Kiwi shearers have helped advance the shearing skills Mongolian herders during a five-week visit by a New Zealand touring party that ran training courses across the east Asian country.
The trip was undertaken as part of the Share Mongolia programme, an initiative set up in 2020 to introduce modern shearing techniques and equipment into Mongolia.
The programme saw shearing training courses in Mongolia trialled last year while four Mongolian herders also recently spent three months in NZ, where they worked as part of shearing gangs across the country.
Rabobank agribusiness manager Paul Brough said the 12-strong touring party was made up of a mix of Rabobank staff and farmers from across NZ.
“The group included members from the Waikato, King Country, Taranaki, Marlborough and South Canterbury regions, with all attendees having significant shearing experience,” he said.
“About half of us attended the inaugural training [in Mongolia] last year, with the other half making their first trip.”
The shearing training took place between June 10 and July 15 and was funded by the United Nations, the NZ embassy in Beijing and the Rabobank Community Fund.
To reach as many herders and as many regions as possible, the team split up into three groups to deliver the training, finishing seven five-day training courses with 112 Mongolian herders across seven provinces, Brough said.
“The majority of the herders taking part in the courses had little or no experience with machine shears, having previously done their shearing with scissors.
“But they picked up the skills using the electronic handpiece really well, and by the end of the course, most were able to shear a sheep in around five minutes, which was a lot quicker than the 25 minutes they were taking at the start.”
Brough said course participants in each area have been left with five shearing machines and a grinder so they can put their new skills into practice. The equipment is usually left with a local co-op to share among the participants as they see fit.
“It’s a start, but it’s not really enough equipment for everyone, and they’re already screaming out for more of these as they all want to use them at the same time.
“As a result, we’re aiming to try and raise more funding so we can supply more equipment to them in the months ahead.”
While in Mongolia, Brough said, the touring party lived with local herders, sleeping in gers (small tent-like dwellings) and enjoying local food.
The Mongolian wool industry holds huge potential with a recent Unido (United Nations Industrial Development Organisation) report finding that up to 4000 jobs could be created in Mongolia by machine shearing, and that 9000t of Mongolian wool is wasted each year due to limited resources and capacity.
“Nearly 45% of the 67 million livestock in Mongolia are sheep, estimated to be around 30 million head, with the ability to produce about 30,000-35,000t of wool annually,” Brough said.
“There are more sheep in Mongolia than any other animal, which means there is huge scope for improving economic income by sharing the knowledge and expertise of New Zealand farmers with Mongolian herders.
“As a result, there are a lot of different government agencies in Mongolia trying to promote wool,” he said.
The Share Mongolia Programme is now attracting the interest of overseas companies keen to source Mongolian wool.
“We’ve had a few international carpet manufacturers taking an interest. And we’ve also had a pharmaceutical group from Europe get in touch and ask us to help source Mongolian wool.”
There is strong demand for future training courses and planning is already underway for courses in 2024. These might be expanded to cover other topics, including wool handling, pressing and other animal health practices, such as sheep dipping.
“A lot of the herders who attended the courses are also very keen to come to New Zealand for a stint working here,” he said.
“At least three of the herders that came out earlier this year have said they’d like to return and, if we can raise the funding, it’s possible we could have up to 10 herders heading over this way early next year.”