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First King Country school takes part in 100 schools project

6th April 2018

First King Country school takes part in 100 schools project

Students are learning how DNA testing and artificial insemination is being used to improve genetics on an Otorohanga beef farm.

Thirty-six pupils from Benneydale School have visited Storth Oaks Angus Stud as part of a national project funded by the Red Meat Profit Partnership (RMPP) and delivered by NZ Young Farmers.

It will see students from 100 primary schools visit sheep and beef farms.

Benneydale is the first King Country school to take part.

“Semen from the best bulls is frozen in liquid nitrogen and sold for between $50 and $100 per straw,” said Year 8 student Ariana Nathan.

“That’s a lot of money.”

She’s one of the school’s Year 7-8 pupils who’ve been learning about the importance of science and genetics in the red meat sector.

“It’s more complex than I thought it would be. You have to be good at maths, science and waking up early,” laughed Mike Kaleopa.

Storth Oaks is at the forefront of genetics, using genomic testing, artificial insemination and an embryo transfer programme.

“All of our calves are weighed at birth and a DNA sample is taken from them,” said the stud’s co-owner Tim Brittain.

“That sample is analysed to verify the calf’s parents and it predicts the animal’s future genetic worth.”

“By identifying unsuitable animals early, we can make huge genetic progress with our breeding programme very quickly.”

Last July, Tim and Kelly Brittain won a coveted national award for producing the best steak, beating more than 300 other entries.

The stud’s relentless pursuit of quality means its average bulls are usually in the top five per cent of the breed in New Zealand.

“One of our school values is excellence. So, to come to a farm that’s all about excellence and being the best has been fantastic,” said principal Vanessa Te Huia.

“We’ve all learned so much.”

Benneydale School is the first in New Zealand to use both the English and Te Reo versions of the teaching resource.

“In the lead-up to the farm visit, I’d been getting students to write down all the tricky questions I didn’t know the answer to, so they could ask Tim and Kelly,” she laughed.

“Because I’m a city girl, I’m not a farm girl.”

Tim Brittain didn’t grow up on a farm either. He was raised in Auckland.

His grandfather owned a farm and he had a mentor who encouraged him to get on a farm during the school holidays.

“A lot of urban children don’t have the same opportunities these days,” said Tim.

“I think it’s really important that the agriculture sector opens its gates to the community.”

“If we can give kids a taste of how their food is produced, hopefully it’ll encourage some of the best and brightest to enter our industry,” he said.

RMPP project manager Di Falconer said the red meat sector is a viable sector full of amazing career opportunities.

“We want to get the industry on the radar of students and teachers, so they’re aware of the opportunities,” she said.

New Zealand’s red meat sector will need to find an extra 33,000 workers by 2025 to replace people who will retire or exit the industry.

“That’s why programmes like this are extremely important,” said Kelly Brittain. “We need young people coming into our vibrant industry, so I can retire,” she laughed.

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