Page last updated at 23:54 GMT, Monday, 16 June 2008 00:54 UK

Bid to halt decline in shearers

By Steven McKenzie
Highlands and Islands reporter, BBC Scotland news website

Sheep shearing
Sheep shearing is physically demanding work

Efforts are being made to reverse a decline in sheep shearers in Scotland.

The workforce is ageing, with fewer young people entering what is considered one of the most labour-intensive jobs in farming.

The Scottish Shearing Association hopes the lure of world travel will encourage more to take it up professionally.

New initiatives will be tried this year, including a fun Scotland versus England challenge to help send a young shearer to New Zealand to work.

Association chairman and contract shearer, Will Dickson, from Duns, in the Borders, said the fall in numbers has been gradual over the last 10 years.

There are an awful lot of us heading into the 40s and the average age must be in the 30s
Will Dickson
Scottish Shearing Association

But last year's wool cheque - money paid to sheep farmers for fleeces - was "absolutely disastrous" and had not helped the situation for shearers, he said.

Rising fuel costs are also expected to put the squeeze on contract shearing operations, as they rely on diesel-driven 4x4 vehicles to carry equipment and teams from farm to farm.

Mr Dickson said: "One time, a lot of people would tell you the wool cheque paid the shepherd's wages, or rent on a tenant farm.

"Now it doesn't pay for the shearing."

Contract shearers charge a fee from farmers, before paying each shearer.

The association has an agreed minimum wage of 65-70p per fleece for shearers.

Mr Dickson said: "There aren't enough young shearers doing the job. Because it is a physical job and involves travel, it is really a young person's job.

"We are also competing with other jobs, some of them less physical than ours."

He added: "There are an awful lot of us heading into our 40s and the average age of shearers must be in the 30s."

A new effort this year to try to encourage more youngsters to enter the trade will see the shearer leading the intermediate section of a five-event shearing competition win a ticket to New Zealand.

The Scottish Shearing Association has between 120-140 members, but only a core of 20 work full-time.
The biggest share of points given in shearing competitions is for quality followed by speed.
Professional shearers tend to work in Scotland from May-June, Australia or Norway from September-November and New Zealand or Falklands at the end of the year.

The country, along with Australia, Norway and the Falkland Islands, provides almost all-year employment for professional shearers.

The "golden ticket" to New Zealand will be awarded at the Black Isle Show in the Highlands in August.

An event to be held in Perthshire, which will culminate in a fun Scotland versus England challenge, will help raise money to pay for the ticket.

Meanwhile, the tradition of New Zealand shearers working in Scotland has also suffered a series of blows.

Mr Dickson said: "These are good shearers, but the process of getting here is now expensive and complicated.

"They have to get work permits which involves something like 16 pages of questions and costs about 190 each.

"It's unbelievably complicated to get them through."

'Bright future' for sheep farming
04 Jun 08 |  South of Scotland
Farming should return to its roots
29 Jan 08 |  Science/Nature


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