Fleece and love

In a hectic shed at Northburn Station in Central Otago, it's just another day working on the stand.

Newly crowned master shearer Nathan Stratford doesn't downplay his new title, in fact the Southlander says "it's pretty cool, it's a high achievement for any shearer".

Shearing Sports New Zealnd now recognise him as a Master Machine Shearer.

While it was never a goal to earn the masters title, it was something that was always in the back of his mind.

Stratford was nominated for the title last year, when the Shearing Sports South Island committee recommended him for the title, but was voted down at the national committee, he said.

Good team-mates, friends, and the support of his family helped him earn the master title, he said.

The high point of Stratford's 20-year career was winning the PGG Wrightson National final at the Golden Shears in Masterton earlier this year, he said.

Shearing Sports media liaison Doug Laing said Stratford's win in Masterton effectively made him New Zealand's top multi-breed shearer, contributing to him being named a master shearer.

Stratford said shearing had the best of both worlds - camaraderie and competitiveness.

Shearers supported each other and helped their team mates out most of the time, but "when you step on the boards, it's like you're enemies," he said.

His best time was in 2012, when he shore 20 lambs in 12 minutes.

In a year he will shear, on average, more than 30,000 sheep.

He has sheared in Wales, Scotland, England and Ireland, but his favourite country to shear in was Australia because of the money, he said.

The New Zealand shearing industry has changed dramatically during his career with the decline of sheep farming.

"Sheep numbers are getting less, but sheep are getting bigger. Everything is about productivity, farmers wanting more out of their animals," he said.

Bigger sheep to shear meant a bigger impact on his body.

"I've got a few niggles," he said.

His advice for young shearers hoping to rise to the challenge was to ask questions.

"Don't be afraid to take knocks, or be told off. Pick yourself up and keep going," he said.

Laing said the title has been awarded to about 60 shearers during the awards 40-year history.

It was not guaranteed a master would be named every year.

Shearers must be nominated to either the South or North Island committee, who make a recommendation to the national committee, which makes the final decision.

Other titles include Master Blades Shearer and Master Woolhandler.

This year, four masters were named, Stratford and Rakaia shearer Tony Coster were named Master machine shearers, Brian Thomson, of West Melton in Canterbury, was named a Master Blades Shearer, and Joel Henare, of Gisborne, was named a Master Woolhandler at the national Shearing Sports annual conference last week.


The Southland Times