Cranebrook High School farm – virtual tour

A look around the school farm facility showing the involvement of staff and students and the management of animals.

Introduction to the farm

Watch Introduction to the farm. (0:37)

Introduction by agriculture teacher, Andrew.

Narrator: Andrew – agriculture teacher

Hi, I’m Andrew, I’m one of the Ag teachers here at Cranebrook High School and welcome to our farm. One of the most important things as an Ag teacher when bringing the class down for a lesson is to start at the classroom if possible. There you mark the roll, settle the class before you bring them down.

We bring them down to a locked gate, so they wait outside the farm before we come in for the lesson. I’ll let them in. Then I’ll sit them down here at the seats. That way I can actually explain what we’re doing for the lesson and make sure the kids understand the expectations here before they start.

[End of transcript]

The shed

Watch The shed. (2:47)

Reasons for species selection

Dimity: agriculture assistant

Hi, my name’s Dimity and I’m the agricultural assistant at Cranebrook High School. I’m just going to show you around our shed. So, here we have some of the larger tools which are all hanging up and labelled. The labels are to help the students to learn which tools are which and they’re all hung up just to sort of encourage them to keep it nice and tidy in the shed.

Over here we have some of the smaller tools hanging up. So, you’ve got the trowels and also the hand forks, so they’re all hanging up and labelled as well. And here we have some of the eggs that we collect from our chickens. So, these eggs we also sell around the school. Through here we also have some extra storage.

So, this is our extra storage area up the top here. We also have some shredded paper and some feed down here. The shredded paper we use for mulching and also for animal bedding. And through here you can see that we have an extra area here for chickens as well. Over here we have an area for painting which we use for our displays, for the Penrith show and also other different shows. And back through here we also have an area which is separated for the different feeds. So, we have some chicken feed and some alpaca feed here and you can see here we have some students preparing some of the alpaca feeds. Over here we have an area which we hang all our leads and halters. So, we have alpaca halters, sheep halters and also the calf halters all separated to make it easier to learn which is which. This area we like to keep nice and tidy just to make it a more pleasant area for the students to learn in and also it’s a lot safer. Through here we also have my working area, the machine shed.

So, here we have the machine shed and this is also my work area. We have a lot of the equipment stored here and labelled in tubs. It makes it a lot easier when we’re doing jobs, we can just grab the tub out and go off and do that. Here we also have some lockable cupboards. This is where we keep a lot of the hand tools, chemicals and also dangerous equipment. We also have a shadow board here which helps us to keep the area tidy and also to indicate which tools are missing and also where to place them when we’re finished with them. Then we also have some extra storage here for different equipment, our workbench here. And then the whiteboard here is probably one of the most important things in the ag plot for communication.

Andrew: agriculture teacher

This whiteboard is where the teachers are able to communicate with the farm assistant, we can label jobs that need to be done and also we have a shopping list where the farm assistant can go and get equipment for both the farm and our class. We also have a map of the farm here and it has all the paddocks identified, which paddocks are being rested and where the stock’s grazing.

Dimity I noticed here you’ve got a broken sprinkler, I think we better go and have a look at it.

Dimity: agriculture assistant


[End of transcript]


Watch Security. (0:38)

Introduction by agriculture teacher, Andrew.

Narrator: Andrew – agriculture teacher

Unfortunately, at Cranebrook High School we’ve had a number of security issues, this has involved people and dogs. As a result we have built two external fences, both security fences. The beauty of this is it also serves as a laneway that allows people to move stock around the farm quite easily. Because of the costs involved with building two external fences, we actually had to go to our local member with the issue because the security of our farm and the welfare of our animals are utmost priority. Before we built our fences we had to build reinforced sheds to lock our animals away each night to ensure their safety.

[End of transcript]

The race

Watch The race. (0:34)

Description of the race.

Narrator: Dani – agriculture teacher

Although our sheep race isn’t perfect, what it does is it adequately meets the needs of our school. We have a small flock and seldom do we need to actually draft the animals. But when we do, this is a very easy way for the students to learn how to draft. It was made out of recycled materials that we’ve gathered from around the place. For example this was an old Coke cabinet, we’ve used gates from other places. The concrete was helped to be laid by our DT students. So, it was a real team effort. Although it was inexpensive, it still meets the requirements of our school.

[End of transcript]


Watch Maintenance. (0:43)

Maintenance requirements for the farm.

Narrator: Andrew – agriculture teacher

One of the important things that teachers and Ag assistants need to do on the school farms is their regular maintenance jobs. These things might be like weed control. Or paddock grooming, clearing up the sticks so that animals that produce fibre like sheep and alpacas don’t get the sticks stuck in their wool.

