huge demand for courses on shearing
Demand for sheep shearing courses is rising as farmers turn to shearing to replace off-farm building work. Agricultural college students are also arming themselves with shearing qualifications to help find work while travelling abroad.
Senior shearing instructor George Graham says the Irish Sheep Shearing Association (ISSA) courses run at Gurteen, Dingle, Westport and Donegal were all fully booked up this year.
ISSA runs courses for both beginner and experienced shearers to teach and refine the shearing technique used. The most common method of shearing is the Bowen technique, named after New Zealander Godfrey Bowen, who developed his own unique style of shearing in the 1940s.
Bowen and his brother Ivan would test out different shearing styles by racing against each other to shear sheep in both the conventional and new style.
The main feature of the Bowen technique is the use of the non-shearing hand to stretch the skin of the sheep tight, which allows long passes of the shearer. The result is even cuts of the wool that are more valuable than uneven cuts.
While the technique has been modified slightly through the years, it is still the most efficient way to shear a sheep, according to George Graham.
"The trick is to start and finish shearing on the skin and keep the bottom tooth flat on the skin so that you don't get any second cutting that will devalue the wool," he explains. On average it takes just 36-38 blows or hand movements to shear a sheep, depending on the sheep size.
"It's all very fluid, you must be economical with your hand piece and the secret is hand/eye co-ordination, lots of work with your non-shearing hand and lots of footwork to move the sheep correctly and easily," he says.