Western Sydney University Hawkesbury's UniSchools Steer Challenge immerses students in the beauty of livestock agriculture

The annual UniSchools Steer Challenge for Sydney high school students commenced on Friday, May 3 as more than 90 students from years 7 to 12 were herded onto the farm at Western Sydney University's Hawkesbury campus.

Now in its 19th year, the UniSchools Steer Challenge program offers students in-depth insights into the journey of taking a Simmental cross Poll Hereford steer back to their schools and raising it to maturity for more than three months.

In August the students will present their steers at Hawkesbury Showground to compete in a number of competitions individually and as teams for their school, after which the carcass will be judged and sold into the high-quality Sydney beef market.

The students came from 11 high schools with novice students being introduced to important aspects of raising an animal, across practices including parading, grooming, judging, handling safety and flight distance, carcass traits in the live animal with a scanner, and a nutritional workshop. Senior students had the opportunity to look at factors impacting on meat quality, taste test and the boning-out of a carcass into its primal cuts.

Stephen Blunden, Adjunct Fellow at Western Sydney University, said immersing students in nurturing an animal gives them the "ultimate understanding" of how farmers raise animals and produce beef products.

"I've seen over and over again just how transformative this program is and how it shapes students to continue into agricultural studies at Western. Its practical and theoretical knowledge shows students what opportunity in agriculture looks like," he said.

Local schools Arndell Anglican College, Bede Polding and Colo High are participating in this year's challenge, along with Caroline Chisholm College, Chevalier College, Elizabeth Macarthur High, Knox Grammar, McCarthy Catholic College, Macarthur Anglican School, St Columba's Catholic College and Xavier College.

The Western Sydney University's Livestock Show Team's first year students are also participating in the challenge, lead by third-year Animal Science student Alana Wade - an ex-Colo High student - who is passing on the knowledge she has gained from competing in past challenges, while completing her degree.

"I know that I will have a career in agriculture, whether it is in the livestock sector or perhaps elsewhere in the industry," Ms Wade said.

"Most of all, my aim is to show young Australians the beauty of raising live animals and advocating for young women in the booming Aussie agriculture industry."

Bede Polding College was named Champion School for the 2018 UniSchools Steer Challenge, the sixth time the school had won the challenge since WSU began hosting it in 2001.