Meet Caitlin Heppner who lives and breathes the shearing sheds of Australia.

Continuing our series on young women in wool meet Caitlin Hepper our Australia Day guest blogger


‘The hum of the motors rouse me

As I feel the shed erupt,

For 7am has come around

And we know that we have found

The place where we belong’       


Verse 1: I Belong Here (Caitlin Heppner, 2014)

 Being Barossa born and bred I grew up surrounded by viticulture and it wasn’t until I was 10 that I discovered sheep and wool, when I met the Australian Shearing and Wool Handling Team at Portree Station. Up until that day I had never set foot into an operational shearing shed, and little did I know how much I would fall in love with it. Shannon Warnest, Jason Wingfield and John Dalla were the shearers and Mel Morris and Debbie Chandler were the wool handlers. I remember sitting on the catching pen rails, watching everyone, totally engrossed in the atmosphere until I couldn’t see anything…. Jason had thrown a fleece over me and the feel of the wool and the pungent aroma of the lanolin felt like home. In that moment I knew my life would revolve around the wool industry. So at 10 years of age I began working as a rouseabout in local sheds. At 14 I learnt to shear and was competing in shearing and wool handling competitions and at 18 I fulfilled my dream and became a registered Australian Wool Classer.


But of course, my story is a lot more than that. I went to Nuriootpa High with a passion for agriculture and technology. I was introduced to showing cattle, both at school and through a Santa Gertrudis stud, and attended country shows, the SA Junior Heifer Expo and the Royal Adelaide Show. At these shows I also entered handlers and junior judging competitions. As a handler I have placed in every competition I entered (bar one), winning champion 3 times and  winning the beef cattle junior judging at the Melrose Show in 2014 and Reserve Champion at Crystal Brook in 2016. Showing cattle can be glamorous however most people forget the extremely early starts and wheelbarrow after wheelbarrow of prime cow manure removed every day!


As much as I enjoy cattle, it is sheep directing my career. I completed my secondary schooling in 2016 through a full-time school based traineeship in Cert IV Wool Classing; working with a shearing contractor in outback SA and NSW. I worked as a wool handler under a Master Classer.

By June I had completed my senior shed and in July I gained my wool classing stencil. Leaving home at the beginning of last year was a massive step but choosing to complete my secondary education the way I did was the best decision I ever made. I not only got a head start in my career but I made many industry contacts and got the chance to live and work in some amazing parts the country.

Soon after receiving my AW stencil I decided to give fleece judging a try. Never did I imagine I would come out as the 2016 State Champion Merino Fleece Junior Judge! I can certainly say I feel at home working with wool, and I hope I have the same amount of success when I head to the National Finals later this year.


I’ve always enjoyed helping and teaching people. I loved being a mentor for my school’s steer and merino teams and in 2014 I was awarded the Australian Defence Force Long Tan Award for leadership and teamwork. In 2015 I was SA’s inaugural representative at Country to Canberra, an initiative that focuses on gender inequality and empowering young rural women.  While I was in Canberra, I met an amazing group of girls, all who were extremely passionate about gender equality. Their interests ranged from STEM (Science, Technology, English and Maths) Fields, through to Rural Mental Health and Feminism. Together, we learnt how to deal with gender stereotypes and just how powerful women can be!


Canberra gave me a chance to be a youth voice for our farmers and the agricultural issues they face daily.

As a consequence of Country to Canberra I am in the planning stages of an advocacy campaign called Farmers Not Forgotten, which will aim to raise awareness of agricultural issues with the community and Canberra politicians.

I am only 18 years old but I know my future lies with wool. I hope to continue as a wool classer, run my own merino stud (and maybe a brahman herd to keep up my cattle skills!), encourage more youth into agriculture, and to bridge the gap between the producer and the consumer. As the title of my poem says: “I belong here.”


The place where where I belong       


Meet Wool Producer Katherine Bain who loves the magic of white wool from red soil

As part of our series on Young Women in Wool meet today’s guest blogger Katherine Bain

Growing up surrounded by agricultural history has instilled in me a passion to ensure agriculture, and particularly wool, is a valued industry for the future.

I am a 6th generation farmer. Old family photos and the physical remains of my ancestors’ homes have shown me how important this land has been to people, and has helped me decide I want my career to be in agriculture.

Shearing time at home is always an important time of the year, with most events and holidays being discussed as pre-shearing or post-shearing. In my early days, I would often be found shadowing dad as he filled pens up with woolly sheep, and I would then count them out freshly shorn. Living on very red soil I always thought this colour transition from red to white in the sheep quite magical. At smoko time, I would often run off and have a quick nap in the wool bins before getting back on the bike to bring in the next mob.


