Good timing pays off as shearers dodge the wet

LUCKY BREAK: Shearers are counting their blessings at avoiding heavy rain during the main shearing season.
LUCKY BREAK: Shearers are counting their blessings at avoiding heavy rain during the main shearing season.

Canterbury shearers have managed to dodge a wet cyclone and weeks of heavy rain through good timing and have their fingers crossed it will stay that way during pre-lamb shearing.

A mild winter would play into the hands of shearing contractors who made the most of a dry spell before everything turned wet.

New Zealand Shearing Contractors Association president Barry Pullin said shearers avoided the worst of the rain as most shearing had been completed before it arrived.

The rain had only been an inconvenience, but shearers would appreciate a mild winter, he said.

"The good thing about it is we had all the dry beforehand and we were on top of it," said Pullin who runs his shearing business in Canterbury. "We were waiting for rain through the summer and when it started to rain it didn't stop, but the beauty of shearing in Canterbury is that the main summer shearing had practically finished. By the time it first started raining in March we only had merino crutching and the pressure had come off work."

Shearers are due to start early pre-lamb shearing in the next fortnight and do not want the wet spell to continue.

Pullin said heavy rainfall would make pre-lamb shearing a "nightmare". Ewe flocks could only be placed in covered yards for so long before they needed feeding.

"They still have to eat and we can't have them under cover indefinitely, especially when they are due to lamb in six weeks so we can't hold them too long and they have to eat because their demand for energy is really high."

Wild storms have removed trees, tracks, culverts and bridges and generated heavy landslips in localised farmland in the central and upper South Island. However, warmer conditions earlier this week and only light frosts have brought on good grass growth with farmers observing seldom seen lucerne growth.

Contrasting conditions north of Auckland and back-to-back droughts in parts of the North Island were expected to reduce second shear wool volumes across the country because of a feed shortage. Reports of lighter clips and lower wool weights were coming through in wool sales and that was a reflection of mainly the North Island droughts and land use changing from sheep and beef farming to dairying.

The early second shear of two tooths was under way in the North Island and will go through this month, but there appears to be a swing to once-a-year full wool pre- lamb shearing by farmers.

This happened in the South Island two years ago because of the extra cost of shearing twice a year, feed issues and wool returns favouring full length crossbred wool because of Chinese demand rather than second shear wool.

Pullin said farmers were adapting their production of wool to the changing market.

"A lot of people are shearing for the peak of the wool market and prices typically rise by late July to early August. But the decreasing sheep numbers are having a positive impact on prices from a farmers' point of view."

Shearing costs had kept up with inflation. Shearing rates varied from about $3.45 a head for second shear to $3.80 for full wool. The charge rate for the top end of the crossbred clip, including a shearer and shed hand, was $4.10 to $4.20, but few farmers operated at this level of wool preparation. Merino shearing ranged from $5.20 to $5.80, depending on the preparation emphasis.

Pullin said the prices were reasonable when compared with Australian contract shearing rates which were $1.50 to $2 a head higher than the New Zealand range.

Australian charges were higher because they paid more for staff. Even though they received the same wool prices as New Zealand farmers, it was easier for them to bear higher farm costs because land prices were cheaper and mortgage repayments less.

The Press