I’m going to show you how to check the water in the tractor. Now, here’s the radiator here … You may need to do tractor maintenance, simple stuff like checking the oil and the water, looking at the fences and gates, hand tool maintenance.

The most important is actually just spending some time observing the surroundings, making sure that nothing’s broken and the animals are happy, healthy and safe.

[End of transcript]


Watch Alpacas. (1:21)


Narrator: Dani – agriculture teacher

At Cranebrook High School we’ve made some very deliberate choices about our animals that we have on our property. We aim to meet the syllabus outcomes, so we do that in many ways. We’ve selected Dorper sheep for their meat qualities. We’ve selected alpacas for their fibre and also for their sustainability. We also run steers on our property, that’s also for the meat and the milk.

Alpacas are also quite different from your standard animals such as beef cattle and sheep in their behaviour, it gives students a good opportunity to use their management skills and their observation skills to learn how to handle these animals.

Benefits to our school have been three fold. Firstly, there’s the economic benefits. Alpacas eat the same as the dry sheep equivalent, so we generally find that we don’t need to supplementary feed our animals. Secondly, our students are able to use their skills that they learned from dealing with alpacas and take these skills out into the wider industry. We’ve made excellent links with other studs, with shows, with expos and it gives the children a chance to build those links so that they can move on with a pathway to agricultural industry.

Thirdly, from a sustainability point of view, alpacas are extremely light on the land. We try and make a focus in most of our topics on their sustainability and how we actually use the land.

[End of transcript]

Alpaca handling

Watch Alpoaca handling. (2:18)

Description of how alpacas should be handled in the school farm.

Narrator: Dani – agriculture teacher

A school environment is a very different environment from the normal one that most animals would be used to. There’s a much higher frequency of handling required in a school, bells go, students come, they don’t necessarily understand that animals require the quietness and the calmness to keep them in a stress free way.

Many students are unaccustomed to working around animals and it’s our job to train them in what animals require. Most animals like slow movements, so we need to teach our students to not run around them. We also need to teach our students to speak nice and quietly around the animals, screaming, yelling, throwing bags, all those sorts of things can really unsettle an animal and make our handling of them much more stressful. In a classroom situation you’d first explain exactly what’s expected of them. Students also need to know animal behaviours, so they need to be able to stand and observe what’s happening to the animals in a paddock. A calm animal is an easier animal to handle, it’s also a much safer animal to handle.

These are important things when dealing with large animals particularly alpacas. They can tend to be quite flighty, but if you deal with them quietly and consistently in a normal tone of voice, speak to your animals whilst you’re handling them, touch your animals frequently, get them used to being touched around the places where they wouldn’t normally, for example around their head and their bonnet and their ears. This will also ensure that management time when you’re shearing or drenching or vaccinating or hoof paring that the animals would become less stressed and the management practice will be much safer, much cleaner and much more efficient.

Alpaca harnesses are different from sheep harnesses, they’re basically in a different proportion and generally a bit softer around the nose. Alpacas are obligate nose breathers which means that they breathe through their nose. If you pinch over the top of their nose or have their harness too low on their nose, then they actually interferes with their breathing. It’s important that you fit the harness properly and you instruct students on how to fit the harness properly so it’s snug up at the top of the nose and nice and tight around the back of the neck, this prevents the animal from becoming distressed with breathing difficulties.

[End of transcript]

Show preparation

Watch Show preparation. (0:56)

Preparing alpacas for showing.

Narrator: agriculture student

At school we practice many skills to enhance our chances in the show ring with alpacas. When handling alpacas they must be used in pairs or in larger groups as they are herd animals and rely on each other for protection.

When we halter alpacas and lead them, they go in pairs so they have a friend that can communicate, this makes sure they are calm and we can handle them easily.

There are a few things that we must do to prepare alpacas for the show. They include trimming the bonnet and apron for guard hair and trimming their nails so they don’t overgrow. They also include training the alpaca on a halter and lead and training them through obstacle courses for junior handling.

These animals have just been shorn and won’t be able to be shown in an agricultural show for another six months.

But when an animal is in full fleece a judge looks for qualities such as crimp, density and lustre in alpacas’ fleece.

On average our school’s involved in around four shows a year, this gives us a great opportunity to meet new breeders and many more schools.

[End of transcript]

Alpaca husbandry – shearing

Watch Alpaca husbandry activities – shearing. (2:00)

Description and images of shearing.

Narrator: Dani – agriculture teacher

Shearing is the management practice that we do every Spring on the alpacas. It’s the removal of fleece from their saddles, their neck and their legs and ensures that we can get the product from them to the market and on for processing.

Alpacas need to be shorn, they come from very cold aspects of Peru. And to live in a country like Australia it’s quite hot and so over Summer they need their fleece to be removed so they’re much more comfortable.

