time.
“We have a waiting list of kids,” Buck said. “At times there have been 30 names on the list. As one retires out, we’ll bring a new one on.”
When kids are 8 years old, they can put their name on the list and become a member at age 10 if there’s an opening.
“They can stay in it through their senior year in school,” he said. “We have kids from Houlton to Caribou who are members. The kids pick their steer in the fall. Throughout the year we try to have training for them and we have Cooperative Extension people come in and tell them what to look for in purchasing a steer.
“During Christmas vacation, we do our first barn check,” said Buck. “We’ll look at the animal, tag it, and that night we have a meeting. We also meet during February and April break, and have our beginning meeting in November when we elect officers. We have clinics during the summer and the kids bring their steers to the Fair, and we start working with them.”
A few weeks prior to the Fair, the 4-H Club hosts a buyers’ meeting.
“We get a list of potential buyers and all the kids write a letter and go introduce themselves to the buyers and try to convince them to come buy their steer,” said Buck. “The kids learn a lot through the public relations aspect of it. 4-H, in general, teaches the kids a lot about responsibility.
“A lot of the kids do this all by themselves,” he said. “They do all the chores and take it pretty seriously.”
The 4-H Baby Beef Auction will be held at 6 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 5 at the fairgrounds.
For more information on the Aroostook Valley 4-H Baby Beef Club, contact Buck at 764-4552.