Polwarth studs foster ag at CMC
The College was delighted to welcome journalist Ms Kylie Nicholls of Stock and Land to the Trade Training Centre recently. She spoke with Ms Shannon Kjaer and wrote the article below about our Polwarth connections and the preparations for the Sheep and Wool Show.
Bendigo’s Catherine McAuley College students are busy preparing their Polwarth stud sheep for this year’s Australian Sheep & Wool Show (ASWS), which plays a key role in the school’s Agriculture program.
According to Catherine McAuley College Agriculture teacher Shannon Kjaer, student interest in the school farm, which includes thirteen Polwarth stud ewes, nine lambs, two Dexter cattle and an extensive range of poultry, 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, exploring and researching topics such as Animals on the Farm, Sustainable Soil, Got Milk, GMO, Life of Bees and Careers in Agriculture. 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 Years 9 to 12.” In Year 9 the focus is on animal husbandry tasks in Calves, Cows and Sheep. The students practise skills of conducting health checks, handling, moving stock, drenching, hoof maintenance and crutching. Students who develop a passion for this subject can then proceed to complete the Certificate II in Agriculture course offered by the College over two years.
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.
Mr Kemp was very interested in supporting the school’s agricultural program which had been running for about twelve years under the guidance of now retired teacher Gaye Whitehead.
A generous donation of four ewes from 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 has “continued to grow with support from Polwarth breeders, Greg and Kaye Potter, Fairview Polwarths, Colac and Peter English, who kindly comes to cast an eye over our flock and assist with selection for our 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 completed 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 are currently preparing and looking after the show sheep, while the junior Agriculture students are involved in the daily management and feeding of the flock.
“Our show team also meets weekly to prepare our sheep and practise showmanship and handling.
“We have some passionate students who will come down at recess and lunch to check on them, they are very well-handled sheep.”
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.
They also attend the Bendigo Show and in 2013 made the trip across to Tasmania to exhibit at the 175th Campbelltown Show.
“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 at the end of each year to maintain stud numbers at about 15-20 ewes for ease of management.
“Ken Arnold from Tasmania also comes over to assess the stud flock each year, with a focus on improving our sheep’s structure and wool quality.”
The surplus lambs are sold through the local Bendigo saleyards and members of the school community also have the opportunity to purchase any of the lambs prior to the sales.
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 vital agriculture is.
“I think they all gain a better understanding of the amount of work involved and the commitment and planning required to run a farm,” she said.
“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 in the field of agriculture.
“Students involved in the school farm develop a strong work ethic, it reinforces skills such as collaboration, communication and practical problem-solving skills and builds their self-confidence.
“They understand it’s not just about patting animals, it is a business.”
Ms Kylie Nicholls, Stock and Land, in conversation with Ms Shannon Kjaer, Agriculture Teacher