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More students rise to the Merino challenge

Students from schools in every state of Australia are this year gaining practical hands-on sheep management experience by looking after teams of Merino wethers as part of state-based School Merino Wether Challenges.

School Merino wether competitions are this year being held in all six states across the country with their aim to educate high school students about the commercial production of Merino sheep. The initiatives provide the students with a memorable ‘hands on’ learning opportunity covering a broad range of sheep and wool production skills.

For the first time, students in Victoria were this year given the chance to take part in their own state competition. The inclusion of schools in Victoria means that students from every state in Australia this year have had the opportunity to take part in a School Merino Wether Challenge.

Each school team looks after several wethers (from studs in their state) for about six months, with the students forming a close relationship with their wethers. This provides a unique and practical experience for the students. Each school team then shows their wethers during a competition later in the year and are judged according to their meat and wool quality.

By attending training and the judging events, and by looking after their wethers, the students gain:

  • practical, hands-on skills in sheep management
  • a better understanding of sheep and wool production as a business
  • contact with many aspects of the Merino sheep industry
  • a chance to network with industry participants and other students
  • an enjoyable experience with Merino sheep and the industry
  • a positive perspective on a career with sheep and wool.

A special set of learning resources has been made available on AWI’s Learn About Wool website to help teachers deliver an engaging and educational 10-week program about sheep and wool production to their students. The program is ideal for those taking part in the Merino wether competitions and it has been very well received by ag teachers.

The Merino wether competitions were initiated 14 years ago in South Australia by the SA Stud Merino Sheepbreeders Association (Merino SA), with similar competitions having since been introduced in New South Wales and Western Australia during the past decade.

Following the success of these three initiatives, students in Tasmania and Queensland last year held their first state competitions, with the numbers of schools involved increasing this year. Eleven schools in Victoria have signed up for their first ever state competition in 2024.

All the competitions are supported by AWI, as well as Stud Merino Breeders Associations, individual studs, schools, teachers and students.

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Students at Goroke P-12 College in the Wimmera region of Victoria with some of their wethers.

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Students at Manangatang P-12 College in the Mallee region of Victoria.

NSW competition expands to 70 schools

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Left: Hennessy Catholic College, Young | Right: PLC Armidale

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Left: Bourke High School PHOTO: Claire Burgess | Middle: Parkes High School. PHOTO: Grace Wright | Right: Boorowa Central School

Students from several of the 70 schools that are taking part this year in the NSW School Merino Wether Challenge. Also, pictured in the header above is Macquarie Anglican Grammar School, Dubbo.

This year’s NSW School Merino Wether Challenge is set to be the biggest year to date, with 70 schools from throughout NSW having signed up and more than 1,500 students involved at a school level. 500 of those students will converge on the Dubbo Showground on 27-28 August to present their wethers for judging on commercial value, before the wethers are sent to Fletchers International Exports.

The NSW challenge is organised in partnership with the NSW Stud Merino Breeders Association, the Dubbo National Ram Sale Association and AWI, with coordination and logistics provided by Bralca.

The challenge involves each school being allocated six wethers from the same age drop from Egelabra Merino Stud. Their allocated wethers were collected by each participating school in March from three locations: Narromine Saleyards, Armidale Saleyards, and Charles Sturt University’s campus at Wagga Wagga.

Training days are being held throughout the course of the six-month challenge to provide ongoing assistance to school staff and students in caring for their team of wethers, as well as helping to develop industry skills and knowledge. 200 students will attend CSU Wagga Wagga campus on 19 June for a hands-on mid-challenge workshop.

While in Dubbo for the competition judging in August, the students will also have the opportunity to participate in activities to learn more about sheep handling, scanning and nutrition, and wool harvesting, while also hearing from a careers panel about the wide range of opportunities in the industry. A young judges’ competition will also enable the students to put their skills to the test, with entries available through the Dubbo National Ram Show and Sale Association.

More information: www.facebook.com/dubboschoolwetherchallenge

This article appeared in the June 2024 edition of AWI’s Beyond the Bale magazine. Reproduction of the article is encouraged.

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