Farmers issue animal welfare warning as shearer shortage continues

Farmers are warning time is running out with summer fast approaching and a shortage of shearers in the country.

If sheep can't be shorn, they face an increased risk of suffering in the warm heat, says Wairarapa farmer and Federated Farmers meat and wool chair William Beetham.

Federated Farmers, as well the Shearing Contractors Association, are calling on the Government to allow more experienced shearers into the country.

"Shearing largely plays an animal welfare role for the common strong wool breeds.  A capable shearing workforce is needed to avoid issues such as fly strike and animals suffering in the summer heat," said Beetham.

"It is important to all New Zealanders the Government considers animal welfare, as well as human welfare, in its border control decision-making. Farmers need this shearing capacity to ensure the welfare of their animals."

Beetham said New Zealand didn't have enough local workers needed to cover the peak summer shearing season, which could lead to animals suffering.

All necessary staff overseas had been identified and were "ready to go", Beetham said, "they just need the green light from the Government".

However, even if they are approved for entry there are concerns over whether there is enough capacity for them in managed isolation facilities.

Last week Rural Contractors New Zealand said despite being given permission in September to bring in 200 skilled machinery operators, those workers might not be able to get spots in the managed isolation facilities until February - which would be too late for the harvest season.

The New Zealand Shearing Contractors Association had initially applied for 200 shearers to be allowed into the country but had since scaled that back to 60. The available workers would be able to shear 90,000 to 100,000 sheep a week, but that would still be short of what was required during the peak season, they said.

Beetham said Federated Farmers had been reminding the Government since late winter about the "increasing urgency" for the need for shearers in summer.