|ASI Advanced Sheep Shearing Training in Mich.
(May 1, 2008) The sheep farm of Gordon and Bonnie Oswalt of Vicksburg, Mich., was the site of the second American Sheep Industry Association (ASI) advanced sheep shearer training program held in March 2008. More than 900 ewes were sheared by the school participants during the four-day program providing substantial one-on-one instruction on shearing techniques, equipment care and maintenance, wool handling and quality improvement. The program also contained a session and discussion on how to create and maintain a career with sheep shearing as a profession.
Internationally certified shearing instructor, Doug Rathke, was the shearing instructor for the program with the assistance of ASI wool quality consultant, Bob Padula.
Each of the four participants had previously attended beginning sheep shearing schools and have been shearing sheep commercially for others. The training session was designed to help them improve their efficiency of shearing and also to instruct them on proper care and maintenance of equipment. All of the shearers came into the school being able to shear at least 80 sheep per day. However, by the end of the program, they were able to shear at least 20 to 40 more sheep per day and with more efficiency as a result of attending the school.
“Not only are they able to shear more sheep per day, but due to changes in positioning and technique, they were able to shear with less effort and greatly improved the quality of the fleece as it came off the animal,” comments Padula. “It is amazing to see the improvement these shearers can make by having the ability to shear with the help of the instructor for a few days.”
“I am very pleased with the outcome of this school,” relays Jim Bristol, chairman of the American Wool Council. “These young men will definitely make a substantial contribution to harvesting of wool in the United States for years to come. It is exciting to see young people in their early 20’s who want to pursue shearing as a profession and with this type of program, we are able to help achieve that goal.”
All of the participants were appreciative of the ability to spend four days shearing under the supervision of the instructor.
“It just doesn’t work to try to teach them everything in one day,” says Rathke. “No one can remember all the details and advice if you give it to them all at once. We focus on fixing the problem areas one at a time during these schools, and after they have mastered one area, we focus on improvement in the next area. Time and repetition are what is needed.”
Because these students are also experienced shearers, it takes time to change some of the “bad habits” they have fallen into.
“They get comfortable doing things a certain way, and when you show them a new technique that is more efficient and easier, it takes a while to forget your old ways,” Rathke comments.
The shearing set-up was also an ideal location to hold such a school. The raised board, four-stand shearing set-up is not typical of most shearing set-ups in Michigan or many other places in the United States.
“Because these students are already commercial shearers, they know what it is like to shear in a variety of set-ups. This allowed them to see how shearing and proper handling of wool can be done – even in the Mid-west,” Bristol adds. “It is not a complete shearing education program when little emphasis is placed on wool quality and the only focus is on shearing and speed.”