By Dr Clive Dalton
How to keep shearers and wool handlers happy
- Shearers and wool handlers have never had a great image, and despite the best efforts of their Union and what used to be the NZ Wool Board that championed shearer training and welfare, they are still struggling for full recognition of their skills.
- This is now more serious as young people are loathe to enter the industry and can find much easier ways to make a living in other occupations.
- So if you want your sheep shorn, here’s a few suggestion to get your shearers and wool handlers to want to come back next time you need them.
Preparing for shearing
The key to a trouble-free shearing is good preparation and the thing you must avoid at all costs is to hold the shearers up as you are depriving them of their income and they don’t like that. Here’s a series of check lists for the various parts of the operation.
Yards and shed
- Check all gates are swinging freely and not dragging on the ground.
- All gate and door catches should be working and be reliable.
- Repair all broken rails and broken gratings to prevent broken legs.
- If you have drafted sheep before shearing, tie the gates up with extra twine, especially over night to avoid mix-ups.
- All machines in good working order – greased and oiled.
- Electrical wiring on motors and flexes are safe.
- Have spare guts and other parts available plus the appropriate tools.
- New emery paper on the grinder.
- Spare paper and glue available.
- Water containers to soak off old emery paper.
- Pendulums hanging in place and adjusted to the right length.
- Plenty of light above the grinder to see what you are doing.
- Well ventilated with no drafts.
- Piece of soft pine in place to “finish” combs (saves ripping the studs).
- Floor washed clean and dry.
- Knock in all sticking-up nails.
- Repair all splintered boards.
- Return-spring on catching pen and straps to prevent over-wide opening.
- Working and full oil cans on each stand.
- Bulk supply of correct oil available.
- Wash trays, screwdrivers and brushes all there.
- Wool brooms, sweepers or boards all present along with spares.
- Leave some lights on in the shed overnight to prevent panic among sheep.
- Replace all blown bulbs with correct wattage to provide good light.
- Windows and skylights cleaned.
- Check no direct sun gets on the shearing board – have a means of blinding off any offending windows.
- Have the correct recommended lighting above the wool table. Check with your shearing contractor.
- Plenty of wool packs available.
- Correct branding gear available – stencils, ink and brushes.
- Wool press in good working order and safe to use.
- Plenty of space for pressed bales.
- Bale hooks present plus spares.
- Bale trolley for large shed.
- Needles and twine always available and kept in same place.
- Brooms or boards present to keep the place tidy.
- A clearly visible blackboard to show pen tallies and for other shed notes.
- A new tally book with a new sharp (soft lead) pencil tied to it.
- A spare book and pencil.
- Ensure there is plenty of clean potable water available.
- Check the water heater works.
- Clean the sinks and make sure each one has a plug.
- Clean the showers and check they are working. Place non-slip mats in them.
- Clean the toilet and make sure there are plenty of rolls of paper – soft paper!
- Provide plenty of towels – paper ones are best, and have a rubbish bin for the used ones.
- Have liquid soap in a dispenser rather than a dirty block that gets lost.
- Keep all the ablutions facilities clean during shearing.
- Have a large, clearly-marked first aid box up on the wall.
- Check all the basic materials are present and keep checking them during shearing.
- Have a bottle of disinfectant ready mixed and clearly marked in a prominent place.
- Have a trained designated person to be the first point of contact in case of accident.
- Always have a mobile phone handy with key phone numbers recorded.
- Minimise the stress on all sheep to be shorn.
- Dag all sheep before shearing.
- Draft by breed and wool length.
- Treat all flyblown sheep before shearing.
- Draft off any sick or injured sheep to be shorn at the end (by negotiation with the shearers).
- Don’t hold sheep in the catching pen overnight as it will be too slippy for the shearers.
- Do not offer damp sheep for shearing. The wool will mould on pressing and the shearers will get boils.
- Have good feed and shelter for all sheep after shearing.
Farmers have always been aware of the need to empty out sheep before shearing to avoid pen stain of wool, but recently this need has been reinforced by OSH guidelines to reduce the risk of handling injuries to shearers, less risk of tripping on slippery floors, and reduced chance of shearers contracting Leptospirosis from urine spray. The recommendations are shown in the table below.
Key points from the table
- Exceeding the maximum times with pregnant ewes may trigger metabolic diseases.
- Where practical, lambs should stay with their mothers until they enter the woolshed for shearing and their separation kept to a minimum.
- Special care is needed when handling pregnant hoggets. Exceeding their maximum could easily trigger metabolic diseases.
- Exceeding the times for lambs could trigger diseases too.
- Have a clear plan on how you want the wool prepared before shearing and give clear instructions to the shed hands.
- If you are not sure about certain aspects, seek the advice of the wool handlers, many of whom now have had formal training.
- Make sure the scales are working and recording accurate data.
- Check they are in a good position for working and are securely positioned.
- Have extra trays or boxes for the wool on the scales.
- Have plenty tags, tickets and pencils if needed for manual recording.
- Read the sheep’s tag when it causes least disturbance to the shearer so they don’t have to stop.
- This is the advantage of having the brass tag in the left ear so you read the tag when the belly is being shorn and the ear is sticking out behind the shearer’s left arm.
- Have you given the contractor or non-contract shearers plenty of notice?
- Will there be plenty of shed hands all with clearly allocated jobs.
