UPPER HUNTER grazier and mother-of-two Kristen Hegarty has made quick work of her progression in the sheep and wool industries.
Graduating with a degree in Animal and Veterinary Bioscience at the University of Sydney, Mrs Hegarty has worked for Bayer Animal Health and Boehringer Ingelheim Animal Health for the past nine years, with a focus on pain relief for sheep and cattle.
Two years ago, she turned her hand to wool classing as well, to become one of only 11 finalists in the nation-wide AWEX Graduate Wool Classer competition.
At Cassilis, Mrs Hegarty, her husband Simon and Simon's parents, Tony and Jane, operate the mixed sheep and beef cattle operation, Belvedere. There they run 1100 Merino ewes joined to Border Leicester rams.
When Belvedere needed a classer in 2019, it was only natural that Mrs Hegarty should enrol in the Certificate IV in Wool Classing. It's a trade seemingly in her blood.
"My father, Greg Kilby, always classed his own wool at Coonamble," Mrs Hegarty said. "He first obtained his Wool Classer certificate in 1963, well before he could drive a car."
Mrs Hegarty said that a third of her cohort at TAFE Dubbo had been women, as were eight of the 11 AWEX finalists in 2019. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, that competition, which is a popular fixture in the Sydney Royal programme, was unable to go ahead in 2020 and 2021.
RELATED READING:Women make their move in the shearing sheds
Mrs Hegarty said that the Certificate IV in Wool Classing covered all of the elements to preparing the wool clip, in keeping with the industry Code of Practice.
"Australian wool is top-tier, so we as wool classers are trained in how best to prepare it so that it's always up to that international standard. Long term, I think wool is an important natural fibre for the end consumer to be able to purchase more sustainable clothing."
Mrs Hegarty classed her first wool clip at Belvedere earlier this month.
"We are shearing every eight months, which provides a valuable income stream in our business," she said. "It's funny how it's panned out. I have been in the industry my whole life, but it's been a continual progression through the various parts of it."
WOMAN MAKE UP 50 PER CENT OF NEW SHEARERS
Engaging with trainers and with first-hand knowledge of the new graduates, and the profiles and dynamics of these individuals, Australian Wool Exchange Ltd wool classer registrar Fiona Raleigh said in the wool classing space there had been approximately 16,000 registrations to the end of 2021.
Mrs Raleigh said that the gender statistics show just over 20 per cent of all Australian wool classers and just over 50pc of new graduates are females.
While this information is interesting, it may not reflect the complete picture such as the volume of wool classed or the importance to the industry workforce.
"Moving into the 2022-24 period, we don't know what the final outcome will be," Mrs Raleigh said.
"There is very much a female bias, we would love to see more boys going into wool classing - but they are going shearing."
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