Sheep counted on to prove students’ skills

Zach Relph and Cally DupeCountryman
WA College of Agriculture – Cunderdin Year 12 students Oaklee Treasure, Daniel Lewis and Kurt Richards are preparing for the National Merino Challenge in Sydney.
Camera IconWA College of Agriculture – Cunderdin Year 12 students Oaklee Treasure, Daniel Lewis and Kurt Richards are preparing for the National Merino Challenge in Sydney. Credit: Jane Rogers

They’re just 17, but WA School Of Agriculture — Cunderdin students Oaklee Treasure, Daniel Lewis and Kurt Richards are about to embark on the trip of a lifetime.

The trio of Year 12 students will join more than 100 other aspiring wool brokers, wool growers, consultants and livestock nutritionists at Sydney Showgrounds this weekend at the seventh National Merino Challenge.

They will spend two days competing against other Year 11 and 12 students in a raft of sheep handling and visual assessments.

While it will be Oaklee’s first time at the competition, Daniel and Kurt competed last year, when the event formed part of the Royal Adelaide Show.

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Oaklee, 17, said the students had been practising sheep handling intensively since Wagin Woolorama, which was their first competition of the year.

“I personally think that preparation will give us an advantage over the other teams,” she said.

“Our Year 11s are strong because many come from sheep-producing backgrounds, and our Year 12s have a lot of previous judging experience.

“Everyone has their different strengths, I’m probably better at the fleece judging ... but groups are good for judging rams because you can bounce ideas off each other.”

Oaklee, who grew up on a farm at Cunderdin, also said she was glad to be travelling with the group of 17 students who had completed the challenge last year.

Daniel, also 17, grew up on a mixed farm at Corrigin and said he felt “pretty confident” at ram judging after attending last year’s National Merino Challenge in Adelaide. “Selecting the right ram gives you a better progeny, so it’s important to select the best traits you are looking for,” he said.

Kurt has big dreams of bringing sheep back into his family’s cropping farm, 30km north of Dowerin, after also attending last year’s National Merino Challenge.

The 17-year-old said the two-day event had opened his eyes to “all of the different careers in the sheep industry”. “There is a lot more that happens after you shear, and I really enjoyed learning about the marketing and processing,” he said.

There are two divisions at the challenge — a secondary school division for Year 11 and Year 12 students, and a tertiary division for university and TAFE students.

WA College of Agriculture — Narrogin will also send a group of six Year 11 and 12 students.

Year 12 student Daniel Schilling said he hoped the trip would build on what the group had studied at school. “(The challenge will) expand our learning about the live-stock industry and all the opportunities that we’re being provided with over the weekend,” he said.

“We’ll be doing a range of activities including ram and ewe selection, wool judging and valuing, and condition scoring the sheep.”

WA School of Agriculture — Narrogin assistant farm manager Emily McDonald said the challenge was a great opportunity.

“The students aren’t just doing Merino judging, fleece judging, it’s more about the nutrition that an animal needs, being able to value their own fleeces on farm,” she said. “It’s been a really good learning trip (in previous years).”

Now in its seventh year, the National Merino Challenge was founded by Australian Wool Innovation to give students a hands-on look at the sheep and wool industries.

AWI operations general manager Nigel Gosse said competitors would be assessed on feed budgeting, condition scoring, breeding objectives, wool harvesting and classing animals and fleeces.

“The competition has established itself as a leading education program for students interested in a career in the wool industry,” he said.

“The program has a strong history of success and continues to grow in popularity each year.

“It delivers late-secondary and tertiary students the knowledge and skills involved with producing Merino wool.”

While there is no cap on how many students each institution can bring, only the top four scores from a team will be aggregated to generate the team score.

If a school does not have enough students for a team, individuals are allowed to compete, but will only be eligible for individual placement.

Students will also mingle with industry heads at a gala dinner on the Saturday night, to learn more about career opportunities in the sheep and wool industries.

National Merino Challenge is at Sydney Showgrounds May 25-26.

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