Cows Create Careers national co-ordinator John Hutchison said the need for a change in the program due to the COVID-19 lockdown became evident as early as late February, so they devised an online version.
“When it became obvious we weren’t going to be running it in person as per normal, we started to look at other options,” he said.
He said there was little thought about postponing or cancelling it for the year.
“We knew teachers would be looking for something they could continue to do,” he said.
The Cows Create Careers project, which is in its 16th year, was developed to help increase student awareness about career pathways and diverse opportunities within the dairy industry.
SA co-ordinator Kylie Boston said the number of schools involved within SA was consistent with previous years.
This year, there were 43 schools involved across the five regions of Limestone Coast, Barossa and Mid North, Fleurieu Peninsula, Murray Bridge and Adelaide Hills.
“At the time of planning we didn’t know if we were going to remote learning or if schools would be open but we were back at school at the start of term 2,” she said.
“We’ve been fairly nimble and fairly flexible.
“For the kids, it has maybe not been quite as much fun as they didn’t have the calves but they still got to learn about the industry.”
One of the biggest changes in the program was that schools did not have heifer calves on campus as they normally would.
Ms Boston said the need to keep external visitors at schools to a minimum meant this had to change.
Instead, the students all got to watch two young calves – nicknamed Bright and Future – grow across five weeks from the safety of their Gippsland, Vic, dairy farm.
Each week a video would show the progress of the calves, including weights, dietary needs and any potential health considerations.
Mr Hutchison said students could still do many of their usual projects, including creating graphs to illustrate the growth.
Each week also had a different topic, such as technology and machinery, work health and safety and managing the environment, with weekly question sheets afterwards.
Another effect of the limit on visitors to schools was that the usual visit from dairy farmers and industry advocates – service providers to the dairy sector such as consultants and processor representatives – could not occur.
Instead, they were asked to fill in questionnaires that were shared with the students, with 16 dairy farmers and 22 advocates across SA taking part.
Advocates included information about how they got into their career, their favourite parts of the job, and even a fun dairy fact – such as that cows can have best friends but do not usually have a wide social circle, or that the average Australian consumes between 9.5 kilograms and 10kg of dairy products each year.
Dairy farmers were asked details about their farm operation, pathways into the job and technology use, but also what they looked for in employees.
Mr Hutchison said there was a good response from the SA industry to keep the program running.
“The information was all there, just not done in person,” he said.
Students still had the chance to ask questions, with the final presentation day held via Zoom also including a question-and-answer session with dairy farmers and industry advocates.
Mr Hutchison said they were still collating feedback from the term 2 program, with it still rolling out in some areas for term 3 but he was optimistic there were elements that could be learnt from the online components and continued into the future.
“We had a teacher comment that in the past they would have a project and concentrate on that, but this video gave a broader overview,” he said.
“I was quite surprised at the adoption – students adapt quicker than we do.
“In some (interstate) schools, the students weren’t even at school.”
Middle school science and agriculture teacher at Gawler’s Trinity College Katelyn Baker said the program had been successful as she had a “really engaged group of students”.
While they could not get dairy calves on school grounds, she said they were luckier than most as they had access to a beef calf at the time, which allowed the students to try some practical elements.
Ms Baker said the program allowed students to work on a project that extended beyond their school, with the competitive element helping to motivate them.
“They get to choose what project they work on, from a variety of topics, so they’re able to pick something to be engaged in, “she said.
She said they chose to do the program with year 10 students, as it coincided with them considering potential career paths.
“Many may not have considered dairy before but they get a deeper understanding of all the jobs in agriculture, not just farming,” she said.
“You definitely do see students that it’s on their radar, and they’re asking how to do work experience on a dairy farm.”
Ms Baker said despite the upheaval of the year, the program was well-supported by the industry.
On the Limestone Coast, the senior school prize went to St Martins Lutheran School, with Abbey Freebain, St Martins, winning the individual award. Cooper Walters, Beachport Primary School, won the junior prize, with Allendale East Area School the top junior school.
Senior winners in the Barossa and Mid North were Ethan Woodley and James Brawley, Trinity College, Gawler, and Hannah Naismith, Orroroo High School. Trinity College won senior school. Nuriootpa High School took junior honours, while Nuriootpa student Courtney Job also won.
The fourth Jeff Kernich student encouragement award, for a student demonstrating enthusiasm and commitment to the program, went to Vanessa Fisher, Riverton and District High School.