Alpacas, unlike sheep are not as compliant at sitting still and shearing for alpacas is a three person job, rather than a one person job.

On the day of shearing you would normally bring the alpacas in, halter them and then bring them in to have their fleece sample taken. This is normally taken from the mid-section of their saddle.

We send this off for processing and for analysing to check for the staple length, the micron, the density and the comfort factor.

Once you’ve taken the fibre sample you would then move the animal into the shearing table or onto the shearing floor. The animal would then be tied down with its front legs stretched out and its back legs stretched out. It would have a heavy weight placed over its neck to ensure that it doesn’t thrash around. Although it would appear to be distressing in the short term for the animals, shearing over the long term is much better.

What it does is it ensures that the animals can remain cool over Summer, it also reduces the risk of the animals becoming wool blind.

We divide it into three different sections, the saddle, the neck and the scrap. The best wool comes from the saddle and this is kept aside. The scrap is basically thrown away. The neck is the next area of good quality wool.

If the animal is more than one colour you would also at this stage separate out the colour. At this stage you can also skirt the wool and remove any of the hair segments from there. If the animal is particularly even in its wool class, you would often have large amounts of the neck that are very high quality as in the leg portion.

[End of transcript]

Alpaca husbandry – hoof paring

Watch Alpaca husbandry activities – hoof paring. (0:27)

Description and images of hoof paring

Narrator: agriculture student

To start with the alpaca must be restrained using a halter and lead. A skilled operator such as my Ag teachers or someone who knows how to hoof pare then uses a pair of secateurs or shears to trim off the excess growth of the hoof.

If this is done regularly the alpaca eventually becomes used to hoof paring and husbandry practice becomes easier to do. This must be done regularly to minimise the chances of deformed feet and legs in the alpacas.

[End of transcript]

Alpaca husbandry – vaccinating

Watch Animal husbandry activities – vaccinating. (0:44)

Description and images of vaccinating.

Narrator: Dani – agriculture teacher

Vaccination’s one of the major management operations we need to do with alpacas and in fact all animals. We generally vaccinate animals at six weeks and then give them booster injections. It’s a subcutaneous injection, we vaccinate for polyploidy kidney, cheesy gland, enterotoxaemia, blackleg and black’s disease. We’d also give a follow up injection into the following year. Currently, there’s no prescribed drench or vaccination for alpacas so we have referred to our veterinary officer and we’re normally using the five in one or the seven in one vaccine. You’d need to consult with your local veterinary officer to work out a vaccine and drenches that are most appropriate for your animals and for the conditions.

[End of transcript]

Alpaca husbandry – drenching

Watch Alpaca husbandry activities – drenching. (0:20)

Description and images of drenching.

Narrator: Dani – agriculture teacher

Protecting our animals from internal parasites is another important operation that we undertake at Cranebrook High School.

We do this by drenching our animals every six months using an internal drench, we administer it through the mouth using a drenching gun, this protects them against Roundworm, Hookworm and particularly Barber’s pole worm which is an issue with alpacas.

[End of transcript]


Watch Poultry. (0:47)

Poultry enterprise at the farm.

Narrator: Andrew – agriculture teacher

At Cranebrook High School we have a poultry shed that we use with our Year 9 students. All the animals that we use at Cranebrook High School are kept for a specific purpose. Once the animals are used for that purpose, usually a teaching program, we’ll move the animals on, we’ll sell them off or we’ll find homes for them. Poultry can be an expensive enterprise, we keep costs down and we make money through the eggs.

One of the best things you can do with poultry is actually make them free range, that way the chickens are able to roam around and find their own food, that keeps costs down for feed substantially.

Once the chickens lay in Spring we’re able to actually sell the eggs, we sell the eggs mainly to teachers that take them home and also we sell the eggs for fund raising. So, we run barbeques at school.

[End of transcript]

Farm assistant

Watch Farm assistant. (0:47)

Duties of the farm assistant.

Narrator: Andrew – agriculture teacher

A farm assistant’s really important to us at Cranebrook High School. They have two main roles. Firstly, they help with teachers’ lesson preparation. So, having equipment ready for us when we do work down here at the farm, but also that may include cleaning up afterwards. The second role is actually to make sure that the farm’s working.

So, checking animal food, water or even watering plants. Big part of the farm assistant is safety.

So, it’s really important that the Ag teacher spends some time before each job with the farm assistant doing a bit of a risk assessment, making sure that they do each job safely. It’s important to have a good relationship with a farm assistant. They’re down here all the time, so it’s important that you’re able to communicate with them, but allow them to actually do their own thing a little bit because they’re going to be maintaining and running the farm for you when you’re not here.

[End of transcript]


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