This job is sometimes referred to by alternative titles
Shearers cut the wool from sheep with electric clippers (hand-pieces) or manual clippers (blades).
Shearers with one to three years’ experience usually earn
$30K-$50K per year
Shearers with more than three years’ experience usually earn
$50K-$100K per year
Source: New Zealand Shearing Contractors Association, 2015.
Shearers usually earn about $150 for every 100 sheep they shear. The number of sheep they can shear depends on their experience, their level of fitness, and the breed and size of the sheep.
- Learner shearers may shear up to 200 sheep a day.
- Experienced shearers should be able to shear between 200 and 300 sheep a day, or more.
- Highly experienced shearers may shear 400 sheep a day or more.
Almost all shearers are employed on a casual basis. While some shearers get as much as 10 months of employment a year, others may work for as few as three months a year.
Source: New Zealand Shearing Contractors Association, 2015.
What you will do
Shearers may do some or all of the following:
- catch sheep from a small catching pen
- drag sheep out of the catching pen to the shearing stand
- shear the fleece (wool) off in a set pattern of blows (shearing strokes)
- release sheep into a counting-out pen
- clean combs and cutters and sharpen them using a grinder (usually on breaks during the day or at night after work).
Skills and knowledge
Shearers need to have knowledge of:
- how to catch and handle sheep correctly
- how to hold sheep in the correct position for shearing
- proper lifting and dragging techniques that minimise strain on the lower back
- good shearing techniques
- how to use and maintain hand-pieces (clippers) and machinery such as grinders
- what type of shearing equipment to use in certain conditions.
- work eight or nine hours a day and often start early in the morning (about 7am), and sometimes work weekends. Shorter days only occur because of rain (wet sheep cannot be shorn) or when a farmer runs out of sheep to shear
- work mainly during peak shearing times, which run from November to March and from July to September
- work in shearing sheds that are usually busy and sometimes noisy
- normally travel each day to a farmer's shearing shed, and sometimes may be required to stay on the farm in shearing quarters until the shearing on that farm is finished.
What's the job really like?
Rachelle visits a woolshed to find out about shearing sheep - 6.50 mins. (Video courtesy of Tectra)
Clinton: OK Rachelle, wakey-wakey. Before dawn we need a hearty breakfast for a hearty day’s work with Mackintosh Shearing.
Dean: Morning Rachelle.
Clinton: Wool harvesting is the shearing of sheep and the sorting and baling of wool for sale. With the rest of the crew it’s off to Paparata Station as the sun comes up in the heart of King Country. With over 10,000 sheep just the place for Rachelle to learn from one of the best, like Dean Te Huia, Tectra regional training manager, who’s been in and around shearing for over 45 years.
Dean: By the time I was 12, I was big enough to actually pull a sheep out and shear one.
Clinton: There are 3,500 shearers and woolhandlers in New Zealand, which seems like a lot, until you know there are 33.1 million sheep. But can Rachelle shear her first one? To get started she’ll need the shearer’s bare essential tools.
Dean: Well, over here Rachelle, to start with, we have the moccasins.
Rachelle: What are they for?
Dean: Well, they’re the closest thing to bare feet that you can get, and that gives you good grounding on the floor.
Dean: Your hand-piece – there’s about $750 worth, so treat it like you would your fingers. Don’t go dropping it and it you can’t take it home and give your brother a haircut with it.
Clinton: She’s tooled up and ready to shear but can’t be sheepish because after some handling tips from Dean she needs to catch her own sheep.
Rachelle: Ow. Ow.
Dean: Turn its head. Right, now walk backwards over this way. Good one!
Dean: That's right. Straighten your back up. And put the flank near the handpiece. Good girl. Bottom tooth. I suppose the process for the shearing first, is to have the sheep comfortable – you’re not actually holding it, you’re just supporting it. Then basically all you’re doing is swinging your hand, trying to do a good job – no harm to the animal and no harm to yourself.
Dean: Just like mowing a lawn.
Dean: And look what you did with that lawn.
Clinton: Removing wool from the sheep is also important for meat production and the general health and welfare of the animal.
Dean: Normally when they’ve finished doing their first sheep, they’ve got that buzz and they want to get back on and do another one and try and do it a bit quicker because the good shearers actually make it look so easy.
Dean: And that’s your first sheep. Congratulations.
Rachelle: Thank you.
Dean: Yeah it’s not the fastest I’ve seen but you’ve all got to start somewhere.
Rachelle: So how many sheep do people normally do in a day?
Dean: During the main shear they would probably do 450 of these in a day, no problem.
Rachelle: I beat it.
Clinton: With Rachelle’s first sheep shorn it's time for Rachelle to find out how to remove the wool safely from around the shearer.
Jo: OK Rachelle what you’re going to do, you’re going to take the wool away from the fleece as Dean’s shearing it. So you’re working in tandem with him. If you put your fingers in there, they’re going to chop it off alright? So we have to be careful when we take this out that we clear it away while his handpiece is away from me. So he’s going up, and I’m in here with my hand safely away from the handpiece, alright? Good girl. Away you go.
Jo: His handpiece is going up there so he’s not going to waste any. So bend down, you have to bend. Good girl.
Clinton: The wool is immediately sorted into differing qualities.
Jo: Can you see the difference between this good body wool and that discoloured wool? See that? So that comes out. The less processing that they do when they take the raw materials away, the more the farmer is going to get back in dollar terms, OK?
Rachelle: So what are the different types of wool used for?
Jo: Most of it goes into carpets, bedding, socks, upholstery.
