Polwarth studs foster ag school interest

Polwarth studs foster ag school interest


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Bendigo's Catherine McAuley College students are busy preparing their Polwarth stud sheep for this year's Australian Sheep & Wool Show.

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Bendigo's Catherine McAuley College students are busy preparing their Polwarth stud sheep for this year's Australian Sheep & Wool Show which plays a key role in the school's agricultural program.

According to Catherine McAuley College agricultural teacher Shannon Kjaer, student interest in the school farm, which includes 13 Polwarth stud ewes, nine lambs, two Dexter cattle and an extensive range of poulty, has grown significantly in the past few years.

"Agriculture has become so popular at our school that it has been introduced as a core unit for all students starting at the college," she said.

"All students in Year 7 and Year 8 will now complete a semester of agriculture researching topics such as animals on the farm, sustainable soil, Got Milk and the life of bees.

"Students also have the opportunity to be involved in the management of our school farm and they can then go on to specialise further from Year 9 to 12."

The school's Polwarth stud was established in 2011 after a chance meeting at the ASWS between staff member Danielle Hogan and the late Geoff Kemp, who ran the successful Homeleigh Polwarth stud, Derrinal.

A generous donation of four ewes from the Homeleigh provided the foundation for the Catherine McAuley College Polwarth stud.

"Along with his partner Michelle Sawyer, Mr Kemp continued to be involved with the school, running workshops on clipping, preparing and showing the Polwarths," she said

"They also helped students with the selection of sheep for shows, they were an enormous support."

Ms Kjaer said the stud had continued to grow with support from Polwarth breeders, Greg and Kaye Potter, Fairview Polwarths, Colac, and Peter English, Moorabbee Polwarth stud, Emu Creek, who assist with the selection of the show sheep.

During the recent tough seasonal conditions, the Potter family agisted the school's stud flock at their farm and joined their ewes to Fairview rams.

The ewes were brought back to the school in mid-February and have just finished lambing.

This will be the ninth year Catherine McAuley College has exhibited at the ASWS.

They are looking forward to being part of the Polwarth feature breed celebrations with a show team of six ewes.

"The students are involved in all aspects of the show process, from preparing the sheep, the entries and the equipment required," Ms Kjaer said.

"They also visit the showgrounds in the lead up to the show and help with setting up the pens in the exhibition buildings."

She said students in the Year 9 agriculture elective and the Certificate II agriculture class were currently preparing and looking after the show sheep, while the junior agriculture students were involved in the daily management and feeding of the flock.

"Our show team also meet weekly to prepare our sheep and practice showmanship and handling," she said.

"We have some very passionate students who will come down at recess and lunch to check on them, they are very well-handled sheep."

READ MORE: Polwarths the feature breed at this year's ASWS

The school has had plenty of show success along the way with a stud highlight being awarded the champion Polwarth ram at last year's ASWS.

"We have had such great support from breeders and the Polwarth Sheep Breeders Association of Australia."

Where possible, Ms Kjaer aims to run the school stud like any farm business, just on a smaller scale.

The flock is classed each year to maintain stud numbers at about 15-20 ewes for ease of management.

Surplus lambs are sold through the local Bendigo saleyards and members of the school community also have the opportunity to purchase the lambs prior to being sold.

Ms Kjaer believes the experience of being involved in a school farm provides the students with an understanding of where their food comes from and how important agriculture is.

"I am trying to broaden the students' experiences and expectations in agriculture, it is not just about sitting on a header or a tractor, there are lots of different careers available," she said.

"Students involved in the school farm also develop a strong work ethic, it helps their collaboration and practical problem-solving skills and builds their confidence."

Year 9 students Ciarah Wilson and Marisa McNutt both hope to have a career in agriculture when they finish school and have enjoyed getting the sheep ready to show.

"I have loved agriculture from the start, we have or own family farm and it's great to share my skills and be able to lead others in this subject," Ms McNutt said.

"This is preparing me for my career as I'm hoping to have my own farm."

The story Polwarth studs foster ag school interest first appeared on Stock & Land.

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