If you build modern, well-designed shearing sheds, the shearers will come (to loosely paraphrase the famous quote out of the baseball movie, “Field of Dreams”).
That’s the view of leading Dubbo-based shearing contractor, Hilton Barrett.
The former world champion shearer operates shearing and rural services company, Help’em Shearing, and has his own 647 hectare mixed farm, “Arrow Park”, near Dubbo.
His teams shear around 700,000 sheep a year, the bulk in a 100km radius of Dubbo.
Around 200,000 of those sheep are shorn twice as more growers switch to six- and eight-month shearing in pursuit of higher wool returns and better welfare outcomes for ewes and lambs.
Mr Barrett raises his hackles when asked about the number of stories in the media recently which suggest Australia is facing a dire shortage of shearers.
“There is no shortage of shearers,” he says.
The busiest time for shearing is now December to April but outside that period there were plenty of shearers, he said.
What wasn’t in enough abundance, he said, was modern, well-designed sheds with basic amenities like flushing toilets, running water, refrigerators and other basics to make the job more attractive to the current workforce and potential newcomers to the industry.
With high wool and sheepmeat prices, producers didn’t have a better time to upgrade or renew their shearing and sheep handling infrastructure.
High-quality infrastructure would increase efficiency and safety, improve animal welfare and result in a happier workforce more focused on performance.
He said air-conditioning in sheds was becoming an issue in the shearing industry because it was unfair to expect people to work in 40c temperatures in the middle of summer.
Kiwis make up around 50pc of Mr Barrett’s shed workforce (about 30 at the moment) but shearing rates are being boosted in NZ in a bid to keep more of their shearers at home.
Meanwhile, a bigger focus has been placed on shed safety after a young woman suffered serious head injuries when her hair got caught in overhead shearing gear near Gulargambone last November.
The Shearing Contractors Association of Australia met with Worksafe NSW in May to discuss how the shearing industry can achieve a 30 per cent reduction in serious injuries and a 30pc reduction in serious musculoskeletal injuries as part of its Roadmap to 2022.