Shearing professional discusses career in recent ASI podcast
“It’s still a cold time of year in the United States, but for sheep producers shearing is right around the corner,” states Jake Thorne, host of the American Sheep Industry Association’s (ASI) Research Update podcast.
During an episode dated Jan. 27, Thorne features Professional Shearer Mike Pora of New South Wales, Australia, who discusses shearing in full.
To begin his discussion, Pora explains a lot has changed in the last half century as far as the shearing industry is concerned.
“In the early 90s, the wool market crashed, and the shearing industry lost huge numbers,” Pora says. “Because most sheep were bred for wool, many producers hadn’t given much thought to fertility or fast-growing sheep that could be sold off as lambs. Nowadays, sheep are changing, and they are a little bit easier to shear because they don’t have as much wool as they did 30 years ago.”
Although sheep may not have as much wool, Pora notes they have nearly doubled in size in this same timeframe, meaning shearers have had to adapt and adjust their shearing techniques just as quickly as producers are selecting sheep to adapt and adjust to their environments.
“Our shearing pattern is constantly evolving,” he says. “We have to adapt with the sheep. An animal twice the size comes with a lot more power, so we have to change our style and technique to manipulate sheep and make it more comfortable and safe for them and ourselves.”
“When the wool markets crashed so too did the amount of shearers,” adds Pora, noting a less-demanding workload made the profession more seasonal. “U.S. producers shear from about January to July, and we shear from July through Christmas in Australia.”
However, due to COVID-19, the seasonality of the shearing industry has waned, and many shearers are finding themselves working year-round again, according to Pora.
A day in the life of a shearer
Pora explains his typical workday as a professional shearer begins at 7:30 a.m. and ends around 5:30 p.m. He notes shearing takes place in two-hour spells with 30-minute breaks in between and a one-hour lunch break.
“Generally, we only work a five-day week but this year, in order to keep up, we have had to work weekends,” Pora says. “In the U.S., where the industry is more seasonal, shearers will usually work seven days a week to get everything done in a certain amount of time.”
Pora notes shearers and producers must follow an extensive health and safety program in order to maintain a sound work space no matter the location.
According to Pora, shearers have to maintain a certain amount of distance between each other when working in order to reduce the risk of injury. The shearing space, whether it be a shed or a trailer, must be maintained and free of broken boards or protruding nails.
Pora says, “I believe shearing is the world’s hardest job. One hour of casual shearing has the same physical toll on the body as a five-mile run. If a shearer is working eight hours a day, it adds up to about 40 miles, and over the course of the week they do about 280 miles. It is hard on the body, and it isn’t for everyone.”
As in any other profession, Pora says a lot is expected of shearers when they show up for a day on the job.
“Work ethic is most likely the biggest expectation,” he says. “Shearers are also expected to be punctual and professional, do a quality job and stay calm in their environment.”
In addition, Pora notes shearers are expected to follow human health and safety regulations and be attentive to animal welfare.
“As far as animal welfare regulations, we are required to sew, suture and treat animals if they are cut,” explains Pora. “More recently, we are being required to record everything about the animals that come through to be sheared – any treatments we administered, any cuts and scrapes we left and if the animal came in healthy or with a broken limb, etc.”
He continues, “Animal welfare is important. Shearers need to respect the animals, look after the animals and be patient when things get tough.”
In return, Pora points out shearers expect things from producers when they show up to work as well.
In regards to producer expectations, Pora says, “Be prepared. Have things organized. Take some time to have everything ready because getting started late is a shearer’s worst nightmare.”
Holding sheep off of food and water the night before shearing is also expected of producers, according to Pora.
“Emptying sheep out prior to shearing is huge for shearers,” he states. “If sheep are full and then flipped on their back and bent over, it is going to be uncomfortable for them. They will usually start kicking, and our risk of injury increases substantially.”
Most importantly, Pora says producers should enjoy the experience.
“For producers who raise wool, shearing is a culmination of their year’s work,” he says. “They should enjoy the day. If they don’t, it makes it hard for the shearers and the sheep.”
Continual learning process
In addition to shearing sheep around the world, Pora also hosts shearing schools for those interested in joining the industry or individuals who want to learn new tips and tricks. While beginner classes are available, Pora notes the majority of his clinics are geared toward advanced shearers.
“A person is never too old to learn a new trick,” he states. “Advanced shearers usually come to the school for two reasons – to get faster at shearing or to learn ways to make the process easier.”
“Shearing is a very hard job, and it isn’t for everyone,” Pora reiterates. “It is a continual learning process because we can always learn little tricks on how to maneuver sheep and position ourselves to make it a little easier.”
For those interested in becoming a shearer, Pora recommends attending a school to learn the best techniques
“Go to school. Get taught right. Learn the correct techniques and footwork,” he suggests. “From there, the more one shears, the better they will get and the easier it will be. I suggest hiring on with contractors for a few seasons so they can get practice on hundreds of sheep. This will build their confidence and make them better shearers.”
Pora continues, “Shearing is tough, and there will be some hard days. This is when a person just has to grit their teeth and get through it. I believe in living by the three D’s – desire, determination and dedication. If one can remember these things, they will be successful and it will all be worth it.”
Hannah Bugas is the editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to firstname.lastname@example.org.