Sunday, March 2, 2008

We must now be the Sheep Shearing Experts of Chelan!




Open Shearing Competition

Following the advice of the folks at the Village Grinder in Masterton (see previous post of What a Small World) we hopped the 8:20 a.m. train to Masterton. This was a very nice train as compared to the commuter trains I saw. The railway station in the north end of Wellington’s downtown is a beautiful building. The ticket seller gave us good service by selling us an excursion rate of $15/person for the roundtrip. I thought it was going to be $14 each way for each of us.

The trip takes about an hour and a half through beautiful valleys and the farming plain of Masterton and Martinbourgh. As we suspected there was a long tunnel under the windy mountain pass we drove over last Sunday. On arrival at the end of the line in Masterton, we could have walked the 20+ minutes to the War Memorial Center, but better judgment was the election of the taxi. We were now ready to experience the Golden Shears Sheep Shearing Championships. We really did not know what to expect and fortunately as it was getting warm in Masterton (up to 80 F.) the venue was in a closed stadium. For $10 each we were admitted for the day.

. The Golden Shears is a three day event with heats and elimination rounds on Thursday. Friday has the finals of Woolpressing, and semi-finals of the Woolhandling and Sheep Shearing. Saturday features the finals in various categories and the Golden Shears open shearing championship. There are a total of 50 competition events and we were present for events 16 to 27. Fortunately we were there in time to watch the Woolpressing competition finals, which concluded on Friday morning. Having never seen anything like this before, we sat right up front and asked a lot of questions of an announcer standing near us. He (known as the screamer) kept referring to us as the “young American couple” as he used our questions to educate the audience (as if they needed it) about the nuances of scoring, tactics, and the history of the competitors.

The show is run similar to a rodeo, except it is at a lightening pace. Because of many different heats within an event, they are started 60 seconds after the scoring is complete on the prior event. In the shearing events there are a lot of volunteers, handling the sheep in the pens, on to the stage, back into the chutes, wool removers, judges moving around and with all the action (a participant will be shearing 6 to 8 sheep in just over 7 minutes) of six shearers in a heat, it is like a three ring circus. There were two or three announcers walking around with hand held microphones. The announcers share the call, and our friend the screamer broadcast like a shearing event was a horse race. It all really hypes the crowd and builds excitement for the finish.

The Woolhandling event is a competition of mostly very skilled women who receive the wool from the shearers, separate the tufts from the good wool or pelt, shake out huge piles of wool and clean the area before the timed finish. They are also judged on the quality of their separation of the wool. It looks like back breaking sweaty work. The Woolpressing event is one where the competitors take huge piles of wool, stuff them into two huge crates, press one with the other, bail it up, and then remove the wrapped bail. It is then weighed and the winner is declared by a combination of weight and time. It seems like one family (very large folks) has a lock on the event as they win repeatedly from year to year.

As in all sporting events the competition is made more complicated with many classes, such as YFC (Young Farm Club), novice, junior, intermediate, senior and open classes. To fit into a certain class the shearers must qualify with having reached certain shearing speed in their Sheep Sheds. The standards for shearing are having recorded a shed tally of up to 110 sheep in a 9 hour day, 210 sheep for a junior, 310 sheep for an intermediate, 410 sheep for a senior, and for the open class. Arrrgh, my back! Now you can see how we are now the Chelan experts on this sport. It was great fun. Check out:

Quirky Living Note: Some of you may know that I have a bit of a reputation for close encounters with the deer population. Some have dubbed me the “deerslayer.” But in New Zealand, they have anticipated my visit by raising deer domestically. As we flew by the fields on the train we observed numerous pastures just chock full of domesticated grazing deer. I am going to start looking for the venison on the restaurant menus.

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