BLADE shearing may seem like an old-fashioned concept to many Australian sheep producers, limited to those wanting to present their stud stock in immaculate condition.
But the technique is making a comeback internationally.
Allan Oldfield, a blade shearer from Geraldine, on the Canterbury Plains of New Zealand’s South Island, said there was solid demand across the globe for blade shearers.
It’s a subject he should be across, having shorn in three different continents in the past year.
“There is a lot of interest in blade shearing out there. In New Zealand, a lot of people are looking to get their animals blade shorn. The major hold-up is a lack of shearers,” he said.
He said blade shearing was kinder on the sheep.
The process leaves more wool on the animals, which is important in colder environments.
“People are looking at animal welfare benefits,” he said.
Mr Oldfield was quick to debunk claims blade shearing could not be competitive due to the time taken.
“I’ve shorn about four times as many sheep with blades as with a mechanical hand piece, so I might be an exception, but I am quicker with the blades,” he said.
He said the blade shearers could knock out a more than respectable 50 a run, or 200 a day.
“I think there is going to be a real future for blade shearing. It won’t be for all wool producers but there will be work there for anyone who can handle the blades,” he said.
Mr Oldfield is visiting Australia with fellow blade shearers Danny Wilson and Michael Churchouse to compete in a round of blade shearing competitions in Victoria.
Lucrative competitions are at Goroke, St Arnaud, Boort, Nhill, Geelong and Apsley and generally as part of agricultural shows.
Event co-organiser Richie Foster, an Apsley-based blade shearing enthusiast, said the Boort event would be the richest blade shearing competition in Australia.
The travelling trio have come across on a working holiday after meeting Mr Foster, who was competing in an event in the UK in June.
“We met Richie during a competition in England and he’s invited us out,” Mr Churchouse said.
Mr Churchouse and Mr Oldfield knew each other through their 2-Stand Blade Gang enterprise in the UK, travelling across the country to those requiring blade shearing.
Fairfax Media met the shearers as they warmed up for the run of competitions with a spot of crutching work for Apsley district wool producer, Don Murdoch.
“Shearing has been a great way to travel the world and see new places,” Mr Oldfield said.
“You can work for a flight basically.”
He has made use of these opportunities, having worked in Australasia, Europe and South America in the past 12 months.
Mr Oldfield flew to Australia from Buenos Aires in Argentina, fresh from a stint shearing in Argentina and the Falkland Islands.
The isolated Falklands, centre of the infamous war 35 years ago between Argentina and the UK, while home to only 3000 people, have half a million sheep to shear.
Along with work in the UK and travels to South America, Mr Oldfield said he had run a shearing school in the region of Aragón in Spain.
“It is good to see all the different styles of sheep and the different approaches to managing them,” he said.
He said there was a lot of interest in blade-shearing in Spain, where sheep are raised for meat, wool and also milk, with many of the country’s most famous cheeses are based on sheep’s milk.
“I will head back next year to run a school again,” he said.
Mr Churchouse, also a Kiwi, has spent the past 22 years living in the UK.
Along with travelling extensively for shearing Mr Churchouse, based near Leighton Buzzard in Bedfordshire in England’s south, has raised sheep, primarily Saxons, both in Bedfordshire and in Devon.
“I’ve loved the opportunities to travel shearing has given me,” he said.
Mr Murdoch said it was great to get shearers so dedicated to the industry to work on his place.
“It’s been good to listen to their stories. They are very passionate about blade shearing.”