I’ve never been one to hang back and watch from the sidelines so whenever an opportunity presents itself I take it with two hands. I’ve always been Dad’s right-hand woman on the farm but when I was 14 I became more invested in agriculture when, after much discussion, we bought 50 Coopworth ewes and a ram and I started the St Enochs Coopworth Stud. The Coopworth is renowned for its maternal instinct and high weaning percentage (not so much its wool), which were the genetics the farm was missing at the time.


Delving into the world of sheep genetics was very new to my father and me but it opened my eyes to the wider world of agriculture. It’s not all just driving around paddocks, drenching and shearing. Since founding the stud I’ve been able to expand my knowledge of the sheep industry by attending sheep judging workshops (where I learnt what to look for in terms of sheep confirmation) and volunteering at ram sales.

It wasn’t until 2012, when I did a Rotary Exchange year to Japan, that I really began to understand the global interest in Australian wool. My time in Japan was fascinating. I found a society with similar technology to Australia, but with a strong sense of tradition and appreciation for quality. Wool clothing is a staple in their wardrobes – they wear it almost daily and value its warmth and comfort.


As a girl from an Australian sheep farm the Japanese people were excited to speak to me about wool and learn about what I did on the farm. It was a great conversation starter. I learned what our Japanese consumers value in the end-product and so came to understand the importance of ensuring our Australian products meet consumer expectation.

Since Japan I have worked hard to understand the different facets of the wool industry. I have worked with a wool brokerage firm to gain insight into how wool is traded on the global market, seen the scouring process and toured the Australian Wool Testing Authority, and completed my wool classing certificate so I can work in sheds, which I feel is a great grounding for a career in the wool industry. Heading into my second year at Marcus Oldham College I am directing my study towards a career in commodity trading with my main interest being in wool.


I am excited to be a part of the rapidly expanding and evolving wool industry. It allows me to pursue my passion, gain knowledge and share my experiences of Australian wool production on a global level.

Meet Sam Wan – who was destined to work with sheep and has come a long way since she met her first lamb

sam-wan-1Mill owner’s daughter. Foreign exchange student. Victim to the lamb-is-a-poodle scam. These are my favourite and most amusing cases of mistaken identity.

Hi there, I’m Samantha Wan and I’m a Technical Officer and Auctioneer for Elders Wool, based at the National Wool Selling Centre, Melbourne. I haven’t always been a passionate advocate for the wool industry and agriculture but I am where I am today because I’ve been shaped by the experiences and people met on the way.


Sheepvention (Hamilton, 2016)

I’m a first generation Australian-born Chinese. My Mum is from Hong Kong with Macanese heritage and Dad is Chinese Malaysian. I’m the eldest of 2 and from the Western Sydney suburb of Blacktown, 35kms west of the Sydney CBD. Looking back, I didn’t know what lamb tasted like until I was around 10 and I have a not so fond memory of Dad putting it into a herbal Chinese soup. I’d always thought corned beef came from a can – and I only knew it in a congee (rice porridge).The closest thing I had to seeing agriculture in action was Fairfield City Farm, more a petting zoo that showed me how to milk a cow and feed chickens.


A go at shearing (Yass, 2010)

A career in agriculture never seemed an option so I continued on my merry way expecting to be something (anything) in the Information Technology race.  That wasn’t until high school that I was introduced to Agriculture while it was being offered at school. A great teacher, keen classmates and a mixed bunch of black Corriedales opened up the world of ag shows, sheep classes and junior judging. Even though I was quietly sure this was the start of something bigger, my family weren’t sure what to make of the pieces of satin I hung so proudly and if the fun and enjoyment would ever amount to anything.

Wool broker doesn’t quite make the top three careers your Chinese child should be (see; doctor, lawyer and accountant) so it’s a good thing my parents didn’t fall too hard into stereotypes. After all, my first car would have been my grandma’s old Corolla hatchback instead of a Commodore ute and I’d say it takes a bit of willpower to let your firstborn journey off to places like Yass, Hay, Dubbo, Molong and Warren after you have only had them pointed out on a map.


Mustering (Warren, 2009)

As was expected, I went to university. The University of Sydney for Science in Agriculture. I also did cross-institutional Wool units with The University of New England. There was more than a bit of alarm when I decided to take a break for a Certificate IV in Agriculture at Richmond TAFE. It was different to say the least and I relished the opportunity for a more hands on go at animal husbandry, including halter breaking in steers. I did eventually go back to complete my Honours with a project on “Vitamin B12 Response Trial in Merino Ewes Incorporating Iodine Supplementation Pre-lambing”.

