January 2005 --
After reading the last article on ?improving the wool industry,? I think that there needs to be a look at the availability of sheep shearers. We have been sheep shearing contractors for 17 years, and I think before you worry about getting ?certified? sheep shearers you better worry about getting them at all. Every year, we bring close to 20 people from New Zealand to shear and prepare the wool. As different articles have said there is a real shortage of shearers. There are not the young ones starting, and the older ones want to stay in New Zealand with families. In order to bring foreigners in on H2-A visas, we have to advertise and go through the job service to try and get American shearers; in the 17 years of business we have not had one qualified applicant. Obviously, there are not American shearers either, or the few that there are already have full-time shearing jobs.
Due to 9/11, getting New Zealanders over has been a longer process and more costly. Also some of the conditions here are driving them to stay home. A few things like a bathroom for at least the women of the crew and available drinking water shouldn?t be too much to ask for. There are places that we are treated like second-class citizens.
In New Zealand and Australia, if the sheep have not been off of feed and water at least overnight prior to shearing, the shearers will go home. Full sheep are extremely hard to shear. We have ranchers who are great to work for, then we have ranchers who we have to beg shearers to go to.
I think that in order to prepare a better wool clip, the ranchers and shearers need to work together and be on the same level. Our shearers and wool handlers are professional and prepare the clip as it should be. I just think that the industry should be aware of the point of view from the shearers. It is definitely a trade that is dying out and is still in great need.
The article also mentioned guidelines that the shearing crews and wool growers are to follow to ensure that the wool is prepared properly, including no polypropylene in the wool and possible skirting and classing of the wool. It appears to me that going to the effort of trying to improve the wool doesn?t ever benefit the shearing crew or the rancher. The middleman down the line will make money; there needs to be an incentive for the ones doing the work and paying the extra money to get the ?U.S. Certified-Premium Wool Clip.? Yes, the rancher gets more money for the skirted, fine, top-of-the-line wool, and how much do they get for the skirtings taken off and the coarse wool? Averaging it out, with the extra labor and classer, the rancher loses again.
Dave and Janine Foley
Foley Shearing Co.
The Editors Reply:
The comments by Dave and Janine Foley are well taken and remind us that the shortage of sheep shearers is a real concern for the U.S. sheep industry. There are indeed many challenges facing the shearing industry, which is why ASI has stepped up its shearing program. And yet, many hurdles in the shearing arena remain.
The ASI Wool Council has recognized the need for more active participation by sheep shearers in producing a quality U.S. wool clip, and last year formed the Sheep Shearing Task Force to help address issues of concern regarding sheep shearing. Jim Bristol, a commercial shearer and sheep producer from Michigan, is the chair of this task force.
?As a result of the Shearing Task Force, the ASI Wool Council has several programs specifically directed at sheep shearing,? reports Bristol, adding that the task force meeting opened the door for continued dialog between shearers and ASI Wool Council programs. ?I encourage shearers to become more actively involved in this effort by becoming members of their state sheep producer organizations and in doing so, becoming members of ASI.?
Some of the wool programs specifically directed at shearing includes:
? Developing a curriculum base for U.S. shearing schools;
? Funding for regional shearing schools;
? Sponsorship of shearing contests;
? Developing a database of sheep shearers; and
? Creating a ?Certified Shearer Program? to showcase individuals wanting to help producers produce a better U.S. wool clip.
To specifically address the labor needs for sheep shearing, the ASI submitted a grant request to the USDA this past summer for developing a sheep shearing program as part of Value-Added Agriculture production. Unfortunately, just last month ASI heard the funding request was denied.
We thank the Foleys for taking the time to share their concerns with us ? and our readers.