Shearing school for Harvey Ag students

21 Nov, 2015 01:00 AM

"DUCKS on the pond" is a call no longer heard in shearing sheds and last week's shearing school at Rylington Park, near Boyup Brook, demonstrated why.

Eight of the 11 students from Years 10, 11 and 12 at WA College of Agriculture, Harvey, attending the shearing school were girls.

Only three were boys - ducks rule the pond.

Fully-funded by Australian Wool Innovation (AWI) as part of $2.8 million it has spent annually in recent years on shearing, shedhand and wool handling training, Rylington Park's five-day shearing school is unique in WA.

The introductory course gives people who may not have had previous shearing, shed handing or wool handling experience, but who think they might be interested, a chance to give it a try.

Eight schools a year are run at Rylington Park by accredited shearing and wool handling trainers.

They are former shearer, now Boyup Brook woolgrower and Rylington Park management committee member Steve Thompson, Cowaramup shearer Paul Hick and wool handling trainer Nola Edmonds, Katanning.

College residential manager Bernie Murnane, who accompanied the students aged between 15 and 18 on their stay at Rylington Park last week, was also a former shearer and took a turn or two on the boards to demonstrate he had not forgotten old skills.

For the students, shearing school was an elective competency, counting towards their Certificate II in Agriculture.

To achieve competency, they had to shear five sheep an hour - equivalent to the trainee shearer rate of 40 a day - and then repeat the performance a second time before the end of the school.

They also learned basic handpiece maintenance and took turns drafting sheep into pens, tossing fleeces onto the table, skirting the fleece, sweeping up pieces, pressing wool into bales, stencilling and moving bales around the shed.

Last week's course was brought forward a day so students could get back to college on Thursday night, scrub off the smell of sheep and front up Friday morning for an important assembly.

Two Year 12 shearing school girls, Kelly Manning, 18, Mardella and Hannah Barton, 17, Keysbrook, were graduating from the college on Friday.

"Rylington Park is the only place outside of an ag college where a city person who has not had anything much to do with sheep before, can come and give shearing a go to see whether they might want to go on and look at making a career out of it," Mr Thompson said.

"Some of the kids here haven't had much to do with sheep before, there's only four that have actually shorn a full sheep before, and some have had a try at it.

"Ruby, (Ruby King, 15, Perth Hills) for example hasn't had much to do with sheep at all, she's a city girl and a left hander, but she's been shearing alright right-handed.

"The thing is, they all know each other and get along because they board together at college, so those that can do it pair up and help those that don't have much experience.

"We've got a couple in this lot that could go on to be good professional shearers if they wanted to.

"All of them know enough now that they could get a job as a rouseabout in a shed without a problem, they know what to do."

Mr Thompson said his own sons, Matthew, 20, and Joseph, 18, had attended Harvey ag college and been to shearing school at Rylington Park, with Matthew going on to do some shearing.

"We teach them the right way of doing things and they have to convince us that they understand why they are doing it in a particular way," he said.

"Occupational health and safety is a big thing these days.

"They have to have a style that's compatible with being able to work all day without wearing out and with the type of sheep they've got to shear.

"We teach them the correct way to position the sheep and themselves, to take little steps so they don't have to twist as much - that's important when you are shearing big sheep, and the ewes here would all run to 70 kilograms.

"It's ideal for training here too, there's a raised board and plenty of room.

"We've got six shearing plants and they're all state-of-the-art with lock-up so they stop automatically if there's a problem.

"Even if they don't go any further with it as a profession, most of these kids come off a farm and they'll go back on-farm taking what they've learned here with them and knowing what standards are required.

"They can jump in and lend a hand in the shearing shed if they need to, knowing they can do the job properly and safely.

"If they see a contractor doing something they don't agree with, well they know enough to be able to talk to them about it.

"That's why AWI puts the money into training, it's all about educating as many people as possible working in the industry so there's better outcomes all round."

AWI maintains that its focus on training, mentoring and awareness is paying dividends for the wool industry, with every $1 spent in this area generating a benefit equivalent to $2.60.

In its annual report it states that through its programs 1500 shearers and 1000 wool handlers a year receive in-shed training.

It also supports 130 competitions at a State and federal level to hone skills.

Of those who do a course, 79 per cent improve the quality of their shearing and 60pc improve productivity by an average of 10 sheep a day, AWI states.

Anyone wanting to know more about beginners' shearing schools at Rylington Park can phone 9765 3012.

p Ducks on the pond was traditionally the coded call to alert shearers to moderate their profanity when a woman came into the shearing shed or within earshot.

Mal Gill

Mal Gill

is wool and dairy writer for Farm Weekly


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