With machine shearing the predominant method in Australia, ‘Click go the shears’ has slowly become a phrase of the past.
But for Ken French, of Glenisla, the shears are still clicking.
Mr French is one of about six blade shearers in the region and shears stud sheep in preparation for showing.
Mr French came to the profession as a youngster.
“When I first got into it about 30 years ago, I did it because a neighbour had a stud. He knew I messed around with the blades and from there I ended up doing quite a few studs,” he said.
“I was into shearing and sheep, as dad had a few sheep, and he used to let me shear the dead ones. One of our other neighbours was an old-time blade shearer and I used to chat to him about all sorts of things. He rigged shears up for me and got them cutting – that was when I was a teenager.
“There are not as many studs around now. It is only really the studs that put their sheep in shows that do it.
“Without really setting out to, I’ve become one of the only stud blade shearers in the area.”
Mr French won the blade shearing competition at Sheepvention in Hamilton in August. He shears for two studs – Melrose at Nurrabiel and Kerrilyn near Dunolly.
He said blade shearing was more ‘novelty’ than anything in Australia.
“You can’t earn a living from blade shearing. You only do it in March and August – it’s to do with the timing of the sheep shows,” he said.
“I’ve met a lot of the New Zealand blade shearers and they are pretty good at it. They created a bit of interest in blade shearing three or four years ago when they attended an event at Edenhope.”
Mr French said Kiwi shearers could blade shear at close to the speed of a machine shearer.
“They can do more than 100 a day with the blades but most of the times they’ve got the belly taken off,” he said.
“Some blokes have got up to 200 a day but some shear all their lives and never get to 200 with the machines.
“But when you’ve got a bloke with a stud sheep worth a few thousand dollars, he doesn’t want you to come in and see how quick you can do it.
“You take your time and try to do a perfect job.
“If I am shearing a crossbred, if everything is going alright it takes about twice as long with blades than a machine.”
Mr French shears about seven or eight sheep in a run which equates to about 30 a day.
“If I was shearing the same rams with a machine I’d be doing 15 to 20 a run and about 80 a day,” he said.
Mr French is also a machine shearer but said he found using blades easier.
“It is more relaxing. It’s a good job and you are generally by yourself, so you haven’t got as much pressure,” he said. “The stud blokes look after you.
“There is a lot of skill in doing it, but an equal amount of skill in getting your shears to cut properly.”
Mr French said the fi nish on the animal was different when using blade shears to a machine.
“You get a different tip on the wool,” he said.
“For someone driving along the road and seeing a mob of blade shorn hoggets, they wouldn’t know the difference, but for someone like me I would pick it straight away.”
Mr French said he would have loved to have watched a ‘gun’ blade shearer when he was starting out.
“When my kids got the internet they asked what I wanted to see, so I said to put on the blade shearing world championships,” he said.
“It was amazing.”