Good money and a good start for youngsters in shearing sheds
OPINION: Any child can be expected to be asked in their early life about what they want to be when they grow up.
The common question becomes a more urgent: "What are you going to do when you leave school?"
My early years living on a farm up a valley north of Gisborne leaned me towards work outdoors. My options changed as most young folk do. When heavy machinery was upgrading our road, I aspired to driving that Komatsu bulldozer.
When the big mobs of bullocks walked past our place each year, I dreamed of droving life with horses and dogs.
After five years of boarding school, my first job was back on the family farm mustering, dagging, fencing, dipping, lambing and docking. It was great to work beside, and learn off, Dad and Mum.
I was a rousie in the local shearing gang and there picked up many valuable skills.
Woolhandling gave me the opportunity to earn good money, which was handy in university holidays. More importantly, I gained essential getting-along-with-people experience working in teams, for which I am ever grateful.
Shearing and woolhandling are great careers offering excellent income, travel opportunities and job security, since sheep are always growing their next fleece.
You meet interesting people, see different countryside, visit new farms, and gain satisfaction from every shed cut out. It may be hard work, but it is very well paid.
Our son Johnie is shearing well now, getting tallies up over 200, with every sheep down the porthole making him $2.15 richer. Brilliant for an 18-year-old who aimed to be a shearer when he left school, has taken opportunities, and enjoys the work and lifestyle.
So we were happy to recently host a course in our shed, training local school students in the art of shearing and woolhandling. The Shearing Contractors Association employs tutors through a company called Te Ako Wools. They travel to woolsheds teaching skills to improve the technique of both first-timers and experienced operators.
Shearing is tough to learn and a real challenge to body and brain. It involves footwork, balance and physical effort, plus animal handling skills as you can't fight the sheep. Vital lessons involve setting up the handpiece and learning to grind gear to maintain good cutting.
I admire anyone who takes on this challenge, and these students were keen and enthusiastic. To start they tackled dagging, progressed to belly crutching and finally fully shorn ewes went down the porthole. The girls learnt about different breeds of sheep, what wool to sort into fadges, how to press bales and not to drop their "sweep".
Cooking for the team was my job, and knowing how I appreciated good food when I was in their position, looking forward to smoko and lunch breaks, I tried to give them good memories too.
It would be great to see some of these students back in our shed taking up this wonderful career when they do leave school.
- Joyce Wyllie is a sheep farmer at Kaihoka in Golden Bay.