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Beyond the Bale : Aug 07 - Sep 07
By Kellie Penfold With the raised board as their stage, and some woolly co-stars, the leading men and women of the wool-harvesting world performed the latest in shearing and wool-handling techniques with perfect choreography. From young contractors to old wool cockies, the audience lapped it up and went home talking particularly about the final act, when one sheep seemed to be so hypnotised by the rhythm of one of the world's best shearers it appeared to be asleep. The opening show of Shear$marter at Dubbo won rave reviews and the producers are thinking of taking it on tour. An initiative of AWI, Shear$marter brought together four of the country's best shearers and partnered them with four of the best wool handlers and classers, to show just how well a shearing shed can run when the latest techniques are employed. It illustrated the value of these systems for shearing contractors, employees and woolgrowers. The idea behind Shear$marter was to showcase what the first stage of AWI's National Shearer and Wool Handler Training Program had achieved, and to show that the industry can climb to new performance heights. It was also an opportunity to launch the second stage of the program, which will focus on a range of shearer and wool-handler training and career-development opportunities. AWI's general manager of wool production, Ian Rogan, says the program is part of the overall plan to improve the quality of Australia's wool clip to keep up with the demands of global markets. "We all need our customers to consistently see Australian wool as a high-quality, reliable, fit-for-purpose product," Mr Rogan says. "They have always seen it that way, but there is a lot more we can do and it all starts in the shearing shed. It's not just a producer issue. "It's a team effort to make sure we do not see complaints about the quality of our clip." Based on grower feedback, Mr Rogan says AWI rates wool harvesting and handling as one of its highest-priority areas, along with mulesing alternatives and parasite control. He says the new training program and development of new technologies in shearing are AWI's main areas of interest, but it would be an uphill effort if AWI was doing it all on its own. "We need shearers, contractors, handlers and classers to engage in this program, along with woolgrowers," Mr Rogan says. "At $1.20 to $1.40 a kilogram, wool harvesting is the single biggest cost in producing a fleece. But this is not necessarily about cutting that cost or cutting labour in the shed, it's about getting a reward from that investment." Making up the cast at the Shear$marter event at the Western Institute of TAFE Dubbo Rural Skills Centre were Shannon Warnest of South Australia, one of only two shearers in the world to have won the world Golden Shears championship title more than once; Brendan Boyle of WA, who holds the record for shearing 973 Merino ewes in a 24- hour period; Nick Endacott of NSW, winner of the Open Australian Shearing title in 1998, who also holds the eight- hour shearing record for shearing 406 Merino ewes and was the Australian Shearing Team manager in 2006; and Ian Elkins of the ACT, four-time winner of the Open Australian Shearing title, and six-time winner of the Australian Shearer of the Year from the Canberra Show. Looking after the wool were handlers Eileen Philipson (Australian national wool handling champion three years in a row and Australian representative wool handler for six years) and Angela Wakely of NSW, both wool-handler coaches (with Angela writing much of the wool-handler training manual and program), and Debbie Chandler from WA, who has handled the wool in champion shearer Dwayne Black's seven world-record attempts. Classing was done by Sarah Cunningham from SA. In a two-hour run at Dubbo, the four shearers shore 240 sheep, while speakers talked about how to prepare a clip for more profit. Shannon, Eileen and Sarah all wore microphones to explain what they were doing while they worked. Ross Pollock, AWI's consultant project manager for shearer and wool-handler training, told the crowd of 200 that the event was the highlight of the three years of training that had already taken place, and an indication of just how far shearing had come. He urged woolgrowers to re-examine their wool-har vesting systems and start to move away from cost minimisation to profit maximisation. "In a lot of cases the clip is still being prepared the way granddad did it," Mr Pollock said. "I like to think of a quote from (author) Somerset Maugham: 'It's what you learn after you know it all that really counts'. I've worked as a broker and a buyer, and what I've seen come out of shearing sheds would make you cry. As an industry we are losing millions of dollars by not preparing and presenting the clip properly." In the next three years, stage two of the program will focus on: ú establishing best-practice shearing and wool-handling standards; ú developing recognition of skills related to wool handlers through the Skilled Wool Handler program; ú working with other industry organisations to build recognition of, and a career path for, wool handlers; ú state action plans developed annually to ensure core- program-area objectives are met; and ú improved industry awareness through supporting shearing competitions. The program will involve regional coaching, contractor- team (shearer and wool handler) training and skilled wool- handler coaching. At the same time, AWI will work with groups such as AWEX, to promote its code of practice, and the Shearing Contractors Association of Australia, on its training and occupational health and safety initiatives. Also on show at Dubbo was version three of the ShearEzy Upright Posture Shearing Platform (UPSP), which is about to tour the country via agricultural field days to promote innovation in mechanical wool harvesting. ú More information: www.wool.com.au/harvesting, www.woolsearch.com.au Shear brilliance: a class act at Dubbo The opening show of Shear$marter displayed the best wool-harvesting talents in Australia 4WOOL HARVESTING BEYOND THE BALE Five pillars of shearing wisdom Two-time world champion shearer Shannon Warnest told the Dubbo crowd about the five pillars of technique for shearing: gear, position, grip, freehand and entry. "In not one instance have we not been able to fix a problem for a shearer by going through these five pillars," he says. ú Gear relates to the quality of the shearing equipment -- "make sure it is always running at 100 per cent," he says. ú Position is how the shearer uses their body to move the sheep. Shannon gave a demonstration of how he uses only his knee and his free-arm elbow to manoeuvre the sheep, to give him the neatest and fastest cut while not stressing his body. ú Grip comes back to how the handpiece is held -- "not like holding a knife about to stab someone," says Shannon. ú Freehand is what the shearer's free hand is doing while the sheep is being shorn. ú Entry is vital as it can dictate the number of blows needed and the rhythm that will be used to shear the sheep. "It's all about keeping rhythm -- sometimes it might mean two or three extra blows to keep that rhythm and that's OK," Shannon adds. "When you think about it, these five pillars relate to many actions in everyday life -- even taking a drink of water from a bottle." Ross Pollock, AWI's consultant project manager for shearer and wool- handler training at Shear$marter: the event was the highlight of three years of training. PHOTO: KELLIE PENFOLD
Aug 07 - Sep 07 Supplement
Jun 07 - Jul 07 Supplement