O’Connor Agricultural Farm

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O’Connor agricultural farm has been run by students for over 30 years, during which time the students have worked consistently to improve the resources on farm and build a depth of knowledge … Several students at school today can see pictures of their parents at the farm during their school years. Ag teacher for 30 years, Janet Price tells us about the success and enjoyment gained by the students at the College.

Tell us about the Agricultural Technology course available at the College and which students is it offered to?

All students in Year 7 and 8 study Agricultural Technology as part of the Technology Syllabus. Agriculture is a popular elective in Year 9 and 10. In Years 11 and 12 both Agriculture and Primary Industries is offered. Primary Industries is a Vocational Education course culminating in a Certificate II in Agriculture. It is a hands on course, where students are prepared for entry level jobs in the rural industry. Topics include basic tractor and machinery operation, livestock husbandry, soils and sustainability, safe handling of chemicals, weather and the basics of workplace safety and communications. Students are engaged in all aspects of farming.

O’Connor students study several enterprises on the school farm.

  • Horticulture – fruit orchard and vegetable gardens;
  • Fine wool – fine wool Merinos;
  • Beef cattle – Devon stud cattle Not A Lot. Our Devon Cattle Stud was established after four students teamed up to win a cattle crush and 4 Devon heifers in 1995-6. The progeny of these original cows have been used to educate students over the last  20+ years;
  • Poultry – several breeds of chickens, including a rare breed called Vorwerks. These birds are part of a national program to preserve the genetics of this breed. We are working with a company called AvGen poultry, who are importing genetics into Australia to preserve rare poultry breeds;
  • Fat Lambs – six – eight lambs bred every year for the domestic lamb market;
  • Equine – basic horse care;
  • Property planning – a program to integrate all aspects of agricultural production.

Each enterprise is integrated into the teaching programs on a seasonal basis. The farm is cared for by the students, and they donate many hours of their time to keeping the animals and plants in good order.

What will students learn and do?

Students learn the basics of animal husbandry for each animal and they interact with the farming community at enterprise level.

Students learn to appraise livestock and then use their skills at junior competition over the local show circuit. They judge animals in real time and often have to justify their decisions to a leading member of the rural industry.

Students are given an understanding of livestock feeding and husbandry, being actively involved in shearing, drenching, moving stock from paddock to paddock, tending to sick/injured animals, and keeping pens clean and habitable.

Students are involved in planting and harvesting garden produce, and they are encouraged to cook and eat healthy chemical free vegetables from their gardens. They occasionally prepare a feast using the produce from the farm. Currently we are eating fresh corn and tomatoes.

The college has had recent success in the local show circuit. What preparation goes into this and tell us about the awards received?

Each year students prepare our stud cattle for four local shows. We attend Glen Innes, Guyra, Armidale and Walcha shows in the autumn and sometimes Wingham and Scone steer shows. In addition to the cattle, we exhibit the best of our Merino fleeces kept from the September shearing. The fleeces are hand picked by the student who has the most experience in wool classing. This year we were awarded reserve champion Hogget Fleece from a lamb bred from Shalamar Park and Arakoon Bloodlines.

Our vegetable gardens are cared for by Year 7/8 students Aaron Coop and James Rogers during their lunchtime. This year they entered 30 exhibits in the Armidale show and were awarded most successful Junior Exhibitor and best exhibit in the produce section. This week we harvested 20 kg tomatoes, 40 corn cobs, cucumbers, zucchini marrows, rocket, rhubarb, dahlias, beetroot, radish and carrots.

Over the next month we will be planting out native trees grown by Aaron from seed donated by the Armidale Tree Group.

Not A Lot Devon stud (owned by O’Connor) exhibits cattle at the local shows and occasionally in Brisbane. Each year the students choose a show team to prepare for exhibition. Students are taught to prepare cattle for show and how to present themselves and the cattle in the show ring. During the show students care for the animals: feeding, watering, grooming, and cleaning halters and bedding. A small team of students camp at the grounds, starting work at 5:30 – 6am and often not finishing until 10pm.

During the shows there are competitions for students to appraise a variety of livestock, opportunity to interact with agricultural businesses and industry leaders, as well as caring for the cattle.

Our students enjoyed much success this year, with many students winning events.

Edward Simmons was crowned overall Junior Champion Judge in Armidale, placing in all five of the events.

The schools cattle team herdsman competition is a prestigious competition and this year was won by O’Connor’s team of Chloe and Emma Gray and Allie Carson.

Plans for the future?

The show and livestock appraisal program is very popular with students, and it allows them to interact with industry leaders on an informal basis. This program is set to continue each year. Our breeding program within the stud will continue to improve the quality of the stud cattle. The students are always working towards improving the farm infrastructure. Our senior agriculture program is gaining popularity, with both Primary Industries and Agriculture running this year. We hope to continue this trend with both classes running every year. Students have expressed interest in developing a sheep stud to complement the cattle. Increased scientific investigation using “smart technology” such as robots and drones are important aspects of the future of agriculture and are an inspiration for students. Both of these innovations are currently being investigated.

Thanks Janet.

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