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Youngsters make the cut

From left: Year 12 students Sam Mathewson and Michael Buick, both from Rathkeale College, put their lessons into practice. PHOTO/GIANINA SCHWANECKE

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From learning the basics and honing your skills to earning more than $80,000 within your first two years, there’s a lot to be said for shearing.

A four-day beginner’s course held at Marangai, about 40-kilometres east of Masterton, last week helped introduce nine Rathkeale College students and one junior shepherd to the industry.

Elite Shearer Training director Gavin Rowland said he started the school in 2018 to deliver top quality shearer and wool handler training.

“There’s been a real gap in the industry,” Rowland said.

“Since the training hasn’t been there, and with sheep getting bigger, the skill levels have dropped off.”

Coupled with the steep decline of wool prices, there was also a real shortage of shearers during peak times.

“You’ve still got to shear sheep. Farmers are probably shearing more for animal welfare and stock management.

“We need more promotion of wool again and we are showing these guys its value.

“We are getting young guys into the industry.”

He said the industry had changed a lot in recent years.

“It’s a good industry to come into now. There’s been a pay raise for shearers, and they are making good money.”

Of last week’s students, he said many could be earning more than $80,000 within two years’ time.

Demand overseas, means there are also travel opportunities for skilled shearers, and those entering the competitive side are treated like athletes.

This meant it was also important to teach good nutrition for the shearers, stretching exercises and health and safety, in addition to learning the footwork and angle of the blows.

“That upskilling also takes a lot of pressure off the body,” he said.

The biggest barrier to the industry, was awareness and people not knowing about the opportunities, he said.

“The image of shearers has changed.

“People don’t know about the opportunities that are out there.”

He said the school had a waiting list of about 120 people across the country.

Finding farms to provide the 500-600 sheep needed, and with the right amount of wool for the course, was the hard part.

Rowland said these students would all be capable of becoming commercial shearers after passing their assessments.

Year 12 student Michael Buick said learning the footwork to make sheep sit nicely was the most challenging part of the course.

Having grown up on a farm in Pongaroa, he said he loved shearing and often helped his dad.

“It’s been good to learn from different people though,” he said.

The boy’s agriculture and agribusiness teacher, Coadette Low, said most of the students had come from primary industry backgrounds.

“Some of the boys have been dagging before and some have probably done [a bit of shearing] once or twice with dad,” she said.

She said the boys had hit the ground running and four days into the course were “still smiling”.


  1. Well done Swampy getting new people in
    The AG ITO aren’t interested
    Best wishes for future training
    Regards Peter Blacl

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