Sunday, December 3, 2023

Rookie women shearers raise funds

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A group of Hawke’s Bay women have organised a shearing competition among themselves to raise awareness about mental health in rural communities.
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The catch is that none of them – an accountant, a dental therapist, an optical technician, a police officer and a rural insurance manager – have ever shorn before.

The Women and Wool Farmstrong Fundraiser is the brainchild of shearing contractor Colin Watson-Paul who worked alongside rural insurance manager Harriet Partridge and other women in the community to organise it. 

Alarmed by reports of rural people’s mental health struggles in Hawke’s Bayand elsewhere, the group decided to do their bit to break down the brick wall and get people talking.

Every Saturday morning since March Watson-Paul and trainer Pura Smith have been teaching the women how to shear with help from top shearers such as Roland Smith. 

The women are building up to competitively shear 20 sheep against one another over four rounds on October 23 as part of the Royal Hawke’s Bay A&P show.
There will also be an auction of donated local products and services. They hope to raise up to $20,000 for their efforts but the main goal is to get farmers to speak out if they are struggling, Partridge says.

“The Hawke’s Bay community is definitely getting behind it. Two weeks before the A&P show we’re also going to screen the Kiwi documentary She Shears in the showgrounds’ woolshedto get the community together. One of the shearers from the movie, Emily Welsh, will speak beforehand. 

“It’ll be exciting to hear her journey as a female shearer,” Partridge said.

She is often on-farm in her role as an rural insurance manager but learning to shear has not been for the faint-hearted, she admits. 

“I can successfully shear a sheep now. It’s a great feeling. I never thought I’d get there.

“There have been some pretty hard weeks where I couldn’t even remember what the next blow was so it feels very rewarding to be able to pick up a handpiece and shear. We’re lucky, we’ve had some fantastic people giving up their time on a Saturday come down and give us some tips.” 

Getting in shape physically has been important. 

“They gave us warm-up exercises to do, especially for the lower back, which you can strain by shearing. We also keep drinking water and stay hydrated.”

Partridge says the group has attracted a lot of media attention because they are all women, who’ve never held a handpiece before, in a male-dominated industry. 

“Our trainers have found it quite different teaching women because we’re very detailed learners and perfectionists. We set a high standard.

“Sure, I’ve got my nails done and my make-up on but I also now know how to shear a sheep and have had a lot of fun learning.”

They chose to donate to nationwide, rural wellbeing initiative Farmstrong because they liked its proactive, top-of-the-cliff approach. She’s a big fan of its live well to farm well philosophy.

“I am very passionate about the rural industry. 

“I spend my working life insuring on-farm risks, which are often perceived only as buildings, quad bikes and stock but what matters most on a farm are the people and their families. Without them there is no business. People are the most valuable asset any farm has but they are often the ones who are forgotten.” 

Dental therapist Kate Boyden got involved because she thinks it’s a brilliant cause. 

“Farming is the backbone of this country. I think every single aspect of this country comes back to farming whether through cropping, meat, dairy, woollen clothing and so on. A lot of the dental work I do is for farming families and those in the wider rural community. To me, it was a no-brainer to support this.”  

Partridge says learning to shear has been a great conversation starter with farmers. 

“It has given us real common ground. When farmers ask me why I’m doing it they start to have really heartfelt conversations with you about dealing with challenges in farming. It also comes back to the why – why farmers are on the land and their passion and respect for the land, stock and people.

“Isolation is a big issue for farmers. 

“They might talk to a couple of people in a day but it might be the truckie picking up their stock or someone going past and all that’s talked about is the weather. 

“So, we need to do more as a community to encourage more in-depth conversation and knock down the barriers so it’s okay to talk about the stress and pressures people are facing. 

“In today’s environment there is a lot of change impacting all of the rural community. 

“But there’s no doubt the farmer across the boundary fence has something on their mind, too, so not every conversation has to be about the rain that hasn’t come yet or come too often.” 

Partridge notes there are great resources and tips for farmers to lock in on the Farmstrong website. 

“I think we can all benefit by making Farmstrong part of our everyday lives. Farming and life are challenging at times, just like I have found my shearing. It’s all about not letting the challenges impact the way we live and feel.”

Her main message to farmers is pick up the phone or organise regular catch-ups with friends and get off farm. 

Some farmers put so much energy into their work they forget about the people sitting at home, the family, the kids, the mates down the road. 

“It’s so important to maintain those relationships by taking time out for yourself, the family and getting off farm and doing something you enjoy.”


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