Closed borders bring concerns of shortage of shearers

Experienced workers can shear 200 sheep a day.
Experienced workers can shear 200 sheep a day. Photo credit: Getty

By Susan Murray of RNZ

New Zealand's traditional shearing routines could be thrown into disarray this summer if overseas shearers can't get into the country.

The New Zealand Shearing Contractors Association said, nationally, at least two million sheep are shorn by international shearers.

The vice president, Carolyn Clegg, said farmers may have to re-design their shearing plans to avoid animal welfare issues, and it could have business implications too.

She said some lambs may not get shorn, or ewes may just get crutched, rather than fully shorn.

Clegg said it is not just a matter of training up more New Zealanders. It is not a "10 minute job" to learn how to shear, and it takes a few years to become experienced enough to shear 200 sheep a day which is what the organisation is basing its shortfall figures on.

She said there is also not year round work once they are trained.

"Even if we did have training, we only need people for a fixed term to cover the peak seasonal time so if we trained say 115 New Zealanders, throughout the year we don't need them.... training just for a three month period is not economically viable for anybody."

Clegg said, even if shearers are permitted to come into New Zealand, their organisation is uncertain how many would take up the option, given the costs around sitting in quarantine not working, and more costly flights.

Clegg also admits the shearing body is mindful that asking for shearers to be allowed into New Zealand does pose a potential health risk.