Thriving wool market entices city dwellers to the shearing shed
Flipping burgers, making coffees and clocking up hours in retail are typical ways university students earn money while studying.
But medical science student Sam Furler has seen what he thinks is a better work opportunity — in a shearing shed.
“Wool prices are good right about now,” he said.
“And the good thing about it is the season lines up well with university.
“University goes until about November and that’s just when shearing season’s at its most hectic.”
The 22 year-old from Adelaide was one of 16 young people to complete a recent training course in shearing run by TAFE SA at Furner, in South Australia’s south-east.
With record wool prices seen last week – and more producers across the country returning to wool-growing – the thriving market had encouraged many to learn how to shear professionally.
Skill keeps doors open
Describing himself as a “city boy at heart”, Mr Furler grew up helping with the yearly shearing at his grandparents’ farm in regional SA.
As well as helping him pay his way through a medical degree, he hoped learning to shear professionally could prepare him to co-manage the farm when it was eventually passed down to his parents.
“It keeps some of the doors open,” he said.
“[I] just want the basic skills so I can go away to the grandparents’ farm, practise on our sheep, maybe call up the contractor … and hopefully get a bit of a foot in the door in the industry so I can have a bit of a shearing career.”
Mr Furler said while shearing wasn’t a common part-time job choice among his medical science cohort, it provided a welcome break from hitting the books.
“I like the physical part of it,” he said.
“It’s very satisfying at the end of the day to just know you’ve done a good day’s work.”
Struggling to find city work
Jack Kirby, also from Adelaide, was drawn to shearing after he struggled to find a job in the city.
“There’s not really a lot of work in Adelaide so I thought I’d give it a go,” he said.
“I’ve never been on a farm before, never seen a sheep. It’s good fun.
“It’s a lot of hard work — not mentally hard but physically hard, and that’s what I like.”
The 18 year-old does not expect to be shearing long-term but wanted to make the most of the opportunity while the industry was strong.
“I want to do it for a little bit, like a few years or something, and then I’ve always wanted to join the army as infantry,” he said.
“I just thought I’d give something else a go, work in another field and then hopefully later I can get into the army.”
New blood welcome
TAFE SA shearing instructor David Brooker said while the majority of students enrolling in the course were from farming backgrounds, he was seeing up to 20 per cent coming from the city.
“In this group some of them hadn’t been in the shed, some of them hadn’t picked up a hand-piece, never thrown a fleece,” he said.
“Day five, all of the students have shorn a whole sheep, unassisted, in under 10 minutes so it’s quite an achievement for them.”
He said it was often the high hourly pay rates and the casual nature of the work that attracted young people to the industry.
“Once you learn how to wool handle, shear, pen-up and press you can stop and start whenever you like, as long as you let your employer know.”
“Your entry level at wool-handling is $30 an hour, so nothing to be sneezed at.”
But Mr Brooker said while the industry was enjoying a renaissance, the work itself was still tough.
“No one’s ever said the shearing industry’s easy,” he said.
“You’ve got to be able to mentally and physically handle the endurance but everyone in the industry is keen for young ones to come in.
“They come out here and they smell the roses — or smell the lanolin — and we really hope they stick around.”