Monday, March 4, 2024

A recap after shearing my way around the world

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Two-time world champion speed-shearer Jack Fagan shares his reflections after six months of wielding the shears internationally.
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By Jack Fagan, two-time world champion speed-shearer

With six months of travelling at an end I thought you would find it interesting to read about my rural experiences around the world.

Jetting off in May, the sense of adventure begins again as the European shearing season gets underway.

Shearing on a small wooden board in a 200-year-old barn, I smell hot coffee and freshly baked croissants, meaning it’s smoko time for the French. Most of them had only a smoke for breakfast so eating some pastry is a good way to keep the worms at bay.

The French farmers are always interested in what new and innovative ideas the Kiwi farmer has to offer.

When I mention that over 100,000 hectares have been planted in a non-native, eco toxic species of tree that will never be harvested, they say “You must be crazy!”

By the end of this century I think we will have come full circle and reverted these carbon forests into pasture or native plants. That’s if mass wildfires haven’t already wiped out the pine tree.

We are privileged in New Zealand to be free from life-threatening predators. In France, it has been 30 years since the wolf returned. 

With an estimated population of 1100, wolves are now killing farm animals everywhere. There is no compensation or aid available to the farmers. If you are caught killing a wolf you lose all of your subsidies and face a €35,000 ($60,000) fine and up to five years in prison. 

This is causing major divide between the rural and urban people.

It will take the death of a human being before people will talk about controlling the wolf population again. 

Fast-forward into June, and the Golden Shears World Shearing and Woolhandling Championships are on in Edinburgh.

We are privileged to witness the rise of a new shearing world champion in Scotland, though it cuts a blow to the Kiwi heart seeing our machine shearers knocked out in the semi finals.

Welshman Gwion Lloyd Evans destroys the field in an all-northern hemisphere world final, cementing his place in shearing history.

Gwion puts on performance of utter dominance. The hunger of the Welsh dragon fuelled by the roaring Welsh supporters pushes their team into another dimension.

Competing at the Welsh events through July is truly moving. The entire Welsh crowd will belt out their anthem Land of Our Fathers, making the hairs on your neck stand up and your heart thump with adrenaline as one of their world-class shearing finals gets underway.

It’s hard work for the humble Kiwi to take down the almighty dragon.

Cumbrian farmers in the mountains of northern England are finally getting a return on their Herdwick wool. This area is a Unesco World Heritage site and these sheep are known as the guardian of the fells. 

The sheep provide a hardy black and grey fibre, and a local company is now purchasing the clip direct from farmers, paying £1 ($2) per kilo. It’s scouring and producing products locally, a huge boost to the local economy. 

We should be pushing for more school uniforms to be made from locally grown wool. A back-to-the-future idea during a cost-of-living crisis is exactly what we need.

My grandparents managed to raise six children post World War II with no power, Netflix or WiFi, on a ballot block in the hills of the King Country.

Grandma Fagan, who recently marked her 98th birthday, used to make all her own butter and bread, heading to town only once every fortnight for supplies because fuel was too expensive. Hard times breed hard people and we should look at the excess we can cut out of our lives before exclaiming how hard it is.

Heading to Central Otago in August to shear for Peter and Elsie Lyon is a treat. We work in the most beautiful area on earth among proud farmers who showcase their fine wool on the world stage.

The Merino sheep live in the toughest mountain conditions, from -10°C to 30°C. These animals have the superpower to provide us with meat and the most durable fibre. 

Most high country stations will be carbon positive due to their low stocking rate and huge area of land. Why is this not being talked about in mainstream media?

Darting to Perth in October, we catch the end of the Australian season. We are welcomed by a plague of flies that burrow in your ears, up your nose as if to say “Welcome to Aussie, mate.”

Mutton is worth nearly nothing in Western Australia this season due to the live export being stopped.

A lot of farmers are talking about not putting the ram out this year.

Some are even selling up everything.

With feed costs so high and no market for the meat, wool is the only product on the farm keeping these farmers afloat to earn their daily bread. 

Finally, settling back into the King Country for main shear. It is nice to return to the lush green grass and fresh mince pies from the Te Kuiti bakery.

Sure, we have one of the hardest jobs on earth, but working in a great team and enjoying their company over a cold beer is bloody satisfying.

One thing we all forget as farmers is we actually don’t own the land, we are simply caretakers until the next generation comes along.

It’s amazing how much time we have to think while shearing. This was written while sweating buckets, shearing around the back blocks of the world.

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