​School Ag Day: where the inspiration starts and why it’s important it remains a part of students’ education

08 April 2024

As a child growing up, School Agricultural days, commonly known as Calf Club days, were always the highlight of my year. We would spend months preparing our pet animals in anticipation of showing them on the day. While some parents hated the drama associated with the months of prep, many still got behind their kids and encouraged them to give it a go – in our family it was not optional, but compulsory.

My mum and dad ended up attending the local Waimauku School agricultural day with various kids in our family from 1995 to 2016 - 21 consecutive years. I think they deserve an award for enduring that many! Safe to say they always had a few tricks up their sleeves to make sure the day was a success.

Their first rule was to always rear an extra animal in case something went wrong. Between five kids it was always high risk that one animal inevitably wouldn’t make it to the big day. I remember waking up one morning only to find my beloved pet lamb, CC, dead on the deck 48 hours before Ag Day. She had gotten into mum’s rhododendron bush for a deadly final meal. Dad ventured out the back of the farm and returned with a wild baby goat he had ‘found’; safe to say with 48 hours of leading practice I didn’t win many ribbons with the pet wild goat that year. The following year, mum’s rhododendron was torn out of her beautiful garden in the name of winning and dad invested in calves rather than lambs as they were said to be more robust. Unfortunately, in a cruel twist of fate one of the calves again fell sick before the big day, but dad was well prepared this time and the spare calf got the call up for the big day and a last-minute name change.

The second rule was to leave it to us kids. While they reminded us that we needed to feed them twice a day, every day, they largely left the responsibility for caring for the animals up to us. Looking back on it now there was a series of great life lessons learnt in those younger years that we have all carried through to adulthood. It was certainly good to learn to put your own needs aside and care for a baby animal – good prep now that I am a mum!

Because we were largely left unsupervised with the calves, we used to get up to all sorts of mischief in the paddock. I remember one afternoon my brother, Tim, gave my calf a hearty pat on the rump to encourage it to move forward during leading practice. The calf took off and because I was such a small child and had stupidly wrapped the lead around my wrist, I was dragged face down in the mud from one end of the paddock to the other. Character building to say the very least.

All in all, when I look back on School Ag days, it wasn’t the ribbons or winning or losing that I remember the most, it was all the lessons in between that were most important. Caring for something other than yourself, responsibility, life and death and commitment. As a rural sector it is so important that we ensure these Ag days continue to happen so the next generation can take away these important lessons, too.

The most important things that Ag days achieve around the country though is providing insight into the rural sector for those kids who are not necessarily connected to a farm. Every child, whether they rear an animal or not, gets to come together and see the magnificent display of rural animals on the school field and gain a sense of that rural connection. Chris and I recognised the importance of this rural connection early in our farming careers and have endeavoured to go one step further. A few years ago we set up a Young Farmers Club for kids at the local school to allow further insight into the world of agriculture. This year, armed with several New Holland tractors, we ventured down to the school where 46 kids participated in a range of farming activities for the afternoon. We figured if we could show these kids just how amazing the agricultural sector is, there would be a higher chance of them choosing it as a career path later in life. At present, only 2% of university graduates in New Zealand graduate with an agricultural degree – we would like to see this number rise in order to support growth within the sector.

If you are a person connected to the rural sector and you’ve taken the time to read this far, I would strongly encourage you to look to your local school and see how you can help share a taste of the agriculture industry with the farmers of the future.

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