Through my Wool units at UNE, I was accepted into a short term student research position with The Australian Wool Testing Authority in Melbourne “The Measurement of Colour on New Zealand Wool using NIR.” The industrial training gave me a huge insight into the processes and innovation associated with wool testing.


Research in progress (AWTA)

To date, I’ve been with Elders for 4 years and 8 months. Each day has something a bit different to deal with – putting AWEX ID’s on wools from across the country, seeing the wool in the shearing shed and now as samples in boxes on the showfloor, analysing and valuing clips, lotting wools for sale, discussing markets with clients and keeping an eye on the dollar. The challenge of assisting with benchmarking events such as Ovens Valley Wether Trial, Gippsland Sheep Breeders Wether Trial and the Elders Balmoral Sire Evaluation Trial through data calibration, wool valuing and AWEX-ID’ing wools also adds another dimension to the work.


East Gippsland Field Days valuing for the Gippsland Sheep Breeders Association wether trial (2014)

Volunteering as a sheep steward while studying allowed me to network, seek out opportunities and be on the front line of hearing what judges discussed and favored. Now working in the industry, the advantages are still the same but with a stronger sense of being part of the chain.
Agriculture has allowed me to see truly stunning areas of Australia, add to my experiences and meet amazing people, most of whom I still list as my mentors today. I get to tell the best stories to bewildered aunties and uncles while my sister envies how soft lanolin makes my hands. I love how dynamic the industry is. The limitless recounts of individual perceptions, about how the industry used to be, how many generations have been farming the same land and hearing them come to life rather than just reading it from a book.  It has taught me life skills as well – ones that are second nature for some but are hard work for me. Observation, sense of direction and distance, using landmarks, logic and problem solving all can be tied into more than just a few stories of my own!


Shearing calls (Omeo, 2014)

The teachers and mentors in my life didn’t just give a suburban kid a glimpse of a world outside the city. They enriched my life. From them I drew direction into an incredibly rewarding, constantly evolving industry. If by sharing my story I’m able to convey my passion for an industry that adopted such a black sheep, it might open the eyes of someone who didn’t think agriculture was the place for them.

Note from the Editor

Its is obvious Sam Wan was born to tell stories and we all know how powerful stories can be. They can make you fall in love, they can be an antidote to bias, they can heal rifts, they can be an antidote for bias and a catalyst for change.

Sam didn’t include this adorable little pix  in her blog post but I spotted it on Facebook and just had to share it





Meet Deanna Johnston the rookie wool producer

If daycare consists of riding shotgun with Dad in the tractor when sowing and harvesting; sleeping in the tender wool bin during shearing time then this has been the best start to my rural career. Hi I’m Deanna Johnston and I’m a rookie farmer.


I had already started shearing, doing the long-blow on our Coolalee rams before I was going to primary school. My Dad worked as a shearing contractor before settling back down to the farm. Dad had always had an interest in sheep, especially Merinos and he began to get more serious about the sheep enterprise on the farm in the year 2000. We turned to the SRS strain of Merinos and started breeding dual purpose merinos. After the recent big wet we currently have 2000 breeding ewes with 500 with lambs at foot.


The next step to continue my agriculture career pathway was Yanco Agricultural High School. Right from year seven I was part of the sheep showstock team which led to an introduction to the McCaughey White Suffolk stud where we started to implement Artificial Insemination and Embryo Transfer into the breeding program.


I completed my Certificate IV in Woolclassing and Certificate II in Shearing by the age of 16 Since then, shearing competitions and wool handling competitions have become my weekend hobby. In March this year I came out in fourth position in the State Final Fleece judging competition in Sydney.


More recently I competed at Culcairn Shearing and Woolhandling competition where I was awarded the Phillip Memorial Trophy in recognition of my shearing expertise.


These competitions  help refine skills and emphasise the importance of the smaller details taught in the TAFE Certificates. You also meet other young people who share your passion for the wool and sheep industry.

In 2014 I was runner up in the National Young Guns competition at LambEX in Adelaide which was attended by over 1000 people. This competition consisted of writing an essay on the topic: “attracting young people into the prime lamb industry “and creating a poster to go with it as well as giving a speech on the topic.  The competition is judged on the essay, poster, speech and the answers to the questions posed by the judges. This was an incredible experience for me. I met many industry leaders, producers, overseas producers and professors who had the same passion: the future of agriculture not only in Australia but in the world.

2016 was also an exciting year for me. My school team won the Champion Secondary School at the 2016 Australian Wool Innovation National Merino Challenge in Sydney and I was  third overall in the Secondary school division.


