South Australian dairy farmers Ros and Gary Zweck have been involved in Dairy Australia’s Cows Create Careers since it began, helping to implement the project in their community.
The program has given more than 15,000 high school students across Australia a firsthand understanding of the opportunities available to them through a career in dairy.
Dairy farmers play an active role in supporting the program by supplying dairy calves to schools as part of their agriculture programs, encouraging high school students to care for real animals and boost their interest in the industry.
The Zwecks have been farming for 35 years and recognise the industry-wide benefits of the school-based project, and its focus on future generations of farmers.
After hearing from a friend who teaches agriculture at Balaklava High School, Ros actively championed the program in the mid-north region.
“We want to encourage future generations to become involved in agriculture and more specifically, dairy, because it's difficult to get people involved in the dairy industry,” Ros said.
“When I first came to this region there were over 70 dairy farms, there's now 14 left – so we try to promote the dairy industry as much as we can.”
The Zwecks supply calves to Clare High School, Balaklava High School, Horizon Christian School, and Kadina High School.
“Even though we are in a rural area, a lot of the students live in the town and don't have access or don't have the opportunity to become involved with farming or farm animals,” Ros said.
“They relish the opportunity to have a hands-on experience.”
Benefits for students
Clare High School agriculture teacher Lesley Squires believes that Cows Create Careers is a positive project for all students.
“It's the year 10 students who look after the calves throughout the project,” she said.
“The rest of the school visits the calves and can interact with them, so they get to know a bit more about dairy calves which they don’t really get the chance to see otherwise.
“We've also got a kindergarten and childcare centre next door, so they come over to see the calves as well.”
Lesley believes that the project gives the students responsibility while building their teamwork skills, as they work in groups to care for the calves.
She continues to encourage her students to think about the range of options presented by a career in dairy after the conclusion of the program.
Visiting a dairy farm
After completing the project, the students are given the opportunity to visit the Zwecks’ dairy farm, to learn more about milking and milk storage.
“It gives them the opportunity to understand more about the ongoing process of the day-to-day operation of dairy farming,” Ros said.
One student enjoyed the experience so much that he asked the Zwecks if he could complete work experience on their farm, which the Zwecks found very rewarding.
Two year 12 students from Kadina High School have since asked the Zwecks if they could continue to care for their calves after completing Cows Create Careers to conduct a research project on bought in feed.
“That was a real highlight for me, and those calves came back very well fed,” Ros said.