Shearers busy as farmers heed markets

22:55, Feb 14 2013
CUTTING EDGE: Shearers have been super busy during December-January.

Canterbury shearers have gone into overdrive after an unexpected surge in sheep needing to be shorn.

The December to early February stint is usually quiet for shearing, but an influx of lambs and cull ewes needing their fleece removed put the pressure on shearers during the hot spell, when temperatures soared above 30 degrees in shearing sheds.

Farmers appear to have moved quickly in line with lower lamb prices and this acted as a catalyst for more shearing.

January was expected to be a slow month for shearing, but only in the last week has the pace slowed, said Barry Pullin,  an owner of Pullin Shearing, and chairman for the New Zealand Shearing Contractors Association.

''From early December we have been under the pump. This has been the first week since the first week of December that we haven't been chasing our tail. It caught us sort of on the hop because a lot of lambs came forward.''

The decline of the store lamb market appears to have encouraged some farmers to remove fleece to bring in some income, and retain them on the farm, rather than selling for a much lower price than last season.


More ewe lambs appear to have been kept by farmers and were being shorn as farmers perhaps looked to cull more older ewes, and have a larger selection of ewe hoggets.

Pullin said the store lamb market had been a bit depressed and farmers had kept a few more lambs, decided to have them shorn, and grow them out into a better sale prospect later. Cull ewe numbers were also up, he said.

''We have had to readjust. Last year I got through January with 15 or so shearers and this year I was trying to get through with 20, but could probably have done with 25. The farmers have been incredible to work with, and understanding of the pressure we are under.''

He said the changing shearing pattern was a result of farmers reacting to the market, rather than following old practices,  and this had to be better for the industry.

The pressure was intensified during the 10-day run of hot temperatures in early January.

Pullin said some of the older shearers had been knocked around by the heat and the young hands had learned quickly about the importance of using fans, and drinking plenty of water, during days when temperatures reached 30 degrees outside.

''Most woolshed temperatures would be getting in the high 30s, especially against a tin-shed wall.''

Canterbury appears to have got back to normal, with South Canterbury still under some pressure for shearing services.

Near-drought conditions, mainly in Hawke's Bay, are expected to free up the services of shearers, and they may move south to help in North Otago and Southland.

Pullin said his team would return next week to more ewe and lamb shearing, with few ewes to complete.

His team were just starting to visit farms for the rotation of eight months' shearing.

Flies had become an issue and pushed farmers to bring more sheep forward, he said.

The Press