THE “glory days” of the sheep industry have hit WA, according to Pingelly Shearing contractor and shearing industry trainer Rob Cristinelli.
“It’s the best it’s been in a long, long time,” he said.
“These are the glory days for the sheep industry and we hope it can sustain the prices for some time.”
Mr Cristinelli has been shearing for more than 20 years and also taught the trade at TAFE, before returning to run his own shearing teams in the Pingelly area.
“It is hard work but rewarding,” Mr Cristinelli said.
He said having a successful shearing business depended on the attributes of loyalty and gratitude.
“Loyalty to each other on the team, to the farmer and to the industry,” he said.
“Gratitude for the work.
“Yes it’s hard work, but it’s a good lifestyle and it pays well.”
He said some of his shearers were earning about $90,000 for working 10 months of the year.
He said on July 1, for the past five years, the shearing industry award rate had risen – which had provided a good environment for younger people seeking a career in the industry.
Mr Cristinelli is one of three registered shearing industry trainers in WA and with his wife Trudi they train wool handlers, classers and shearers.
“If we weren’t trainers we would have to rely on our staff to do in-house training and they don’t have the skills,” he said.
“They might be good at what they do but can they transfer that message on?
“I’ve trained and upskilled my shearers and we have made them cleaner, eradicating the need for second cuts – and with shed hands and wool handlers we have made them better at their jobs and more efficient.
“There’s a lot going on in the wool shed so we all have to work harmoniously.”
Mr Cristinelli said his employees finish their training with a certificate three in wool handling, or a certificate four in wool classing.
He said the pay rate was higher for a wool classer and “with that comes responsibility”.
Pingelly Shearing was on farm in north Wandering recently working for wool growers Anthony and Ian Turton at Naibilli Farming Co.
Mr Cristinelli had been contracting to the Turton family for about 10 years and was in the shearing shed last week overseeing the shearing, classing and baling of the wool ready for delivery to the wool stores.
Anthony Turton said the wool quality from his Merino flock would be about the 20 micron mark with some slightly finer.
“The sheep did it tough during winter,” Anthony said.
“There wasn’t enough green feed in May.
“We had to feed out right through lambing – which was not ideal but it’s just the conditions.”
Anthony said he ran a delivery of four lines of wool to Perth as the first sale of the year kicked off.
He said the delivery would take a couple of days to be tested and ready for sale and he was hoping the prices remained strong.
“Prices are very good at the moment,” he said.
Anthony said his family had been farming in north Wandering since the late 1940s when his grandfather returned from World War II.
At first they had a mixed livestock operation with cattle and sheep but when Ian took over running the farm they went solely into sheep and mixed cropping.
More than 50 per cent of their operation is sheep with a mix of crops.
Anthony said they run about 5500 Merino ewes, which were being shorn during the summer season - with the lambs to be shorn at the end of the season in March.
Mr Cristinelli had four shearers at the Turtons’ last week, but sometimes he has six on the shears.
He said in the next few weeks he would have teams working in the Kojonup and Brookton areas.
WA Shearing Industry Association (WASIA) president Darren Spencer, Spencer Shearing Service, Lake Grace, said the shearing industry was in a “strong” position, but there were important safety issues that needed to be addressed and a shortage of workers.
“There is a lot of demand,” Mr Spencer said.
“When the summer season started on January 3, the industry was short of numbers.”
Mr Spencer has been in the industry for more than 30 years and has three teams on the go.
He said the busy seasons were from January to March and then from August to November.
“In the peak periods we struggle,” he said.
“We would like to see it spread more evenly throughout the year.”
He said last year wool growers were shearing every six to eight months “because the faster-growing wools are getting length quicker”.
“It all comes down to breeding and conditions,” he said.
Breeding for meat as well as wool has affected the shearing industry Mr Spencer said, because the “sheep are stronger and bigger”, while the “age demographic of a shearer was getting older”.
The bigger the sheep the harder they are to drag across the floor and they fight back more - which can cause injuries to shearers.
Despite that Mr Spencer said he has a few shearers aged in their sixties who still shear more than 150 sheep a day.
He said there were opportunities for young people to enter the industry with on-the-job training available for those without experience.
“An average shearer who shears 140 sheep per day can expect to earn $2100 per week depending on the organisation they work for,” he said.
“This level of experience can be achieved within two years with dedication.”
Shearers may be paid different amounts depending on the number of sheep they shear, plus various allowances.
Although shearing is seasonal, Mr Spencer said it wasn’t uncommon for shearers to earn $100,000 a year if they “pushed through the numbers” and worked 12 months of the year.
“It’s all about continuity of work,” he said.
Mr Spencer said WASIA had a push on health and safety to improve the longevity of workers.
There was also a push to improve the shearing infrastructure on farms so that shearing teams didn’t have to put up with 100-year-old sheds and out of date equipment.
“There’s plenty of money in wool and sheep at the moment so we hope that wool growers will invest in it for the future,” Mr Spencer said.
“There’s a push for the shed safety assessment program to assess the quality of the sheds and make them safer for workers to reduce injuries - which are costing the industry a fortune - and bring workers compensation down.”
He said shearing was a high risk occupation and if safety standards improved it would be better for everyone.
“Out of sheer frustration at the poor working and infrastructure conditions some shearers are buying their own shearing heads to take out to farms because the new technology is better and safer,” he said.
“This avoids using antiquated equipment.”
The new design results in the shearing heads disengaging when it hits something hard in the wool - preventing injury to the sheep and the shearer.
A wool grower can replace a shearing head for the price of a bale of wool.
“Many farmers are very proactive and improving equipment and shed conditions,” he said.
“We are seeing lunch rooms and toilets provided and importantly the old dangerous shaft drives replaced with the latest technology, such as EVO shearing heads.
“It’s those few that are resisting change that make the workplace unsafe.”
Mr Spencer said WASIA was also concentrating on animal welfare awareness as well as drugs and alcohol in the industry.
“It’s up to the individual contractors to ensure that their crew is educated on the responsibilities and to implement a drug testing policy,” he said.
“It’s also up to farmers to say something when they see drugs in the workplace.”
On Saturday, January 20, WASIA held its mid-year Member Meeting with the focus on workplace health and safety.
Mr Spencer said “the meeting was very well attended which I think demonstrates the level of interest and concern the industry holds for issues of health and safety”.
“We had expert speakers including Phil Tynan, the national toxicologist from OnSite HSE Services and Mr Phil Brunner, Bailiwick Legal, providing valuable advice and information to our members.”
Representatives from West Coast Wool also attended to discuss broker concerns about bale weights and lots sizes and lack of information for wool specifications.
AWI representatives also attended the meeting.