Monday, 18 July 2011

Shearing Shed Practice Changes Over Time

We lived away from farming for almost 30 years. It has been curious to see how sheep shearing and shearing shed practices and equipment have altered during this time. Below is a list of what we've observed as being different so far.

  • Wool Presses are now hydraulic electric powered rather than ‘human’ powered dramatically reducing the amount of time and effort involved and enabling higher bale weights/reduced bale numbers
  • Combs are wider, reducing shearing times by around 30 % depending on sheep type and wool condition
  • Shearers now carry and use their own hand-pieces meaning that they can be confident this critical piece of gear will perform properly
  • Shearers also now carry a range of combs and cutters which are changed to suit the sheep and wool conditions.
  • It is no longer the farm manager’s responsibility to have grinders in place for the shearers to use to sharpen combs and cutters. Each shearer as a rule now has his or her own sharpening grinders and sharpens their combs and cutters at home.
  • Each shearer has a ‘counter’ which they set up at the entrance to the catching pens. Each time they enter the pen they click the counter by a single digit. This means that it is no longer necessary for the rouse-about to ‘count out’ the number of sheep shorn for each shearer at the end of each run, saving time and reducing the likelihood of arguments over daily tallies. There is a low risk of shearers abusing the trust by doing more clicks than sheep shorn as the farmers generally have a good sense of total numbers of sheep to be shorn.
  • Music is played in the shed via ghetto blasters while shearing is underway. The shearing sheds thus really do ‘rock’!
  • As the old petrol motors and overhead gear wears out electric motors are installed at each stand.
  • Light-framed collapsible wool pack holders are used to hold wool packs upright and open for temporary storage of smaller quantities pending ‘proper’ baling using the hydraulic presses.
  • Wool packs are light and synthetic instead of hemp avoiding the risk of loose hemp fibres contaminating the wool.
  • “Raddle” (colouring for distinguishing different sheep classes identified during shearing) is now in spray can form rather than chalk making the marking process quicker and the colour much more distinctive.
  • Shearers and shed staff provide their own food, rather than it being supplied at the shearing location. There are still some places that provide food for shearers but this is by far in the minority (1 in 10 sheds).
  • Many local farms now have their shearing done on a contract basis rather than directly employing shearers and shed staff. The contractor takes responsibility for ensuring appropriate numbers of skilled workers are on hand, pay the team members direct, and issue a single invoice to the farmer covering the lot. The contractor does charge a fee for doing the administration.
  • Special solid board sweepers are used rather than straw brooms eliminating the risk of straw strands contaminating the wool.
  • It is now reasonably common place for women to work in the sheds.
  • Shearers use back support frames to reduce the risk of back injuries.
  • There are a myriad of new OH&S requirements in shed design. One is that the grates in the catching pens are supposed to be parallel with the direction sheep are dragged from the catching pens rather than perpendicular. The latter means that the sheep are more readily able to resist being caught making the work more difficult for the shearer.
  • The old-style wool ‘paddles’ (two flat boards about 1 metre in length connected by leather or canvass) used for picking up wool from the floor have been replaced by separate plastic paddles.

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