Foley Shearing Company works through changing global job market
Kaycee — Dave and Janine Foley started Foley Shearing in 1989 and today operate two crews that shear around 150,000 sheep annually. Their crewmembers are primarily from New Zealand, and are procured through word-of-mouth.
Dave was born in New Zealand and learned to shear sheep from his father, also a shearer. At 19 he came to the U.S. to shear for the first time, and today he provides shearing services for producers across Wyoming and in parts of Colorado.
“It was adventure to come to the U.S. and shear. Then he met me and we got married and traveled the world shearing for a few years before settling in Kaycee. We still travel to New Zealand every other summer,” says Janine.
“We have a lot of contacts in New Zealand, and if someone doesn’t want to come back there are typically others who want to shear in the U.S.,” explains Dave of how crewmembers are found.
The Foleys add that finding workers is becoming more challenging due to a variety of factors, one being the poor exchange rate.
“A good exchange rate makes it more worthwhile for shearers to come over. With the current rate, young shearers aren’t as motivated to travel to the U.S. to shear because they don’t make as much money,” Janine explains.
Another factor affecting the ability to hire crewmembers is the increasing average age of shearers worldwide.
“There aren’t a lot of young shearers starting today. When we started in the 1980s the average age of shearers coming over was in the 20s. Today it’s in the 30s, and some guys are over 40.
“As they get older they don’t want to travel as far because they have families and can secure work closer to home. It used to be that everyone was young and looking for an adventure and now its just work,” notes Dave.
The increased hassle of getting foreign workers into the U.S. due to changes in immigration and deportation laws is something with which the shearing industry continually deals, adds Dave.
“The paperwork required to make everything legal today is unreal and is resulting in problems in a number of industries. One example are the farm workers brought into the country to pick fruit. The government thinks that since unemployment is up American workers should do those jobs, but you can’t find Americans to do that kind of work. It’s the same with shearing,” explains Janine.
According to the Foleys, one result of the increased paperwork and regulations necessary to secure a working visa in the U.S. is an increasing number of crews that operate illegally.
“We’ve all heard the comments about how Wyoming needs another shearing crew, and we could not agree more, but time and money needs to be put into making crewmembers legal. Illegal workers are unfair to those who do take the time, and will only result in even more paperwork in the future,” says Janine.
Part of her job within Foley Shearing is ensuring all paperwork is completed and crewmembers have the proper visa to work in the U.S. She says ranchers have the right to be shown documentation to ensure their crew is legal, and it is up to the rancher to check.
Of their hired workers, The Foleys say they are almost always good quality workers who are professional and easy to work with.
“Once in a while you get a young one that’s learning, but for the most part this is what they do year round, so they’re good at it. It’s very rare we have someone we aren’t happy with,” comments Dave.
One unique challenge to shearing in Wyoming is the weather and set lambing period. Weather often leads to rescheduling and can make it difficult to get everyone finished prior to lambing season.
“Weather is a big factor in Wyoming. You have weather everywhere, but not the storms and snow and cold like we have here. We have to get everyone sheared before they lamb, but ranchers won’t shear early because they’re concerned about the weather and getting caught in a storm,” says Janine.
Dave noted additional differences are that shearers develop a more personal relationship with ranchers in Australia and New Zealand, conditions are more favorable for shearers there and sheep are typically dry-lotted the night before shearing.
The Foleys have four children: Jayson, Tiana, Hannah and Laree, who work within in the family business in a variety of capacities.
“All our kids help with the business and every time we need something they jump in and help wherever they can,” says Janine.
Despite declining sheep numbers in recent years, Janine says Foley Shearing Company couldn’t do much more and is booked solid.
“We do have to travel farther distances to get the same numbers, but a lack of shearers has created more work as well, so we keep busy,” adds Dave.
With the 2010 shearing season well under way, Foley Shearing Company is keeping both crews busy between spring storms.
Heather Hamilton is editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.