THERE are four key elements to sheep shearing success – health, fitness, nutrition and equipment, according to Heiniger’s research and development manager, Selwyn Williams, ahead of this summer’s shearing season. 

Selwyn highlighted the importance of getting all four factors right at a series of shearing workshops across the country alongside Matt Smith, reigning world nine-hour strong wool ewe champion.

“A safe and efficient shearing technique is dependent on being physically and mentally prepared as well as choosing the right equipment and ensuring it is properly serviced,” said Mr Williams. “Shearing is physically demanding so moderate exercise such as weight training to work the arms, legs and thighs is needed to achieve a good level of strength, while aerobic work will improve heart and lung function. Strengthening the abdominal muscles to provide good core stability is also essential as this will relieve pressure on the lower back and reduce the risk of injury.”

It is estimated that a shearer will burn more than 5000 calories per day, therefore a protein and carbohydrate-rich diet such as fish, red meat and eggs as well as potatoes, pasta and rice, will not only provide plenty energy but will also stabilise blood sugar levels and maintain stamina while shearing. It is also important that plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables are consumed to ensure sufficient vitamins and minerals are taken in, and shearers should try to avoid too many fried or fatty foods and limit their intake of sugary, caffeinated or alcoholic drinks. 

With regards to equipment, it’s not just the hand pieces, combs of cutters that are important and Selwyn recommends shearers start by focusing on what they’re wearing.

“Shearing specific clothing will not only ensure the shearer remains comfortable, but will also assist with flexibility and grip. Shearing singlets for example are longer than standard vests to accommodate for continuous bending, while leather moccasins make it easy to move across the shearing shed floor,” he pointed out, before moving on to discuss hardware where picking the right equipment it essential, regardless of experience.

“In terms of hand pieces, combs and cutters, price and performance go hand in hand. Buying on price alone can be a false economy as low grade materials and sub-standard manufacturing methods can lead to problems in terms of shearing quality while equipment reliability can compromise the safety of the shearer and sheep.”

There are many brands and types of machine and hand piece to choose from, as well as combs and cutters, but these should boil down to selecting the right model for the shearer’s performance and comfort, as well as longevity and maintenance requirements. The type of wool being cut and the different breed or breeds of sheep being handled should also be taken into consideration when selecting combs and cutters. 

When it comes to shearing machines, Selwyn advocates the need for a safe machine over everything else. “Machines such as the Heiniger Evo shearing plant are simple to set up and extremely reliable. But most importantly, the Evo is safe to use thanks to two important safety features: the machine, including down tube, is fully electrically insulated, and, perhaps more crucially, it includes an auto-stop function to prevent injury in the event of a hand piece locking up.”

For those handling large numbers of sheep, a sharpening grinder can prove beneficial for maintaining comb and cutter performance, and offers a more cost and time-effective way of keeping equipment up to standard than sending away to be sharpened by a third part. 

Regarding hand piece maintenance, Selwyn’s advice is oil, oil and more oil. “Put simply, applying a little and often is the best practice,” he said. “A hand piece operates at between 3000 to 3500 rpm, over an eight-hour period this equates to approximately 1,680,000 strokes. Applying a few drops of oil every 15 minutes will help reduce mechanical friction, making the shearing process easier, and extending the machine’s lifetime.”