An 82-year-old Horowhenua tradition is under threat because of the high cost of rearing livestock.
The Boys and Girls Agricultural Club has been a highlight on the Horowhenua school calendar since 1930 but the recession put it in jeopardy.
"The cost of rearing an animal is making it difficult for some families," Horowhenua Club secretary Carol Christensen says. "It is costly to have a lamb if it is fed well and may cost about $100 in milk powder."
A common rule is to feed 10 per cent of body weight, so a 10kg lamb needs 250ml four times a day.
Christensen has noticed that it's less of an issue for some calf rearers. "Most come from dairy farms, which means they have free milk."
Judges noticed a difference at last year's club finals. Apart from condition and presentation, they judge leading, following and coming to call.
"Judges noticed the lambs were not as friendly as in the past," Christensen says. "It can be the result of early weaning," "The more feeds the more time the children spend with them, usually resulting in more responsive animals. We thought if no one was home at lunchtime to feed milk they could - after the lamb is 3 weeks old - leave lamb pellets."
Christensen says that they don't want children to replace a milk feed if they are home.
"If cost is a factor it may be a cheaper option, and even if they feed watered-down milk or even water near ag days it would keep that bond going."
To be eligible, lambs must not be born before July 15 and calves must be born between July 1 and August 31. Group finals are judged at Horowhenua AP&I; Showgrounds in November.
"That means they are fed for up to four months," Christensen says.
Levin Farmlands manager Sue Haglund hasn't noticed much of a drop in the number of people rearing calves and lambs this season but believes some are weaning earlier.
"If you have a lamb you're ideally looking at up to 15kg of milk powder, then you have lamb pellets as well," she says. The cost of 15kg of milk powder for lambs is in excess of $100 and pellets are about $15 a bag.
"Calves are usually weaned at about 60kg, when they're eating 2kg of meal a day," Haglund says. "You are probably looking at about $280 to rear a calf."
Dairy farmers usually return calves to the herd after the grand finals. Entries for this year's competitions are comparable with past years.
"Schools run their own days for initial judging of calves, lambs, kids and flower or vegetable gardens," Christensen says.
"This year we have around 300 entries, which is usual. "The club has sponsorship to cover the supply of ribbons, pennants and certificates for these events."
Children who successfully complete a number of projects over a few years receive a brass badge.
"The changing demographics in our region and the rising cost to raise these animals has at times threatened this long-running tradition, but year after year the wonderful children and parents who support them, keep entering," Christensen says.
"Children get so much out of having these pets, I hope the parents continue to support this."