Wednesday, 11 May 2022 12:55

'Shearing' NZ's knowledge

Written by  Leo Argent
Mongolian herder Budee demonstrates how to shear with scissors at the Shear for A Cause event in West Otago in early February. Mongolian herder Budee demonstrates how to shear with scissors at the Shear for A Cause event in West Otago in early February.

Four Mongolian sheep herders have returned to their homeland with new knowledge and skills, honed in NZ, that have the potential to change their lives and reshape their home country's shearing scene.

The four herders - Budee, Baaska, Ama and Khanda - arrived in New Zealand in early January, having done all their previous shearing using scissors, a time-consuming practice which limits the number of sheep shorn in a day to about 30. All four are now competent with an electronic handpiece and have achieved personal bests of more than 250 sheep in a day - a feat previously only achieved by one other Mongolian.

The visit was part of the 'Share Mongolia' initiative to introduce modern shearing techniques and equipment to Mongolia - an initiative that took flight following a chance encounter in 2019.

Rabobank agribusiness manager Paul Brough came across a group of Mongolian farmers shearing a herd of about 900 using scissors. Brough was told it would take a month to finish the job.

Given how much quicker this could be done with eectronic equipment, Brough decided to discuss with work colleagues and clients establishing a training programme to help develop Mongolian shearers' skills with modern equipment.

Additional help came from Zoe Leetch and Enkhnasan Chuluunbaatar from Golden Bay and Roy Fraser from Colville - who had previously lived in Mongolia. They provided valuable local insights, with the 'Share Mongolia' initiative established in 2020. The initial plan was to run some courses with visiting New Zealand shearers in Mongolia, with the first courses taking place in 2022.

"We figured it might also be of benefit to get some of the Mongolians over this way so they could develop new skills and then take these back home," Brough said.

"With support from the Rabobank Community Fund, we were able to get the four herders over here and tee them up with work, lodgings and shearing gear. It has been phenomenal to see how quickly their shearing skills have progressed over the last few months."

There were some initial challenges, given the language barrier and the significant differences between everyday life in New Zealand and Mongolia. Prior to the tour, none of the group had been on a plane or boat, used modern appliances like a dishwasher or washing machine and only one had ever been in water above his knees.

Despite the initial culture shock, the four adjusted rapidly, with the help of an interpreter and local farmers During the trip, the group spent time working as part of shearing gangs in Piopio, Hawke's Bay and Wairoa.

"The people in NZ are very nice, supportive and helpful. We went from feeling like outsiders to friends within a couple of days," Baaska said.

On the weekends, the four entered shearing competitions, including the recent New Zealand championships in Te Kuiti. They also participated in Shear 4 A Cause in West Otago in early February.

Other first-time experiences included the luge in Rotorua and surfing at Raglan. Khanda said it was hard to choose one best thing about his trip.

"The land here is beautiful; I wish my country had the same green grass. I was proud when I was shore my personal best [and] it was great to see the championship winners shear. They were so fast! We also saw trained dogs working on the farm. They are so cool!"

Brough was amazed at the Mongolians' resourcefulness and how focused they were on learning to shear and saving money.

"Two gave up smoking when they found out the price of our cigarettes compared to the price they pay at home. They didn't complain once and only one missed a day's work - due to a sprained ankle," he explained.

"With their families tucked up in their Gers (traditional Mongolian tent) back home in -40 degree temperatures, it was clear at times they were missing them. But they stuck with it and they're very excited about the opportunities their new skills will open for them and their loved ones once they are back in Mongolia."

The four herders departed NZ in mid-April, with two mobile shearing trailers currently being built for them in Mongolia.

'Share Mongolia' is doing a fundraising drive to raise $8,000 to help buy shearing equipment for these trailers, so the four shearers can have their own travelling businesses.

The Mongolian shearing season is relatively short - about 60 days - but with these new skills and equipment, the four should be able to make about $100 a day, compared to their previous bests of $15. The four are also keen to teach local farmers to use their modern equipment.

The 'Share Mongolia' programme aims to continue supporting Mongolian herders with further activities planned for the coming months. A team is travelling to Mongolia in June to hold eight more shearing courses funded by the United Nations, the NZ Embassy (Beijing) and the Rabobank Community Fund.

Other goals include introducing wool sorting and wool presses and a trial to test electric shearing machines on camels in the Gobi Desert.

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