Thursday, July 7, 2022

Building a life in the wool shed

A legacy of shearing excellence lies in Luke Mullins’ past and his down-to-earth personality will provide a valuable interface between trainee shearers and the industry in coming years, with his appointment as WOMOlife manager. He spoke to Richard Rennie about what excites him about the shearing industry today.

Prior to his appointment as national manager, Mullins had spent plenty of time at the sharp end of shearing, both as a career shearer and more recently training new recruits to the industry.

He would be the first to admit that prior to WOMOlife’s foundation the wool industry had done a poor job trying to train and keep shearers, with many being drawn to the big dollars they could earn across the Tasman. 

During the pandemic the Australians upped the ante on the traditional NZ-Australian shearer flow, offering up to A$4.50 a sheep in some districts. 

As covid eases and the normal ebb and flow of shearers around the world returns, Mullins says the formation of WOMOlife is going a long way towards rectifying some of the mistakes made by previous training providers in the sector.

“We have basically taken a lot of what they have done wrong and have cultivated a good model today.” 

That model takes a very holistic view of a shearer and their career, accounting as much for how they live their lives as for how they conduct the practice of shearing itself.

“Living long and well is a big mantra for us and that includes longevity in their career. If you still want to be shearing at 60, all power to you.” 

To make that a reality, WOMOlife includes a big focus on health, wellbeing and nutrition in its training information. 

It is not unusual now to find shearers regularly practicing yoga and undergoing dynamic stretching prior to a day’s work. 

WOMOlife has adopted the seven-point movement programme used by the NFL and the NBA to assess flexibility and strength, helping identify where individuals’ weaknesses lie and how to build strength in where needed.

“And it is a case that as we get older, we need to spend more time on recovering well.” 

That need has only increased as the average weight of ewes has lifted to well over 70kg with the focus on more meat muscle in breeding.

Mullins is welcoming a new generation of shearers who are increasingly viewing themselves as well paid athletes, keen to take on world records at breathtakingly young ages, empowered with better technique, fitness, and fuel than their predecessors often were.

He cites the likes of 19-year-old Reuben Alabaster, one of two shearers to attempt a new eight-hour strong wool lamb shearing record later this year at Te Pa Station, with that outcome being targeted two days later by Jack Fagan. 

He is challenging a record held for a decade by Irish shearer Ivan Scott.

Mullins has also welcomed the greater focus on teaching shearing trainees greater financial literacy. 

In a career where they can make hundreds of dollars a day, the potential to burn those dollars is always there, something he can testify to.

“I was 28, shearing and enjoying the good money, but spending it too. It was not until my partner, now wife, got pregnant that I really realised I needed to become more serious about saving. 

“We need to teach more understanding around the impact of interest, how it can work against you and for you, how  a credit card is something you can have, but need to be careful with.” 

“Living long and well is a big mantra for us, and that includes longevity in their career. If you still want to be shearing at 60, all power to you.”

Luke Mullins

He laments a general lack of financial literacy among a generation now facing multiple opportunities to be exploited by “buy now, pay later” schemes.

As much as a manager, Mullins’ close contact with contractors, trainers and trainees means he will also have a great opportunity to give back to the sector as a mentor, something he has benefited from over the years. 

His aunt is renown and respected shearing doyen Mavis Mullins.

“I grew up around shearing, with my Dad having a contracting gang in Taihape. I was lucky to have some really good mentors over the years who taught me and who I still have a lot to do with.” 

Barton Hadfield gets special mention as a man who he continues to bounce ideas off today.

With WOMOlife’s groundbreaking series of well filmed training videos, mixed with mentoring and practical  experience, Mullins is confident shearing’s future is in good hands. 

He also welcomes the increased presence of women in the profession, with estimates of about 25% female shearers practicing today, encouraged by the world record setting efforts of the likes of Megan Whitehead.

Alister Shennan, WOMOlife’s co-founder and managing director said he was delighted to have Luke on board.

 “It’s the perfect time. We now have an expert, professional training team with excellent support behind the scenes.

“There’s so much more we can offer in taking industry training forward and we now have someone who is immersed in the industry, can talk to anyone, and can see the opportunities ahead.”

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