Introducing the highly successful Paddock Pen Pals


Picture You in Agriculture (PYiA) in association with Australian Wool Innovation (AWI) has launched the new school-based program to connect students to Australian farmers and agriculture. Called Paddock Pen Pals the program utilises online audio and web conferencing programs to beam Young Farming Champions (YFC) directly into the classroom.

The concept has been used successfully in the past to take the schoolroom to the paddock, such as when YFC Emma Ayliffe used the technique with Parramatta Public School for The Archibull Prize. For teacher Esra Smerdon the experience brought a real-world connection to the students. “When we skyped with Emma she was able to show us how they used moisture probes to identify whether or not they needed to water and how they used that data to inform them,” she said. Read more about Emma’s interaction with Parramatta Public School here.

The Paddock Pen Pals program was launched recently at Sydney’s Carlingford West Public School where 300 Year 6 students gained insights into sheep and the wool supply chain from YFCs Danila Marini, Dione Howard, Sam Wan and Chloe Dutschke.

Carlingford West is a large inner-west primary school with a high percentage of English-second-language students.

“Many of my students have little time outside and have never visited a farm,” teacher Zoe Stephens said. “In order to make their learning relevant, I wanted to connect them to real farmers to share what they have learnt and see what real farms are actually doing in Australia.”

The first YFC to talk to the students via the big screen was CSIRO Sheep Researcher Dr Danila Marini who discussed animal wellbeing, virtual fencing and technology.

Danila Marini

Dr Danila Marini, UNE post-doctoral student, is researching the welfare implications of virtual fencing on sheep.

“The students were absolutely fascinated by the process of using digital technology like those new collars Danila is a part of, creating virtual fences,” Zoe said.

Carlingford West Public School with Dione Howard 2

The following day the students were introduced to Riverina Local Land Services District Veterinarian Dione Howard and again both students and teacher were enthralled.

“I think Dione may have inspired some students to become future vets,” Zoe said. “The medical equipment she showed the students was amazing; especially as they could identify that we use the same equipment for humans.”

Wool Technical Coordinator at Elders National Wool Selling Centre in Melbourne Sam Wan was the third YFC to Google Hangout with the students and she had an immediate connection, being herself a city-kid.

Sam Wan Carlingford West (5).jpg

“The students were amazed that someone like them, a city kid from another country, could become involved in the wool trade,” Zoe said.

The final YFC was Sheep Musterer Chloe Dutschke who beamed into the school direct from the vast plains of Hay, and the students were fascinated by the open spaces and huge areas.


One student commented:

“I always thought the sheep were just in a green little paddock.”

Paddock Pen Pals has given the students an opportunity to talk to real farmers about their daily life and to ask real-world questions about what they produce and how they work the land. In response the students are now making short movie-style presentations to share with their YFCs.

This pilot of Paddock Pen Pals at Carlingford West has been an immediate success with Zoe recommending the program to fellow teachers and congratulating all PYiA people involved:

“I want to extend a huge thank you to Lynne (Strong) and the wonderful farmers. Every farmer brought a unique perspective to our students and opened windows into the world of agriculture that they had never experienced. Highlights from the students were the virtual fencing collars, vet equipment and caring for a flock, looking at how wool is marketed and sold and viewing the great open spaces of Hay. Thank you for your time, enthusiasm and energy. When I asked the students to raise their hand if they enjoyed meeting a farmer every hand when up! That just doesn’t happen with Year 6.”

Thank you Zoe and Carlingford West Public School students our Young Farming Champions declared you were the highlight of their week


The first Saturday on the Royal Easter Show provided the perfect opportunity for Paddock Pen Pals teacher Zoe Stephens from Carlingford West Public School and YFC Sam Wan and Dione Howard to meet face to face in the Sheep Pavilion.

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