Breeders adapt for sheep shearing in Australia
Farmers shearing sheep in Australia.
(Illustrative image) Getty Images - Philip Quirk
By: Grégory Plesse
It is shearing season for around 65 million sheep in Australia.
Wool is a multi-billion dollar industry in this country which accounts for 25% of world production.
But this year, we are short of arms to shear wool due to the border closures adopted to slow down the coronavirus pandemic.
This measure poses major problems for this sector which is very dependent on foreign and itinerant labor.
An unprecedented situation to which sheep farmers are forced to adapt to this unprecedented situation.
Bleating and the buzzing of electric mowers are all you can hear in the barn of this huge farm of 15,000 sheep in the Australian Outback.
The wool harvest is in full swing here and at Tubbo Station expert hands strip the sheep of their winter coats in just a few minutes.
By the end of the day, 1,600 sheep will have been shorn.
Yet this farm is far from running at full speed because it lacks manpower like almost all sheep farms in the country.
That's what Andrew Morrison explains.
His job is to find shearers for the breeders in the area: “
There are currently 25 people doing the mowing but we should normally be around 40.
At this time of year, 20% of our workforce comes from New Zealand.
In other regions, New Zealanders may represent 30-70% of the workforce.
This year 500 New Zealanders are missing.
They usually represent almost a quarter of shearers in Australia.
But because of the border closures, put in place to contain the coronavirus pandemic, it is impossible for them to come.
So Andrew Morrison had to adapt: “
I suggested that breeders change their mowing period.
The breeders have decided to start mowing a little earlier, before the peak of the season which is right now.
Suddenly, the situation remains more or less manageable.
The wool industry is trying to attract young Australians to this profession, but these new recruits will not be ready for this season.
As Andrew Blanche, who is an exporter of wool, reminds us, shearing a sheep is more complicated than counting them: “
Shearing wool is a very special and very difficult job.
We need people who are willing to learn the technique.
And I think that with Covid-19, we realized that we needed to be a little more self-sufficient.
Andrew Blanche is a regular at the Sydney Wool Exchange, where sales are made at auction.
He is an expert who represents clients of the luxury industry in Europe: “
This is excellent quality wool.
It will surely be used by luxury brands, particularly in Europe.
It's the kind of wool that everyone dreams of producing.
But it will still take hands to mow it.
Australian ranchers, who have also faced a decade of drought, are still the world's leading wool producers.
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