By Steve Hynes
Roger Mifsud has shorn some difficult sheep in his time. But the gun Woorndoo shearer probably never expected an assignment like the one he landed through his work as a part-time trainer with Hamilton-based company Shearer Woolhandler Training. Earlier this year he was sent to Mongolia to train camel herders in more efficient ways to shear their animals.
How this assignment came about is a story in itself, but the upshot was that Mr Mifsud found himself spending a month in the Gobi Desert looking at how the locals go about shearing their herds of camels, which typically number up to about 200. If you didn’t know that camels were shorn you’re probably not alone – but think alpacas. They are from the same family and these two-hump camels produce a similar fleece. “A two-year-old camel produces fleece like cashmere” said Amar Batkhuu, who was at Penshurst this week as interpreter for two Mongolian herders undertaking training in sheep shearing.
What Mr Mifsud found in Mongolia was shearing as he had never seen it before – the herders used ordinary domestic scissors to remove the fleece, taking about one-and-a-half hours per animal. A camel is clearly a lot larger and stronger than any sheep, so shearing one requires a very different technique.
The Mongolian had developed a technique where the animal’s four legs were tied together to force it to the ground. Mr Mifsud drew on his experience shearing alpacas to pass on an easier and safer method, tying front legs together and back legs together and securing the ropes to stretch the animal out while it is shorn. He also introduced the herders to the electric handpiece, powered by a portable generator, reducing shearing time to about 20 minutes. This week, two herders have joined a shearing class at Penshurst to learn the Australian way of shearing sheep. The herders also own sheep, which they also clip with scissors.
Speaking through the interpreter, herder Khash-Erdene Bayanmunkh said shearing a sheep in their traditional way took about 20 minutes. This week he was getting to grips with the techniques used in Australia. The two herders will take their new skills back to their homeland to pass on the others.
This article was published on The Standard, 16 October 2014 edition