HAS the shearing shed workforce slid into an irreversible decline in numbers?
It's a question which concerns San Mateo Merino studmaster John Poett, Tenterden, whose confidence in the Australian wool industry hasn't wavered.
"I'm concerned for the level of recruitment ... the need for a continuing inflow of fresh blood into our shearing teams," he said.
"I believe it's time for a thorough mind change so that young males are attracted to the wool harvesting industry.
"We should be telling the world that the gun shearer is at the very pinnacle of the nation's workforce ‹ that his skills are the equal of our top athletes. Where else but in the shearing shed is a man pushed as physically hard as a good shearer is over an eight hour day and maintain such a skill level?"
John said it would be almost impossible to find a young man in the Tenterden region who could shear a sheep.
He remembered many young men, including himself, who became competent shearers after doing a bit of crutching of their parents' sheep to make a quid.
"We all know men who, while not gun shearers, made enough from shearing to enable them to get their own farms," John said.
"Now there are definite shortages at certain times of the year and a definite shortage of young men taking up shearing. Is it because it's hard work? I hope not. I don't think our young men are that soft. A good shearer makes shearing look easy."
He said for sheer labour efficiency, he couldn't think of anything to equal that of a well run shearing shed. He acknowledged the skill and contribution women make in wool harvesting.
John said they were magnificent at their job, but there was a downside to their presence in the shearing shed. While many a young lad asked a shearer at the end of the day to let him shear the last sheep in the run, girls did not.
The lower number of lads working in the wool room, the lower the number of recruits to become shearers. Other factors affecting recruitment was the poor environment in some sheds, and tax. A 200-a-day shearer might be working half his shed time for no reward.
Where do the youngsters go to learn shearing?
"I'd like some scheme whereby retired gun shearers could move around the country teaching their skills to small groups of young men," John said.