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Feilding High School

Farmers of the Future

A school filled with future leaders of the agricultural industry and backed heavily by a supportive community, Feilding High School offers a unique experience to students who want to gain practical knowledge on how to care for animals and the environment around them.

Founded in 1921, Feilding High School saw the birth of its agricultural department, the only New Zealand secondary school of its kind. The School's principle is Nathan Stewart and their two farms, Ngakaunui and Manawanui, are managed by Mary Bartlett. Ngakaunui is a 16-hectare dairy farm adjacent to the School where they milk 60 cows through a robotic milker. Their robotic milker, also known as the Astronaut, means that the cows are automatically milked and they come and go as they please. “It automatically milks every single cow whenever they come in. What it means for the cows is they can come in, get milked whenever and run their own life. Another word for it is a voluntary milking station, where the cows are all milked correctly and they can do whatever they like, so humans aren't needed to be involved in that part of the milking process,” Mary said.

“The robotic milker is connected to a big computer which collects data when cows have had health issues, been given vaccinations or sprays. It also tells us when we've given a cow its mastitis medication and it collects data such as how often they milk, how regularly they milk, how much they produce and how much each quarter provides, along with how regularly they come into the robot.”

Manawanui is an 81.3-hectare sheep and cattle property that is located five minutes from the School. It houses 60 calves and they’ve just recently installed new sheep yards. Between the two farms, they raise 100 beef cattle, trade 3,000 lambs, have three beehives, a flock of chickens and two horses. Manawanui Farm has also dedicated 12 hectares to pine trees. John Turkington helps with the School’s tree management, where they grow pine trees ranging from three to 23 years old. “It’s great to see the growth and development of these trees. We have four hectares that are 23 years old, so we are going to get them cut down and harvested which is an exciting experience,” Mary highlighted.

The agriculture department has 769 students enrolled in agriculture, horticulture or primary industries. “Within the academic part of the agriculture department, there are two pathways; they can go the academic way and do Ag science which goes through NCEA and leads up to university entrance, whereas primary industries take you onto a more practical journey, working on the farms becoming farm labourers or working as a farm contractor. Within the primary industries pathway, we do Primary ITO which is common outside of school, so we’re really lucky to have it here,” Mary said.

“We have Primary ITO levels one, two and three, and within this, the students do courses such as tractor safety, motorbike safety, trenching and vaccination of animals, shearing and animal handling. It's really cool for them to go out and learn things the correct way but also have a box ticked to say they know how to do it, so when they finish school they are very employable.”

Feilding High School has spent 100 years catering to their rural pupils, where students get the opportunity to take ownership of the farm, working it to the best of their ability whilst gaining a lot of exceptional skills that they can take with them.

They have the ability to install fences, plant trees, take care of animals and grow their own plants. Mary mentioned that the students are serious about shearing and making sure the animals are well looked after. Mary’s day-to-day job is all about routine but that’s the way she likes it. There are a lot of standard jobs that need to get done but the students spend the day with her making things happen.

“We get to go out and do lots of experiences, learning about shearing, managing the sheep and cattle at the top farm and lots of drenching which is outstanding. We also get to go out to discussion groups and farm open days where we get to learn about other people's farming experiences and hopefully gain knowledge through that. We get to experience small-scale and big-scale farms. So here, these are all essentially pet cows and the School owns the lambs. Students take ownership by doing all the shearing and the docking, and watching the little baby lambs grow. We also get to go off farm into the community to help out other farmers around us, seeing how it can be done differently and on a bigger scale; we’re really lucky that we've got the support from the community to do that,” she said.

Mary was born into an agricultural family; her parents were contractors and dairy farmers who have just recently moved into sheep fattening. Her job as farm manager at Feilding High School is just an extension of her childhood and her passion for farming. Mary loves the stock handling part of her role but, most importantly, teaching the students things that she has had the luxury of being brought up with. The students, even the experienced ones, are constantly learning new skills when it comes to stock, and Mary has the pleasure of working alongside them and guiding them through the process.

“I have been raised as a carer, and I get up in the morning thinking are the cows alright? Have they been fed? Have the sheep got water? I come here because I feel like this is my farm and this is how I would like the animals to be looked after if I owned it. When I get to work, I’m just so happy to be here because I've got my own little achievable farm and it's small enough that I can be involved in everything but big enough that it's successful and it's got variation. I'm learning, the students are learning and the animals are surviving and thriving,” Mary emphasised.

The agriculture, horticulture and primary industries are, as Mary puts it, the major backbone of this country. There has been an overarching amount of community and business support for Feilding High School’s agricultural department that helps drive them forward and keeps them focused on current and efficient technology that will help the students succeed. The goal moving forward is to stay relevant and keep teaching students the best practices. This means that when they leave school, they have the skills and qualifications they need to be the best at what they do and be future leaders within the agriculture industry.

“We are very fortunate to have such a supportive community that gets involved any way they can to encourage the farmers of the future,” Mary concluded.