Kiwi sheep ‘cavalry’ arrives
WA shearing contractors faced with a second season of COVID labour shortages are confident they will get all the sheep shorn with an influx of New Zealand shed hand staff arriving in recent weeks through the narrow bubble window.
As of the latest COVID update on August 26, WA’s Chief Health Officer Andy Robertson has New Zealand listed as a medium-risk jurisdiction, requiring visitors who arrive in WA to have a G2G pass and they must self-quarantine at a suitable premise for 14 days.
York-based Progress Shearing owner Greg McAtamney, who runs one of WA’s largest wool harvest contracting businesses, said he was employing up to nine New Zealand staff including shearers, wool handlers and pressers.
“We are only five short, or one team, but with four teams actively shearing since July, we should be able to mix and match to keep up with the prioritised big jobs, while the smaller jobs will be fitted in where best we can,” he said.
“The July and August wet weather has held us up a bit, but the woolgrowers are mostly understanding of our situation with a later start and a shortage of staff.
We will get all of the shearing done, but some sheds may be a week to 10 days later than normal.”
Mr McAtamney said he filled some of his staff void with a few shearer and roustabout learners.
“We pay all our staff very well, above award rates — shearers are paid $3.80/head for commercials and $4.75/head for stud sheep,” he said.
“Pressers are paid $84/run, classers $96.50/run and roustabouts $73/run.”
Mr McAtamney, who contracts for 200 woolgrowers yearly, said his shearing teams would be active right through until early November, before the season has a slow-down period.
“We shear 12 months of the year, but there are peak periods when it’s the busiest,” he said.
Dongara based Henderson Shearing owner Mike Henderson said he was employing eight New Zealand shed staff, who arrived three weeks ago.
“We were hoping to have another five make the trip to WA, but that doesn’t look likely to happen now,” he said.
“We are confident with four teams we can work to schedule, but October gets very busy with lamb shearing and we hope more help from New Zealand can arrive at that time.”
New Zealand shearer Cory Barrowcliffe, from Piopio, on the North Island, was one of the first arrivals.
“My return trip airfare was $1800, nearly triple what it used to cost, COVID doesn’t worry me, and the pay is very good in Australia.”
Mr Henderson said Cory was settling in very well and shearing up to 200 sheep a day.
“He was planning to go back home to work for his father’s contracting business in November, I guess time will tell if that happens,” Mr Henderson said.
Kojonup-based Jury Shearing contractor Lowanna Jury said she missed out on the arrival of two New Zealand shearers, but was confident she could have 500,000 sheep shorn from 65 clients this season with three shearing teams.
“We shear some big numbers, up to 10,000 at some farms,” she said.
“I think we will get through similarity to last year.”
WA Shearing Contractors Association president Darren Spencer said labour shortages would be similar to last year.
“Contractors will be more conditioned to work with the situation in this second year of travel restrictions affecting our industry,” he said.
“One of the good things to come out of all this is the Federal Government looks to grant agriculture visas — something we have been encouraging for years to get UK shearers over here.”
Meanwhile the Boyup Brook-based Rylington Park shearing school is adding two top-gun shearers as trainers to its program including Luke Harding, of Boyup Brook and Brendon Boyle, of Broomehill.
Both have a background in running shearing contracting businesses and have also participated successfully in shearing competitions for many years.
Funded by Australian Wool Innovation, the Rylington Park school will deliver eight one-week courses during this financial year, with the first commencing in early October.
The schools are 100 per cent free to all students, including accommodation, food and equipment for the week.
To find out more, contact Rylington Park farm manager Erlanda Deas on 0429 375 609.
Get the latest news from thewest.com.au in your inbox.
Sign up for our emails