Clinton: But not all wools are created equal. Rachelle changes the mob of sheep to one with longer wool. Because this fleece is from longer wool it stays together as a complete fleece and needs to be picked up in one clean sweep.
Jo: And up and out. Beautiful.
Clinton: When on the table any off-type wool needs to be removed before it can be processed further. Another important process is blending, which combines different wool lengths and colour into a consistent line.
Jo: Blending is like playing with snow Rachelle. Pick it up and play with it.
Rachelle: Aaarrgghh. You’re so mean.
Clinton: When this wolf in sheep’s clothing isn’t scaring young ladies, he’s doing a Modern Apprenticeship and travelling around the country with Mackintosh Shearing.
Rachelle: So what’s your favourite part about the job?
Logan: The lifestyle, and learning to shear and stuff like that. It's really enjoyable.
Rachelle: What’s the crew like?
Logan: It’s good. You know, heaps of strong friendships, it’s kind of like a big family really.
Clinton: This big family…
Crew: MACKINTOSH SHEARING.
Clinton: …is led by Eddie Parkinson.
Eddie: I’ve been shearing for about 35 years so I’ve probably done about 1.2, or 1.3 million sheep.
Clinton: Every crew has a crew leader responsible for keeping things running smoothly.
Eddie: A happy crew is a good crew.
Rachelle: Man, you’re really getting through these sheep.
Dean: Look out if another guy comes in. They’ll just step up the pace.
Clinton: Woolhandling is a good way to earn and save, as often accommodation and living costs are covered. Many shearers work year-round, including stints in Australia, Britain, Europe and North and South America. Our wool harvesters are seen internationally as being well trained and very good at their job. But for now Rachelle is just happy to be a part of the crew. So does Rachelle still have the wool pulled over her eyes?
Rachelle: I’m proud of myself for shearing a whole sheep. I'd definitely consider this as a job.
Jo: Rachelle did really well. She was quite happy to get her hands in there and I think actually she enjoyed it. A lot.
Dean: The comments from all the other guys is that they thought she had shorn before. If she could bluff them then it’s not too bad!
Clinton: Because working in the wool harvesting industry is physical work you’ll need to be reasonably fit. There are no specific entry requirements to enter as a woolhandler, although some employers prefer their employees to have completed a wool harvesting certificate. All training is gained on the job so you can earn while you learn and work towards a National Certificate in Wool Harvesting (Level 2), and then work towards a National Certificate in Shearing (Level 4), or a National Certificate in Wool Pressing (Level 3), or a National Certificate in Wool Handling (Level 4). Training is available through Tectra.
There are no specific entry requirements to become a shearer because you learn most skills on the job. However, formal qualifications are becoming more common. Shearers can complete a New Zealand Certificate in Shearing – Blade/Crossbred/Fine (Level 4) while working.
Shearers need to be:
- efficient and methodical
- patient and tolerant
A competitive streak is useful because it can help shearers increase their daily tallies.
Useful experience for shearers includes work on farms, or jobs that involve animal-handling.
Shearers need to be fit and healthy because shearing is a physically and mentally demanding job. They need to have:
- good reflexes, balance and hand-eye co-ordination
- some athletic ability to be able to handle sheep
- flexibility and stamina.
It is important that shearers do not have any back problems as their work requires a lot of bending.
Find out more about training
- Primary Industry Training Organisation
- 0800 208020 - firstname.lastname@example.org - www.primaryito.ac.nz
What are the chances of getting a job?
Sheep numbers have continued to fall over recent years (due to many sheep and beef farms converting to dairy farming). However, shearer numbers have also fallen, and there aren't enough to meet demand.
As a result, opportunities are good for experienced shearers. Some shearing contractors have hired shearers from overseas due to difficulty finding enough workers locally.
Best opportunities for shearers in summer
In the South Island, most sheep are shorn once a year in summer (December to March), although some sheep are also shorn prior to lambing (July to September). Opportunities are also good for South Island shearers between August and November, when merino and half-bred sheep are shorn.
In the North Island it is more common to shear sheep twice a year – during summer and again prior to lambing (May to July).
Shearers usually need to supplement their incomes
Most shearers work full time for six to eight months of the year. However, those who are prepared to travel around New Zealand can find full-time work for most of the year. During the off-season they may:
- get another temporary job
- travel overseas to shear in countries such as Australia, the United Kingdom, the United States, Italy and Chile.
Qualifications can widen your opportunities
Getting a formal shearing qualification, which is becoming more common, shows farmers that you're a committed worker. It can also raise your awareness of other opportunities in the agricultural industry. For example, you may go on to learn about fencing, which can complement your shearing skills.
Shearers usually employed by shearing contractor companies
Shearers either work for shearing contractors or are self-employed. Shearing contractors often have several gangs or teams made up of shearers, woolhandlers, and pressers. A typical gang consists of between seven and 10 people.
A small number of highly experienced shearers work for tourist operators, giving shearing demonstrations.
- Gulliver, A, and Cronshaw, T, 'NZ's Sheep Flock Smallest Since 1943', NZ Farmer, May 2015.
- McAlister, V, training adviser, wool harvesting, Primary ITO, Careers New Zealand interview, November 2015.
- McConachie, J, president, New Zealand Shearing Contractors Association, Careers New Zealand interview, November 2015.
- Statistics New Zealand, '2013 Census', 2015.
- Statistics New Zealand, 'Agricultural Production Statistics', June 2014, (www.stats.govt.nz).
Progression and specialisations
Shearers can become shearing contractors who are employed by farmers to shear and organise the shearing gang. Fast shearers can earn a lot of money and often do the job as a stepping stone to buying a farm or a business. Others may progress to become competition shearers.
Last updated 16 June 2017