MORE farmers' sons and hobby farmers are learning to shear at Australian Wool Innovation (AWI) funded schools to help overcome the shearer shortage caused by COVID-19 border closures.
AWI shearer trainer at Rylington Park, Mayanup, Cowaramup shearer Paul 'Pope' Hick said last week he had noticed a change in the mix of people attending the free shearing and wool handling schools.
"We find with Rylington Park (schools), they (attendees) mostly come here from the industry - shed hands and pressers who want to upskill," Mr Hick said.
"There's been a bit of a change with cockies' sons coming along to learn how to shear properly.
"That's a good thing, because when you rock up to their place to shear and the sheep have got dags you can say to them 'I know you can use a handpiece, so what have you been doing?'
"Hobby farmers are coming along to learn as well, because they can't get anyone to shear their 50 or 100 sheep.
"We had a young girl here at one of our schools who bought 600 Dohne ewes and now she's shearing them herself.
"Obviously there has to be a bit more clarity with COVID and what's going on, but I wouldn't imagine there's going to be an influx of New Zealand shearers turning up anytime soon (in Western Australia), because they are in the same situation we are.
"So I've noticed more young people being put on (by shearing contractors), which is a good sign for the future of the industry.
"But to encourage young people to stay in the industry you need to have decent facilities.
"Some people do need to have a look at their facilities if they intend to stay in sheep.
"I don't think some of the older farmers realise insurance companies won't cover them if their facilities aren't up to scratch."
Mr Hick, Albany shearing instructor Mark Stanton and wool handling trainer Nola Edmonds from MJ Shearing, Katanning, had 12 learners last week in the third of eight five-day, live-in, fully-catered and fully-funded AWI shearing and wool handling schools at Rylington Park this financial year.
They had some unexpected assistance on Thursday last week from two former graduates of Rylington Park schools who are established shearers - James Read and Tristan White, who called in to lend a hand.
Mr Read attended two novice schools at Rylington Park while he was a WA College of Agriculture Denmark, student in 2015 and later returned for an advanced school.
Now working for shearing contractors, the Boyle family at Tambellup, he won the intermediate category shearing competition at this year's Perth Royal Show.
Mr White, who completed a Rylington Park shearing school in 2018 when he was a WA College of Agriculture Harvey, student, is working for Floyde Neil, Shear Pride, Boyup Brook and freelancing for others.
He recently shore his first 300 sheep in a day.
Rylington Park managers Erlanda and Marc Deas, who mate about 2600 Merino ewes, provided 450 sheep for the novice and learner shearers to practice on at the school.
Ms Deas has been organising the AWI schools for more than 10 years.
She said the next school this year, from December 6-10, was at this stage booked out, but anyone interested should contact her and leave their details in case someone drops out.
Schools next year, on January 17-21, February 14-18, February 28-March 4 and April 4-8, have some vacanies.
Ms Deas said the January school was ideal for ag college students who wanted to improve their skills, as it would not interfere with other studies.
She said learner shearers and wool handlers who graduated from the AWI-accredited course and go on to find employment in the industry, may be eligible to gain an AWI learners' kit.
The learner shearer's kit, valued at more than $2000, includes a Heiniger handpiece, combs, cutters, brushes and a pendulum to aid sharpening.
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