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AGRICULTURAL studies students from the Limestone Coast town of Kingston SE are gearing up to once more make their annual September pilgrimage to the city for the Schools' Merino Wether Competition.
After putting in the hard yards to prepare the sheep, Kingston Community School agricultural studies students and their teacher Katie Hines are relieved that the annual competition is still going ahead.
"It's a great program to offer in regard to hands-on learning and knowledge of the sheep industry," Ms Hines said.
"At Kingston, we're very lucky to have a school flock, but there's quite a few schools who don't, so the wether program is the only sheep specific program within their school. I think it's vital that this event goes ahead."
For the past eight years that Kingston ag students have been involved in the Merino wether competition, their sheep have been donated to the school from the Hines family's commercial Merino operation near Ngapala in the Mid North.
A strict selection process takes place, targeting large-framed, big-bodied, plainer types with good carcase traits, which will also produce both a good quality and quantity of wool.
On arrival at the school, the selected sheep are introduced to hard feed - with good early nutrition especially important over the dry South East summer period - and are regularly handled, starting with foot trimming, halter training and tying up.
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The wethers are shorn and tagged in late February, in compliance with competition regulations.
A section of the school's hay and machinery shed has been converted to house the wethers, with the undercover area helping combat the issues of any mud and moisture damage to the wool.
It's also a bonus for the students to have a sheltered area to work with the sheep and is particularly beneficial during a cold, wet SE winter.
The 10 wethers that made the shortlist are monitored weekly and will eventually be whittled down to the six best performers to make the two show teams to travel to Adelaide.
"We've traditionally done very well with the 'pen of three wethers' category, which is what we feel is our strength," she said.
"We're really looking forward to the competition and Merino SA are coming up with different protocols to get around the COVID-19 situation.
"They've given the Schools' Merino Wether Competition their full support, so everything's full steam ahead for the Kingston Community School."
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