Western team debuts in National Merino Challenge

Western student Ali McGarry conducting a visual score

For the first time ever, a team of animal science and agriculture students from Western Sydney University have taken part in the 2019 National Merino Challenge.

The initiative, run by Australian Wool Innovation, saw 161 students assemble from around Australia to benefit from talks, demonstrations and a series of mini challenges at the Sydney Showgrounds.

22-year-old Ali McGarry was one of the five female students on the team. The Emu Plains resident found competing in the challenge a rewarding experience.

“The National Merino Challenge has made my passion for sheep and wool even stronger and has encouraged me to work towards my goal of running my own sheep farm one day,” said Ali.

“From this experience, I gained valuable industry contacts and built connections with other students who are as equally passionate about agriculture.”

To prepare for the challenge, the team engaged with industry-led Merino stress and wool research under the supervision of Dr Edward Narayan, Senior Lecturer at the School of Science and Health and Stress Lab founder.

“Engaging with industry-led agricultural events gives our students a wider view of world-class research, leading practices and strengthens their enthusiasm to become the next generation of farmers, researchers and specialists,” said Dr Narayan.

“The University’s School of Science and Health was pleased to sponsor the students to take part in the challenge.”

Team coach, Masters student Gregory Sawyer, also from the School of Science and Health, guided the students to participate in seven mini-challenges which tested their knowledge of Merino fleece, production, breeding and selection.

“Ram and Ewe selection for commercial and stud enterprises, raw wool valuing, nutrition and feed assessment were some of the skills learnt prior and placed into practice during the two days of competition,” said Mr Sawyer.

Celebrating its seventh year, the National Merino Challenge provides young people with an understanding of the career opportunities within the sheep and wool industries and delivers practical instruction on the basic skills of appraisal using both traditional and modern methods.

The 2019 Western Sydney University team included:

  • Ali McGarry
  • Maddison Shepheard
  • Lauren Gray
  • Eleanor Santolin
  • Leanne Cowdroy.


5 June 2019

Ali Sardyga, Media Officer