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Golden Shears sharpens up Mongolian team

A team of 10 Mongolia herders travelled more than 12,000km from the steppes of home to participate in this year’s Golden Shears, which wrapped up on Saturday.

One of them was an entrant in the Novice Wool Handling event, while six participated in the Junior Shearing category, and three competed in the Intermediate Shearing classes.

The Mongolian team – part of an international collaboration called Share Mongolia that’s committed to supporting Mongolian herders and farmers to farm more efficiently, profitably, and sustainably – were hosted by the Masterton Marangai farmstead while they competed in the Shears.

Woolhandler Lkhagva Bolortsetseg said attending and taking part in the international event was an “exciting” experience, and noted that in Mongolia, the sheep, sheds, and shearing are very different to what they found in New Zealand.

Although Mongolia boasts 32.3 million sheep – outstripping New Zealand’s 25.07 million – the herders there shear their flocks with traditional, non-electric hand shears, which Bolortsetseg said is hard for them.

Last year, Share Mongolia volunteers from New Zealand visited the country and taught Bolortsetseg’s team how to shear sheep using electric equipment, which they’re now determined to hire in the future.

“It was so efficient, it saved money and saved time,” she said.

“I hope after three years, all Mongolian herders can use electric machines to shear.”

The trip to New Zealand – where the Mongolian team spent three months in the leadup to the Golden Shears being mentored by local agriculture experts – was Bolortsetseg’s first time abroad, and returning home will involve a 15-hour flight followed by a seven-hour bus ride.

The travel time is no deterrence to the team, however, who intend to come back to compete in the Golden Shears in 2026.

Paul Brough, who founded Share Mongolia and is finance manager for Rabobank, which sponsored the team, said the Golden Shears was an “incredible” experience for the group.

“They were so nervous,” he said.

“They’ve never seen a stadium, let alone being up on a stage and shorn a sheep.”

The herders had to raise $4000 to travel to New Zealand, which was difficult, Brough noted, given they earn about 50 cents per sheep and the annual wage in Mongolia is just NZ$1000.

In contrast, during the time they spent working here the herders were able to earn about $600 per day and $2 dollars per sheep.

Brough’s idea for the not-for-profit collaboration came after a visit to Mongolia in 2019 during which he met a shearer “with extremely calloused hands” who clipped 30 sheep by hand per day back.

Struck by how “ridiculous” this was, Brough asked a United Nations contact whether the organisation had ever thought of teaching people how to shear with modern machines.

When he discovered the UN had run shearing programmes through its United Nations Industrial Development Organization [Unido] but didn’t have the instructors to keep them going, Brough set about gathering together some willing volunteers.

As well as teaching herders to farm more productively, profitably, and sustainably, the Shear Mongolia initiative also aims to connect them with buyers who buy wool for $1 per KG.

As a result, some herders have enjoyed their first formal deals with buyers for 30 years [most herders put their wool in a heap in the desert in the hope that passersby will buy it].

Unido has calculated that electric shearing has the potential to create 4000 seasonal jobs in Mongolia, many of which would be filled by women and could double the price that wool currently fetches there.

The goal is to provide 150 Mongolian herders with the skills and equipment they need to start their own businesses each year.

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