Special feature: TeenAg Exchange

A recent TeenAg trip to the US saw Southland student Kayla Calder spend time with bison and alpaca instead, and whet her appetite to continue her involvement in the world of farming

The TeenAg trip was a world apart from her Southland home base of Dipton, with bison encounters ranking as a definite highlight of the three-week US exchange for the 17-year-old. Kayla added wandering bison to her list of potential traffic hazards when driving overseas.

Students photograph bison in the Yellowstone National Park

"It was the trip of a lifetime. I had an amazing time. It was great to experience farming in other parts of the world," she says. The Southland Girls’ High student was one of six TeenAg members picked to take part in the sought-after exchange.

The group visited Yellowstone National Park, which has 10,000 hydrothermal features and is home to almost 5000 bison.

Many of the bison in the Yellowstone National Park aren’t phased by tourists

"I was surprised by how big bison are. They were everywhere, including on the roads," she says."One day we drove around a corner and had to slam on the brakes because there was a bison in the middle of the road.

"The animals are wild, but they’re so used to tourists and traffic that they wander wherever they like," the Year 13 student says. As part of the exchange, the TeenAg members attended the 4-H Congress in Bozeman, Montana. The four-day event attracted 350 students.

(Back) Rhiannon Simpson, Kayla Calder and Olivia Mackenzie. (Front) Mikayla McClennan, Tyla Bishop and Sarah Humphries.

"I enjoyed getting to meet new people. Everyone was so friendly and easy to get along with," Kayla says. During the congress, Kayla took part in a livestock judging workshop and visited a farm with several hundred alpacas.

"I found that field trip really interesting. I haven’t had much to do with alpacas; I’m from a sheep and beef farm."

Students got to watch the animals being shorn and learn more about their fibre and how they are farmed.

"Alpacas don’t produce a lot of milk, so sometimes the cria (baby alpacas) have to be bottle-fed," she says.

Kayla Calder cuddles a cria

"Their fibre is so soft. The farm uses it to produce blankets, jerseys, scarves, and other items of clothing."

Following the congress, Kayla was billeted with Morgan Stevenson, 16, and her family at Deer Lodge, northwest of Bozeman.

During the stay, Kayla visited the renowned Montana cattle stud Thomas Herefords at Gold Creek. The stud was started in 1957 and began using artificial insemination in the 1970s to advance its genetics faster.

Kayla Calder patting a horse

The business has 250 registered Hereford cows and sells 75 bulls and more than 50 registered females each year.

"That was an awesome experience. One of their bulls was named supreme champion Hereford at a national stock show," she says.

"I’ve made a number of connections in Montana, and I’d like to return to the state to work and grow my knowledge one day."

Taking in the sights of Montana

Kayla plans to study a Diploma in Agriculture at Lincoln University. The five other students on the exchange were Sarah Humphries from Southland, Olivia Mackenzie from Ashburton, Rhiannon Simpson from Timaru, Tyla Bishop from Oamaru, and Mikayla McClennan from Te Awamutu. 

The TeenAg exchange is part of New Zealand Young Farmers, a non-profit organisation with a focus on connecting communities and helping to grow future leaders.

A bison wanders through trees in the Yellostone National Park

A network of TeenAg clubs in high schools across New Zealand is designed to help attract students into the agri-food sector and hone their leadership skills. It’s hoped the inaugural exchange will become a biennial event.

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