Sheep shearers in short supply

The Manitoba Sheep Association is calling on the province to help address a looming shortage of top-notch sheep shearers.

“A professional sheep shearer can do 200 head a day,” said Lucien Lesage, president of the provincial association.

“I don’t want to insult the ones here, but a lot of them do only 50 to 60 a day. For bigger producers that’s really not viable. You don’t want to spend 30 days doing a 2,000-head flock.”

Lesage said that there are only two top-notch shearers capable of handling high volumes, but they live in Saskatchewan and are approaching their 60s.

The appeal to the province is still in its initial stages, but Lesage said that ideally, a professional shearer would be hired to show students the tricks of the trade in a 20-day program, possibly in a format similar to existing farrier courses offered at technical colleges.

The training should be in depth, with instruction in how to handle, evaluate, and bag fleece, as well as stitching up and treating cuts to the animals’ hides.

However, if the training was offered with permanent, annual intakes, there would be a risk of churning out more shearers than needed, he added.

“It’s got to be a little smaller scale than the plumbing or electrician apprenticeship program,” said Lesage.

With the Manitoba sheep flock increasing, top shearers could earn $500 to $600 per day at $3 per head for shearing larger flocks, or $5/head for smaller operations with less volume.

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