Sheep were first introduced to New Zealand in the 1770's but it took a few years to get things moving and it wasn't until the early 1800's that it turned into an industry. With the early sheep farms came the early sheep shearers. Shearing was done initially by the farm owners and workers using shearing blades (think big scissors) outside in the shade of a conveniently placed tree ideally. As the farms got bigger sheds were built to keep the weather off the workers and animals. Shearing like many other rural activities would bring people together and could be very festive when the job was done.
Near the end of the 1800's machines were developed to cut more wool off the sheep and compete with the blades as the preferred method of shearing. Early machines were hand-powered, then steam and petrol engines came along. Most machines are powered by electricity today.
Sheep shearing has been around for a few thousand years and over that time, many different methods to remove wool have been tried and tested. Ivan and Godfrey Bowen are two New Zealand brothers who are credited with developing the modern shearing pattern most people use today. The Bowen pattern was developed in the 1950's to put as little stress on the animal and shearer as possible. Like any profession, this pattern is constantly being refined and improved by modern-day shearers.
Shearing demonstrations and competitions began with the first A&P shows in New Zealand and continue to entertain crowds of young and old today. One of the most iconic competitions is the Golden Shears held annually in Masterton. First staged in 1961 the "Goldies" continues to draw competitors from across the world. Of all the shearers to have competed at the Golden Shears, Sir David Fagan would be the most well-known. He has won the top prize there over a dozen times. He also has multiple world championships and world shearing records to his name.
New Zealand has a reputation for developing world-class sheep shearers and wool handlers. Many people looking to upskill in the industry come to New Zealand for that training. Many friendships and connections are made with these people and in turn Kiwis travel the world shearing from Norway to Argentina and everywhere in between.
In New Zealand, shearing teams big and small travel far and wide to some of the most remote corners of the country to shear the roughly 30 million sheep that make up our national flock. Blades are still used for a few months a year in the South Island high country to protect the sheep from the harsh winter weather.
For the past 25 years, wool handling competitions have become an integral part of shearing events throughout the country. In fact one could say wool handling is the biggest growth industry on the New Zealand shearing circuit.