Free State farm boys and girls show their agri skills

Estimated reading time: 6 minutes

  • The inaugural Farm Skills Schools Competition in South Africa tested the agricultural abilities of 185 pupils from 13 schools in four categories: technical, animal, youth show, and crop.
  • The competition was hosted by Free State Education agricultural subjects at Trio High School in Kroonstad and funded by various sponsors, including the Free State Department of Agriculture.
  • The pupils showcased their agri skills in activities such as boxcar building, fence erection, tractor driving, wool handling, sheep and cattle selection, livestock and static animal showing, grass and weed identification, and Rijk Zwaan project.
  • The competition aimed to expose the pupils to practical aspects of agricultural subjects and to raise awareness of the importance of agriculture in the South African landscape.

Whether they had to build boxcars, classify animals, shear sheep, class wool, show cattle or chickens, or master large tractors, 185 agricultural pupils from the Free State did not hold back when they had to show their mettle in the inaugural Farm Skills Schools Competition in South Africa.

Read more about how farmers bring art to rural schools

Free State Education agricultural subjects hosted the competition last year at Trio High School in Kroonstad in which 13 schools, some of which are non-agricultural schools, from across the province participated. The Free State Department of Education and various other sponsors had made funding available for this event.

Competition categories for pupils

The agri skills competition was divided into four categories:

meddling with the sheep
One of the competition categories entailed the identification and classing of wool.

Technical agri skills

  • Boxcart building.
  • Fence erection.
  • Tractor, ploughing and driving skills.


  • Identify wool and handling, shearing.
  • Ewe and ram selection (phenotypic and genotypical).
  • Condition scoring and age (sheep).
  • Bull and cow selection.

Youth show

  • Livestock and static animals.

Crop section

  • Rijk Zwaan project (school based).
  • Grass and weed identification.

Pupils could choose whether they wanted to participate in the show, animal judging, wool or technical categories.

A very popular subdivision was the boxcar building in the technical category. Technical skills taught in the subject of agricultural technology were tested here. A total of 12 teams with three pupils per team entered. They spent two days building the boxcars and their workmanship was tested in a fun race around the farm buildings.

“Of the 12 boxcars, six ‘survived’ in the fun races against time,” said EP Nel, subject advisor for agriculture in the Department of Agriculture in the Free State.

Amorie Vorster, a grade 11 pupil from the farm Moreespan outside Bultfontein, said she now looks at grass and weeds differently after winning the trophy for grass and weed identification. She had to identify 20 grass species, 20 species of weeds, and several grains by naming both their common and scientific names. She also had to explain what chemical agents should be applied to control them.

The pupil from Bultfontein high school.
Chrizel Gildenhuis, a grade 10 pupil from Bultfontein High School, classifying wool during the Farm Skills session presented at Trio High School. She won the division.

Girl power in agri skills

Girls also showed their mettle by competing against the boys on an equal footing – 30% of the participants were girls.

Chrizel Gildenhuys from Winburg, a grade 10 boarding student at Bultfontein High School, won the wool identification section. She said that when they took a week-long wool class course in 2023 in the subject Agricultural Management Practice, it was stressful, but she improved over time. “The competition was a really nice experience and had an impact on me,” she said.

Deft at tractor handling

Stehan Marais, a grade 8 pupil at Hendrik Potgieter High School in Reddersburg (the runner-up as agricultural school of the year), came second in the ploughing competition. Mainly pupils from grades 11 and 12 participated in the competition. The pupils were roped into the skill set by the Veteran Tractor Ploughing Association.

The pupils had to go further through the auction yards before a tractor could be started, hook up a trailer, and complete an obstacle course while transporting bags between two points in the driving skills competition.

Tractor driver
Pupils had to showcase their tractor driving skills, which involved starting, hooking up a trailer, and completing an obstacle course while transporting bags between two points.
Lehentse Seekoei, CES for Sciences and Technology in the Free State Department of Education, awarding Elias Matshiya with his first place in a youth show category.

Book learning in practice

According to Nel, the aim of the competition is to test the skills pupils are exposed to in agricultural subjects and to make the broader public aware of everything that is being done in the subjects at the various agricultural schools.

Other participating schools were Trio High School, Unicorn High School (Tweespruit), Seotlong Agricultural and Hotel School (Phuthadltjhaba) and smaller agricultural schools such as Nampo Combined School, Bothaville High School, Reitz Landbou-akademie, WiIgerivier High School and Vrede Combined School.

The importance of agriculture in the South African landscape is also highly regarded by the Department of Education. This is emphasised by the phasing-in of agricultural studies as a subject at schools in grades 8 and 9. Currently there are approximately 1 700 pupils enrolled in agricultural studies as a subject at 17 schools in the Free State.

Thank you to the sponsors

A heartfelt thank you is extended to the sponsors involved: Cape Gate, BKB, OVK, Matus, Free State Agriculture, Novartis, MSD, Senwes Kroonstad, NWGA, Pro Cartridge Kroonstad, Free State Department of Agriculture – sheep and wool, the Santa Gertrudis Cattle Breeders’ Society, the various judges involved in the youth show, and the Free State Veteran Tractor Ploughing Association. This competition would not have been possible had it not been for the preparation and support from the farm manager M Keeve at Trio High School and the planning committee. – By Cherene Pienaar (adapted by EP Nel)

For more information, contact EP Nel at email