Sami DeMooy was offered a job as a sheep shearer in Australia two years ago during the Calgary Stampede.
She had limited experience but was willing to learn and work hard.
The job has taken her across that continent, where she learned how to shear from Calgary Stampede champion Mike Pora of Australian Wool Innovation. She has since become a wool handler.
“It is a close knit community,” said the 27-year-old from Saanichton, B.C.
“Once you make friends in the shearing industry, those friends continue on. It is like a big family.”
She entered the Stampede competition for the first time this year in the intermediate class. She finished fourth, and her father, Pieter DeMooy, was third in the professional class.
He runs a florist business on the side but has shorn thousands of sheep a year for the last 40 years. He learned to shear in Australia and New Zealand.
Her father warned her it would be hard work when she decided to go to Australia.
“It is dirty, it’s hot and it is very hard work, but the people are amazing,” she said.“You see a side of the industry that a lot of people never do. There is work all over the world. Once you are in it you can go anywhere.”
Next year she is going to New Zealand as a member of Team Canada to work with two shearers. She will be the wool handler for the World Shearing and Wool Handling Championships from Feb. 9 -11.
“I am a little nervous because the girls who are going in have had years and years of experience, and I have worked with them. They make wool handling so easy.”
A wool handler collects fleece straight from the shearing floor. She picks off debris such as burrs and manure, separates the poor quality part of the fleece and rates the wool for fineness, crimp, colour, strength, micron count and staple length.
The wool is sent to an auction house and may go anywhere.
For example, super fine wool may be shipped to Italy for suiting fabric, while coarser wool may be used for carpet or felt.
“The wool may go for Italian suits that I would never be able to afford, but I’ve handled it,” DeMooy said.
Merino is the main wool breed in Australia.
“In Australia, the sheep are bred for a wool purpose, so the wool is very important,” she said.
Black wool is not desirable in Australia, while coloured fleeces in Canada are often sought after be-cause people want natural colours for spinning and weaving.
DeMooy’s mother is a spinner, so she understands the need to shear the wool with as few flaws as possible. Her mother was a leader in the Saanich lamb 4-H club, which branched off to do wool projects that allowed the members to handle raw fleeces, wash and card them and then spin, weave or knit them for their achievement days.
Getting a work visa in Australia has not been a problem for her because she has duel citizenship from New Zealand and Canada. Her father worked in New Zealand for a time and her birth mother was a Maori.
She eventually returned with her father to Vancouver Island.
She has a Canadian sister, Hilary, and another Maori sister, Jackie, as well as numerous relatives in New Zealand that she plans to meet when she returns to Australia later this summer.