Concerns raised over shortage of sheep shearers as overseas gangs unable to travel

Concerns have been raised by NFU North East about a likely shortage of sheep shearers this year.

Sheep shearing gangs from overseas may not be able to travel due to coronavirus restrictions.

Members of the NFU North East Livestock Board voiced its worries surrounding a lack of shearers once the season gets underway, with livestock chairman Will Terry, saying a number of overseas shearers are unable to travel due to coronavirus restrictions.

Mr Terry, who farms at Ravenscar, North Yorkshire said it will be a case of making good use of everyone’s collective shearing skills.

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There have already been moves within the industry to combat the potential problem and Mr Terry said British Wool had joined with other industry bodies to help bring shearers and farmers who need their services together.

“I know that British Wool has joined forces with the National Association of Agricultural Contractors (NAAC) and other industry bodies to get a shearing register up and running,” he said.

“This is a great start – allowing shearers and sheep farmers alike to go online and find each other.

The NAAC started working on the register at the end of March and said it was working with industry organisations to host a matchmaking register online.

The register will bring together shearing contractors, who are potentially missing whole teams of overseas shearers, with “skilled, proficient” UK shearers to try and get the season completed.

The organisation said shearers were encouraged to come forward and register whether they could give a month of their day or even just a day.

Gareth Jones, Head of Producer Marketing at British Wool said: “We have been working with industry partners to provide support to farmers, shearers and contractors for the season ahead.

“The outcome and response from the industry so far has been fantastic, as a large number of shearers, wool handlers and contractors have already listed their details on the Shearing Register.

“It may be a slower and longer season in some areas, but these new measures aim to keep everyone involved in shearing safe, by using the Shearing Checklist.”

Mr Taylor referenced the Shearing Checklist, which he said was aimed at helping all those involved in shearing to stay safe, suggesting practical measures that can e easily implemented and allow shearing to continue.

Jill Hewitt, NAAC Chief Executive said: “Shearing contractors have a dual role in this Covid-19 crisis to keep shearers and customers safe, whilst supporting and providing a vital operation for sheep farmers.

“It is likely to be a more difficult, possibly extended season, and with Covid-19 restrictions in place, we will need more pre-planning on farms but we can do this if we all work together.

She emphasised that risks must not be taken and co-operation, collaboration and patience will be “vital”.

“We are likely to have a shortage of shearers and careful planning will be essential to make certain that, when shearers are on-farm, the process of handling sheep and shearing is efficient and that everyone works together to make the process run as smoothly as possible, keeping everyone protected, whilst maintaining high standards of animal welfare."

Mr Terry said they may also have to think in “broader terms” about how to fill the gap left by the shearing gangs that usually descend from New Zealand.

He said the void could present a “real opportunity” for younger, up-and-coming shearers, or those with limited experience to brush up on their skills and help deliver the national clip.

“British Wool has produced a great series of videos on YouTube that could act as a useful refresher for anyone whose skills are a bit rusty,” he said.

“The chance to help out and learn from experienced shearers on-the-job could also be an opportunity for people looking to develop their skills,” he added.

He said speaking honestly he thought they would need all the support they could get this year.

“I think we will need all the help we can get to meet our sheep health obligations and this will be made all the more challenging by the need to adhere to social distancing practices.”

Mr Jones said the industry needed the support of UK shearers.

“It is important that proficient individuals step forward to help in this national effort to ensure that sheep are shorn to a high standard, within necessary timescales, to avoid potential animal welfare problems,” he said.

For anyone in need of shearing assistance or anyone who thinks they can help, please get in touch with the NFU on e-mail at [email protected]

To find out more about the Shearer’s Register and Shearer’s Guide go to the website