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Shorn of entries . . .

By Jake Beleski

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The national decline in sheep numbers and too many shearing events are being blamed for a sharp drop in Golden Shears entrants this year.

Sheep numbers in New Zealand hit a peak of about 70 million in the 70s and early 80s but the latest statistics show that number currently sits at about 28 million.

Combined with New Zealand hosting the world shearing and woolhandling championships in Invercargill three weeks prior to the event in Masterton, the Golden Shears was always up against it.

Golden Shears president Philip Morrison said yesterday entrants were down about 12 per cent from 2016, but was optimistic numbers would increase again next year.

“We don’t know exactly what we can put the decline down to — we weren’t sure what effect the world champs would have,” he said.

“We just have to hope people continue to see the Golden Shears as the Mecca of shearing and decide to come back.”

Despite entrant numbers being down, Mr Morrison said crowd numbers had been pleasing.

“We don’t have the official numbers yet but the crowds on Friday and Saturday night appeared to be bigger than last year.”

President of the New Zealand Shearing Contractors Association, Jamie McConachie, said sheep numbers played a bigger role than people probably thought.

“You’ve more than halved sheep numbers in that time and consequently there’s probably less than half the number of shearers.

“I looked at the entries in the senior competition . . . I think there were 37 or 40 competitors, and in the mid to late eighties the biggest number could have been 120.”

The number of events may also have had an impact, with around 60 shearing competitions now taking place each season, he said.

“Everything’s competing against something else — just look at the Wellington Sevens.

“Fifteen years ago, the sevens was a carnival party atmosphere and now there’s nobody there, and who would have thought that?”

Mr McConachie said although this season had been a struggle for some events, the Golden Shears would always do well because it was still regarded as the “top competition”.

“A week after the worlds we had the Southern Shears in Gore and they struggled for entrants because most of the internationals had gone straight home.”

He said traditionally people would stay and do all the competitions, and was unsure why that had changed.

Strategic planning may be needed to ensure the competitions continue to thrive, he said.

“We’re not going to change things we can’t control, like sheep numbers and so forth, but perhaps you need to ask the competitors why they don’t want to do a show and work backwards.

“I don’t have the answers, but maybe if they just focussed on six or eight big shows for the year that might be a way to make it worthwhile.”

The New Zealand Shearing Championships are to be held in Te Kuiti at the end of this month, and chairman Peter Lange said the lower entrant numbers at the Golden Shears was a concern.

“We usually have about 140 entrants and I don’t know how many we have for this year at the moment.

“We’ve still got three weeks, so there’s a bit of time for more to come through.”

As well as the lower sheep numbers, Mr Lange said a lack of shearing and woolhandling training was having an impact.

Sadly, he said, there was no quick fix to the problem.

“There’s not just one or two reasons for the drop in competitors — there’s a whole heap of things going on in the background.

“I don’t think you can solve it very quickly either.”

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