The competition attracted over 140 participants from WA, SA, VIC and NSW. Students competed in six activities relevant to Merino Sheep production, including visual scoring of sheep, condition scoring, use of Australian Sheep Breeding Values in ram and ewe selection, wool typing and valuing and feed budgeting. We also attended the Industry Dinner, where we networked with Wool Industry Professionals, university students and other secondary students.

Australian Wool Innovation manager of woolgrower extension and adoption Emily King said the NMC had grown rapidly since its inception because it met the demands of a new generation.

“There is a strong wave of young people coming through who are increasingly enthusiastic about the wool industry. These are the young minds that will take the industry forward with new ideas and new leadership. It’s exciting to see and great to be involved.”

With the end of my HSC year nearing I have been fortunate enough to have to have met some amazing industry professionals including Dr. Jim Watt, Errol Brumpton (OAM) and Charlie Massey (PhD). When I finish school my ambitions is to have a gap year and work in shearing sheds or on a Merino sheep property and then study a double degree in Agriculture and Business at the University of New England in Armidale with a long term view to come back on the farm and take over our sheep enterprise (I haven’t told Dad yet I might tell him about this a bit later).


Daycare gave me a great passion for the wool industry and a dream to be part of it. I am a dedicated to promoting the sheep and wool industry in the community and as an exciting career. Young people are the future of a successful wool industry through the whole chain from the sheep’s back to yours. The future is exciting and I am lucky I will be a part of it along with many other young and enthusiastic people.

Expressions of interest are open for Cotton Young Farming Champions

The Cotton Research and Development Corporation (CRDC) is calling for expressions of interest from young people in agriculture to apply for a place as a cotton Young Farming Champion in the 2017 Art4Agriculture Young Farming Champions program.

Art4Agriculture and CRDC are recruiting Young Farming Champions who:

  • Are passionate about the Australian Cotton industry;
  • Want to share stories with urban Australians to improve understanding of sustainable food and fibre production, and in turn improve their own understanding of urban consumers;
  • Are interested in being trained to speak confidently and charismatically to school students, the public and peers;
  • Want to become part of a network of vibrant, young rural people who are encouraging consumers to value, be proud of and support the Australian farmers who feed and clothe them.
  • Are aged between 19 and 35 years


“This first year of the YFC program was a fantastic experience. The workshops really make you think broader. I feel more confident in presenting myself and speaking to people with less scientific backgrounds about my role in the cotton industry. From presenting, speaking and developing your personal brand, to being able to take your message and translate it into one anyone can understand is so important. It allows me to engage with consumers and helps both in my role as an extension officer and when advocating my love of cotton and the broader agricultural industry.” Sharna Holman 2016 Cotton Young Farming Champion 


The Young Farming Champions (YFC) are identified youth ambassadors and future influencers working within the agriculture sector. The YFC promote positive images and perceptions of farming and engage in activities and innovative programs under the Art4Agriculture banner, such as The Archibull Prize. The YFC demonstrate passion for their industry, while providing real life examples to young people who may have never considered a career in agriculture. Because they are young they can relate to students and are adept at breaking down stereotypes of farming and agricultural careers.

Taking part in the YFC program involves undertaking two mandatory weekend Sydney based workshops, under the mentorship of some of Australia’s finest communication, marketing and professional development experts.

The program’s focus is developing confident, independent, reflective thinkers who can share their story and their personal experiences, while voicing their own opinions about agricultural issues in their industry and more broadly.

The program equips and prepares the participants for that often very daunting experience of standing up to be counted, even in difficult circumstances. The YFC leadership development model is providing the rock-solid foundation and pivotal stepping stones as part of a journey to lead agriculture’s next generation.

Through these workshops and the program’s lifetime mentorship opportunities, the YFC are also equipped with unique insights into all aspects of the agricultural supply chain as well as consumer attitudes and trends.

Being a YFC also comes with the opportunity to be part of The Archibull Prize, one of Australia’s most exciting school programs connecting agriculture and students. The YFC take their own agricultural stories into the classroom and mentor students and staff as they complete their Archibull research.

For further information on the program and to hear from other Young Farming Champions you can access the 2016 Young Farming Champions Report here 

Please note

To qualify for the program applicants must be actively involved in the Australian Cotton Industry

If you believe you have the potential to be the face of the Australian cotton industry in schools CRDC would like to invite you to submit your Expression of Interest to be a 2017 Cotton Young Farming Champion by 10th February 2017

Contact Lynne Strong for EOI requirements.


M: 0407 740 446