- Is the food organised? Diet advice has changed over recent years. Shearers are athletes and need energy foods and not protein. So they don’t need to be fed on endless mutton – they need carbohydrates. Check with Meat & Wool NZ for details of diets.
- Have plenty of clearly marked rubbish bins in visible places.
- Have some coat hooks for clothing.
- Shearers gear is valuable and they often get it stolen so provide some metal lockers for their spare gear.
- As a final check, get someone to go around to test everything is working.
- And if the pet lamb has to be shorn, make sure it’s collar is removed – and have a biscuit ready as a reward for its indignity!
Because wool bales are not opened and emptied after packing in the farm woolshed until they reach the mill, it’s very important that the job is done properly.
Here are the important points:
- For a single lot or line of wool, use all synthetic packs. Jute packs are now history.
- Recycled packs. If they are used make sure that:
- They don’t show any old brands.
- All rips and tears must be repaired.
- Must not have any unraveled or burst seams, raw edges or loose threads.
- Must not be repaired with patches.
- Must not have any base or seam repairs.
- Must have a sound clean or new cap of the same fibre type as the pack.
- Must have a sewn-on label identifying the rehandling company and date of rehandling.
- Must only be repaired/rehandled by a company prepared to meet the standards of the code of practice for packaging wool.
Before starting to press wool, check the press and the equipment needed – packs, clips, permanent marker pens, bale/tally book, newspaper and pen.
- Check the work plan with the farmer or person supervising the shearing.
- Ensure the pressing work area is tidy and free from contamination.
- Load the pack into the press.
- Enter the agreed description of the new bale to be pressed into the bale book.
- Press the wool.
- Close the bale, brand the bale according to the bale book description and tick off as done.
- Remove the bale and store in a place to avoid congestion and need for minimal movement.
- Repeat pressing process for each bale.
- Press bales to near their maximum weight.
- 200kg is the recommended maximum.
- Overweight bales have to be repacked at the grower’s expense.
- The minimum bale weight is 100kg.
With the downturn in wool profits, there’s always a temptation to cut corners, or only be able to hire staff without the necessary experience. So wool merchants are having to put out information to keep up wool pressing standards. Here are their current concerns:
- Poor clipping technique. All clips must go straight across. Clips must be at least 25mm (one inch) from the seam edge. Poorly inserted clips can twist and protrude being a danger to handlers.
- Poor overlap of the flaps. All flaps must have at least 50mm (three finger widths) overlap. This ensures the wool is not contaminated and flaps get caught during handling.
- Bales not evenly pressed. Ensure that bales are pressed evenly so they stand up straight. Unevenly pressed bales can make truck loads unstable. Place wool evenly in the bale before pressing.
- Data on the specification form not matching the bales received. Always check off each bale pressed with the bale book with a tick. A major problem is many bales with the same number. Have a good process and stick to it.
- Brand each bale before it leaves the press to avoid errors.
- Brand with the correct information and using the approved ink.
- Complete the tally book before the bale leaves the press.
- Do not use black shoe polish as it fades rapidly.
- Do not use aerosols as they go through the pack and stain the wool under the brand.
- Only use black for branding as the shipper uses red ink.
- The brands placed on the cap and side of the bale differs in the North and South Island of New Zealand, so check with your wool merchant or Stock company.
- A lot of subsequent information has to be added to the cap and you need to leave at least two-thirds of it clear for shipping brands. Wool brokers prefer the shipping brands on the top of the bale next to the farm brand (and not on the base).
- Put the farm brand on the top left corner of the cap, and if the farm has a long name it can extend along the top. In this position there is less chance of it being rubbed off by abrasion between bales during transport.
- Lettering: Height should be 50-75mm with 50mm preferred. Letters should be of adequate thickness. Use a stencil with uniform strokes.
- If wool is not correctly described it will not be offered for sale and will incur a cost to the grower.
Bale tally book
This is the final part of the process so you have to get it right if you want to avoid problems and delays in payment. Make sure that:
- All bales are branded.
- No numbers are duplicated.
- All descriptions are correct.
- Separate lines are clearly marked.
- All bale fastening is sound.
To allow brokers to handle your wool quickly and correctly, your written specifications must be with the wool merchant when the wool arrives. Each load of wool that leaves the farm needs a specification and it must indicate whether lines are complete or not. Here are some important points to check:
- Keep a duplicate specification.
- Check that the number of bales stated agrees with those specified. Let bale numbers run through for the season and don’t start each consignment off at number 1.
- Ensure that your written brand (on the specification) agrees with what is on the bales.
- Make sure the name and address are correct.
- Give an accurate description of the bales.
- Make sure that in the bale numbers there are no duplications or deletions.
- Record the total bales in each line and write the selling instructions clearly as well as the method of disposal.
- Note that in failing to give clear instructions, the company will use its discretion in handling the wool.
- Make sure you indicate clearly whether this is the complete clip, or only part of it with more to come.
- Any specific instructions or comments need to be clearly stated e.g. at which sale you want the wool sold at.
- If the wool is consigned by a farming company, make sure the full and correct company name is given so correspondence will go to the correct place.
- Wools from different farms in a company may be very different but may be are consigned as one line. Make sure the specifications recognise this.
- Make sure the specification is signed by the person responsible for the clip. Check that the phone number for urgent contact is correct.
Here is a list of abbreviations required by the wool trade to avoid confusion.
This material is provided in good faith for information purposes only, and the author does not accept any liability to any person for actions taken as a result of the information or advice (or the use of such information or advice) provided in these pages.