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Student heifer-raising champ to be decided at Camden Show

Students from Camden are perfecting their animal handling skills in a new heifer-raising competition that could spread across agricultural shows in New South Wales.

Students from five schools and one home-schooled student are involved in the inaugural competition which will be decided at the annual Camden Show this Friday and Saturday, 11 and 12 March.

Organiser Luke Micallef, hopes the competition will spark interest in the dairy industry among school children and reinvigorate dairy exhibits locally and at agricultural shows across the state.

Luke and wife Jess represent Legendairy, the Australian dairy industry’s communications initiative, by presenting dairy education sessions at the Melbourne, Sydney and Adelaide Royal Shows. Last weekend they also provided farmer demonstrations for children at the popular Melbourne Food and Wine Festival, literally bringing a slice of country life to the city.

Luke, who works in the dairy industry in feed sales and nutrition, is also a member of the Camden Show Society.

He said the school competition was designed to give students exposure to the dairy industry and experience in handling animals as well as improve participation in the dairy section of the show.

“We looked over the fence at what the beef guys were doing and they get all the schools involved. So, we’re trying to get something similar happening with a dairy schools competition,” Luke said.

Students from Elizabeth Macarthur High School, Elderslie High School, Camden High School, Mt Annan Christian College, Hurlstone Agricultural High School and the home-schooled student have been raising their heifers for about a month.

They will compete in the open class of the show and also in a specific school section which will look at the bigger picture of raising a heifer.

Luke said the students would be judged on how the heifer is presented and prepared and the knowledge they have gained from the program.

“We’re not judging the heifer; we’re judging how the students were involved,” he said.

“What we didn’t want was the heifer with the best confirmation to win; we want the kids who have put in the most effort and learnt the most to be recognised.”

Luke said raising a heifer gives students an appreciation of what makes a good dairy cow and cattle handling techniques.

Agricultural teachers at Penrith and Castle Hill have expressed interest in developing similar programs.

“We’d like to set it up across Sydney and New South Wales,” Luke said. “Ideally, the competition will expand to have regional finals and then culminate in a state final at the Royal Sydney Show,” Luke said.

“That would really showcase dairy in the school environment and improve participation of dairy cattle at our shows.”

Luke wasn’t raised on a dairy farm but has revelled in his move into the industry.

“I didn’t grow up in dairy but I was taken under the wing by a few different dairy farmers and that’s what gave me a start in the industry,” he said.

“This is my way of giving back. By getting kids involved. That’s our future.”

Luke said his and Jess’ dairy education sessions, as representatives of Legendairy, helped to grow the reputation of the industry.

“We show where milk comes from, how to milk a cow and we make skim milk, butter and cheese using an antique milk separator,” he explained. “We get an amazing reaction. The general population is amazed at how simple the dairy products are to make and how little processing goes into it.

“You get bombarded with questions about the industry which is a good thing.”