Students ‘part of the workforce’ at Coleridge

Students ‘part of the workforce’ at Coleridge
Cadets combine classroom sessions with general farm work at Coleridge Downs Training Farm. Each cadet is given a heading pup soon after arrival.

Set among some of New Zealand’s most dramatic landscape, Coleridge Downs Training Farm is run on a large-scale high country station that pretty much has it all.
It is incorporated in four farms in the Raikaia Gorge and Central Canterbury comprising 10,000 hectares, 42,000 stock units and 17 full-time staff.
While the properties are iconically Kiwi, there is an American connection through the Erdman family who have owned the station since 1994.
Under the umbrella of Coleridge Downs Ltd is Annavale Station, Big Ben Station Dry Acheron Station and Coleridge Downs.
The farms’ range from extensive hill country, medium productive rolling and flatter terrain through to intensive, irrigated pastoral land.
Coleridge Downs Training Farm is overseen by general manager Tony Plunkett and training manager Kristen Hubbard.
Each year on the training farm three first year cadets, usually 16 to 18 years old, are offered the opportunity gain Primary ITO level 3 qualifications, and second year cadets a level 4 qualification.
Kristen says there is huge interest in the programme, with up to 20 applicants vying for a place; the rigourous selection criteria means students are of a high calibre.
“They have to show us a lot of motivation for us to consider them. They’ve got to be well rounded people, show some discipline and when they start they’ve got to be able to get on with each other.”
Two days a fortnight are spent in classroom sessions, but the balance of training is on-farm with stock managers. This includes general stock work, shearing, tractor work, fencing and mustering by foot and on horseback.
Each cadet is provided with a well-bred heading pup soon after arrival. This is followed by training with the assistance of dog trialling expert Stu Miller and senior staff to build an effective team of working dogs which will be an asset to the cadets when they leave.
Cadets are well fed and cared for, but because the training farm is a fully commercial business, they are required to work hard but really love what they do, Kristen says.
Students ‘part of the workforce’ at Coleridge
“They’re not there just as students, they are part of the workforce. Their training has to work in with the seasonal farming practices.”
Kristen has been in her role for two years and is passionate about working with young people. She gains a lot of satisfaction from seeing the cadets progress through their training.
“They come in almost as school kids and leave as mature adults who are destined for management roles.”
Tony, alongside a board of directors, is responsible for the overall management of the four farms which each have a block manager among their staff.
Tony says the area is subject to typical Canterbury seasons; hot, dry summers and frigid winters with some heavy snowfalls and temperatures that vary from -4C to 35C.
The station runs Headwaters sheep, angus cattle and deer which are red hinds crossed with wapiti. Headwaters are a relatively new sheep breed established in 2006 to breed ewes with high levels of fat to thrive in the high country; their meat is marketed and trademarked as Te Mana Lamb.
Coleridge Downs Ltd is part of the Omega Lamb Project, a Primary Growth Partnership between Headwaters, the entity which established the breed, Alliance Group Ltd and the New Zealand Government through the Ministry for Primary Industries. “They are naturally high in Omega 3 and deliver a better marbled meat.”
The farms’ steers are finished at Five Star Beef after 12 to 18 months at a target weight of 480kg, while heifer calves are kept and sold as in-calf R2’s after replacements have been selected.
All male calves are castrated and finished at Dry Acheron. The deer unit is at Coleridge Downs.
Weaners, supplied to Alliance, are finished from 50kg to 55kg; replacement hinds are supplied by Mt Hutt Station. Tony says Coleridge Downs Training Farm’s programme can set cadets up for the rest of their lives.
“The ability to gain Primary ITO qualifications, coupled with high quality, practical training in a really supportive environment is an amazing opportunity.”
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