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Students flock to Cowra for Poll Dorset Youth Day

More than 200 secondary age youth attended this year’s Central West NSW Region Poll Dorset Youth Day.

Teachers were lining up to take their students to Cowra to get a first-hand look at the prime lamb industry, with seven new schools in attendance at the bi-annual event.

Organiser Ruth Klinger said 215 students from 11 schools plus some independent kids, spread out from from Walla Walla near Albury through to Sydney and across central NSW attended the event.

So why so popular?

“The teachers say the fact it is hands-on and practical, and we’ve always tried to work it so that the talks that we do are practical to the lamb industry but also practical to what the teachers have to teach in their curriculum - working them both in together,” Mrs Klinger said.

“Actually this year we had 70 kids that wanted to come that we had to turn away, we just couldn’t take them all.”

Generous sponsorship from the likes of Thomas Food International, Meat and Livestock Australia and many others means the day is free to attend - another drawcard for schools and students.

A number Poll Dorset breeders from across the Central West region assist with the day, presenting on both their stud roles and other roles within the sheep industry, along with speakers from the likes of the NSW Local Land Services.

“We want to promote Poll Dorsets, but we recognise that obviously most of the kids aren’t going to end up breeding Poll Dorsets, but guaranteed they’ll either be involved in the prime lamb industry or they will eat a chop or some other lamb product later on - so if we can give them a taste of what it is to have stud sheep, but also practical lamb industry information, that’s the aim,” Mrs Klinger added.

Attending the event for the first time this year was Kings School from Sydney, with Head of Agriculture Tony Turner bringing 10 students.

Kings School recently established their own Poll Dorset stud with foundation sheep from the Hillden flock at Crookwell, NSW.

“It just made sense to go down a sheep showing pathway as a different alternative to cattle and particularly to appeal to the year seven and eight boys who are smaller and younger, and also day boys who had never worked with animals before, so it's really nice to have smaller livestock for them to start with,” Mr Turner said.

The schools Ag Club allows not only students who choose to study agriculture academically to be involved with livestock, but also students who have academic interests elsewhere to “keep their hands involved in farming” according to Mr Turner.

“In terms of its significance, we are an export nation and we rely on agriculture so much and if we are not having youth enter the industry our industry is going to die.

“Particularly from an education standpoint, if we can get some of these people to take agriculture on educationally and be the next lot of teachers or the next leaders in science and research, that's really my goal as to why to keep us moving forward in agriculture.”

Mr Turner and his colleagues have long had a passion for the meat sheep industry, which is what led them to Poll Dorsets.

“Poll Dorsets gives us the opportunity to have a stud line yet also use them as part of our crossbreeding program to produce those beautiful prime lambs that we eat on our plates every day,” he said.

“It flows in with our paddock to plate philosophy, and we imbed it in our school culture...if you understand the product in the paddock, it helps you understand the product on your plate.”

Mr Turner added that the Poll Dorset youth day gave his students an opportunity to see other aspects of the breed and industry outside the show scene.

“The boys are looking for the finesse on how to judge a sheep properly to be competitive in that space so it is an opportunity to learn here by industry people what do I look for in a shee, how do I do judging, and then to hear other students make their presentations, will help them learn more about the sheep and their characteristics and how to present themselves in junior judging.”

While there were seven new schools represented at this year’s event, plenty of long-term attendees returned, including The Riverina Anglican College, making the trip for their sixth year.

TRAC has their own stud Poll Dorset sheep and agriculture teacher Trevor Dawson said they level of knowledge available to students kept them coming back.

“Where else do I go to get this many experts in one place - I can tell the kids anything a million times and an expert comes in and says it once and they go “did you hear that” - and I love that, the more people that can teach the students about the Poll Dorset sheep the better,” he said.

“The show team come and hangs off every word and we have good conversations on the way home and they last for weeks afterwards, and I have kids that keep coming back - I’ve actually got two boys that are on my cattle team now that have come back for this event because they get so much out of it.

“Poll Dorsets are a great focus animal and we come here and we get told Poll Dorsets still sire about 60 per cent of fat lambs in Australia so I think we are on the right track.”