Capturing the next generation of farmers is being helped along by the nation's leading sheep and wool bodies.
The NSW School Merino Wether Challenge NSW, run by Dubbo National Ram Sale Association is an initiative of NSW Stud Merino Breeders.
With coordination from Ben Watts (BRALCA), and support from Australian Wool Innovation (AWI), the challenge is one of the biggest of its kind in Australia.
Last week 62 schools across NSW collected their wethers from the three drop off points of Narromine, Armidale and Wagga Wagga to deliver hands-on experience to the next generation heading into the sheep and wool industry.
Each school takes delivery of six Merino lambs with the objective of managing them as a commercial operation to grow them into a high value 12-month old sale lamb.
At the end of the six months, in August 2022, students will converge on Dubbo where they will present their wethers for judging on commercial value at the annual Rabobank National Merino Show and Sale.
The 378 Merino wethers were purchased by the Dubbo National Ram Sale Committee from Egelabra Merino stud, Warren.
Supplying the sheep for four years, Egelabra manager Cam Munro said the sheep are a 2021 July-August drop of wethers coming from the commercial section of Egelabra.
"What I like about this competition is it is really allowing the younger kids to get a good feel for the industry," Mr Munro said.
"And that's a real positive.
"If we can identify the kids that are already involved in the Merino industry, but then also identify the kids that really enjoy doing it, but may not necessarily be from a Merino operation at their home - that's a real achievement.
What I like about this competition is it is really allowing the younger kids to get a good feel for the industry- Cam Munro, Egelabra
"There are plenty of opportunities from wool classing to wool handling, or the agencies - there are so many opportunities there if they can just find their passion by just getting their hands on the Merino and getting the feel of the wool as a fibre as well."
NSWSMB's Angus Beveridge said the long running program provides skills and knowledge in animal husbandry and the profitability of the larger sheep and wool industry.
"The competition is aimed at providing a hands-on experience for students to become involved in the sheep and wool industry," Mr Beveridge said.
"Wether's sourced from one nucleus flock allows school students to link studies with hands on experience in animal health, nutrition and husbandry practices and how best to care for their animals in different environments."
Last Friday, Mr Beveridge, transported 18 wethers to Elderslie, a south-western suburb of Sydney, then on to Braidwood and onto Narooma.
But he wasn't the only one doing their part to help schools access their sheep.
"Some wethers were to head to Murwillumbah and also Richmond River High at Lismore, which have been severely affected by the floods," Mr Beveridge said.
"Tenterfield High School have kindly taken their wethers until those schools can get back on their feet.
"It just shows how keen schools are to be part of the program."
Normally a main workshop would take place on the pick up day, but this year workshops on different topics associated with the Merino industry such as wool type and measures, and subjective and objective measurement, will take place at the schools between now and August, coordinated by Mr Beveridge and Mr Watts.
"We will be continually following up on the schools and students as much as we can rather than sit back and wait to see them in Dubbo in August," Mr Beveridge said.
Mr Watts said the challenge encourages youth to take something on and make it their own.
"It's got to be interesting and it has to lead towards a career, but it also has to have a competitive streak to it because that is what young people like," Mr Watts said.
The 2021 winners were a group of year 9 students from Yanco Agricultural High School (YHAS), Leeton, studying in the Animal Management class.
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