23 Feb 2017

Young NZers chase endless shearing season

5:50 pm on 23 February 2017

The declining number of sheep in New Zealand and changes in weather patterns are driving more shearers to chase work around the globe.

Jacob Moore from Marton is part of a group of about 60 young shearers who follow the summer seasons for work.

Jacob Moore, centre, is among those who follow the summer seasons around the world for work. Photo: Supplied / Jacob Moore

The national sheep flock is now about 27 million, a big drop from the 70m or so sheep that the country had in 1982.

Jacob Moore from Marton is part of a group of about 60 young shearers who follow the summer seasons for work.

Mr Moore said for shearers who were at the top of their game and established locally, there was full-time work and contractors tended to hold on to them for many seasons.

Jacob Moore follows the summer seasons for work.

Jacob Moore Photo: RNZ / Alexa Cook

However, the 26-year-old said for many younger shearers, there wasn't enough consistent work in New Zealand, forcing them to hit the road to find it.

"The likes of myself and a lot of younger men will do four countries a year, three months in each country, so that's your 12 months' work."

He said the typical circuit was to shear in New Zealand from November to March, the US March to May, the UK and British Isles from May through to August, and then Australia from August to November.

"Once you get set up and it's your first or second time around the world you seem to have cars and grinders and friends in places and it becomes seamless and quite easy and enjoyable... you can sometimes tack two weeks of travel on after your American season."

But Mr Moore said chasing work around the world was getting tiring.

"You start thinking about potentially families and children and you're like, 'Oh, I need a base, I need somewhere where I can put my handpiece down and call it home', it does get a little bit taxing ... It's a young man's game."

Since he's been in the shearing industry, what used to be clear-cut seasons for work were shifting.

"The seasons have changed dramatically over the last two years... they're getting blurred.

"We're supposed to be chasing the sun and the warm weather and the sheep, but now it seems like we're chasing raindrops... I'll just keep chasing the dream I suppose."

Mr Moore said he would be travelling to the US at the end of the month to start the world circuit for another year.

Dropping numbers of sheep result in skills shortage

Shearing contractor Jock Martin is the national manager of the wool training company Te Ako Wools, and is an executive member with the New Zealand Shearing Contractors Association.

Shearing contractor Jock Marton.

Jock Martin Photo: RNZ / Alexa Cook

He said, as the sheep population dropped, it was changing farming practices nationwide.

"Once upon a time all the South Island shearers could go to the North Island at Labour Weekend, do the main shear and then come back south to their respective regions for the summer shear in the South Island...

"They're all overlapping now [the seasons] so it's created a skills shortage for the industry which is why we rely heavily on the UK for the young fellas to come over."

Because the seasons had blurred, many shearers were travelling more now than in the past, Mr Martin said.

"Hence the transient and nomadic nature of the industry, the boys all jump on planes and head to the UK - there's so many further options over there."

The change in seasons had also meant New Zealanders were relying on shearing work in Australia.

"They [Australia] play a unique part in our shearing patterns as well... when the pre-lamb shear is finished a lot of the guys pack up and head to Australia and shear to Christmas, then they come home for the main shear.

"Although they are distant cousins they are a very important part of the shearing industry... the Aussie season helps us out immensely."