In the final heat of the Calgary Stampede sheep shearing competition, Australian Mike Pora sheared six sheep in 6.25 minutes.
For the second consecutive year his speed and workmanship earned him the grand champion title at the North American sheep shearing competition held July 9.
Based at Cowra, New South Wales, Pora intended to retire from competition but Stampede officials convinced him to defend his title for one more year. A professional shearer for 15 years, he now trains people how to shear and judges competitions. His skill has taken him around the world, including 18 trips to Calgary.
During the Stampede competition, he had to shear four sheep each time through four rounds and in the final round, he had to shear six.
Considering the work he has done on farms in the past, it was an easy challenge.
“On my best day, I’ve done 567,” he said.
For the last eight years, he has worked for the farmer-run Australian Wool Innovation, an industry organization of producers, farm groups, wool buyers, fashion designers and animal welfare organizations.
Formed in 2001, it collects two percent of each producer’s wool cheque and invests it in research and marketing, as well as education for growers including shearing.
There is a worldwide shortage of qualified sheep shearers, especially during periods of high demand. In Australia many potential young workers migrated to the mining sector.
“Any profession with physical labour is always struggling to get people,” he said.
Shearing sheep is hard work but with proper training it is a good career for 10 to 15 years. Shearers are paid per animal so the most skilled can make good money. In Alberta shearing costs $6-$10 per animal.
“With most of the young guys we train now, we tell them to treat it like a sportsman. An hour of shearing is the same physical toll on the body as running seven kilometers so they are putting their bodies through 56 km a day,” he said.
“You can’t do that for 40 or 50 years. We tell them 10 to 15 years like a sportsman, save up the money while you can and then invest your money wisely and do something easier after that,” he said.
He teaches shearing techniques and how shearers can protect their bodies, but over time, everyone notices a strain in the back, hips or knees.
Sheep are also getting bigger and handling a 300 pound ram can take its toll on a person.
“In Australia, modern sheep have nearly doubled in size in the last 25 years. It is making it harder for the shearers so that is why we have to train them to manipulate them better and position your body,” he said.
There are about 75 million head of sheep in Australia. Most have a Merino base, known for its fine wool. A popular cross is Merino-Border Leicester.
Australia exports about 90 percent of its wool to China for processing.
“I was offered a job there, but I had to give up 10 weeks shearing in Italy to do four weeks in China,” he said. He chose to work in Italy instead.
This year marked the 20th anniversary for the Stampede event with contestants from Canada, United States, Australia and New Zealand. It is a timed competition, but quality of workmanship rates highly with no nicking of sheep and missed wool left behind on the animal permitted. Judges also rate how competitors handle the sheep.
The reserve champion in the professional class was Timothy Wright of Hart, Michigan.
In the intermediate class Tony Hodge of Cranbrook, B.C. was champion and reserve was John Beasley of Youngstown, Alta.