Innovation in Agriculture
Upright platform or table/cradle shearing is not a new concept. There have been various pieces of equipment available since the 1940’s. To date they have all failed to gain widespread acceptance and use.
In 2015 the first Shear Anywhere upright position wool harvesting equipment was manufactured for Burbidge Farms.
Why have we invested in the Shear Anywhere Wool Harvesting system?
Shearing and wool preparation has used the same basic methods for over a hundred years. To increase efficiency in wool harvesting change is necessary. For 30 years we hoped that someone else would develop a system. It became obvious that no one else was going to do it. Australian Wool Innovation had previously invested in a number of Upright Position Shearing Platforms however no reports of this work are available. So we started to look for other people who had tried similar methods.
The only person who has successfully set up a business shearing sheep on an upright platform was Andrew Wytkin in Western Australia in the 1980’s. Andrew shore a couple of hundred thousand sheep on a two stand trailer arrangement. Andrew provided a lot of assistance in the early stages of developing this system and we are grateful for his contribution.
There has been no outside funding for this project. Burbidge Farms has provided all of the resources for development of the Shear Anywhere wool harvesting system.
Why have all previous attempts failed?
One of the most likely reasons revolves around training and the need to change. All previous attempts have used existing conventional shearers. Conventional shearers are highly skilled at a process. However, once you substantially change that process conventional shearers are no longer highly skilled in all aspects of the new process. That does not mean they can’t learn. However it takes time to learn new techniques and become highly skilled in the new process. Most conventional shearers, who have tried, have been reluctant to go through a whole new training process to become as skilled as they currently are.
Another reason for failure of the industry to adopt upright platform shearing has been the design of equipment. The key to good design is to keep it simple.
Most previous attempts at platform shearing have also just focused on shearing the sheep. This system encompasses the whole wool harvest process from shearing to pressing fleeces with quality control being the number one priority.
How were staff recruited?
In July 2015 an ad was placed on Gumtree and a number of inexperienced people started to learn how to shear and learn the quality control aspects of wool preparation. By employing people who had no preconceived ideas in shearing we had the opportunity to mould them and develop an efficient system. The flip side was that training everyone from no shearing knowledge was a very very slow process. It took 21 weeks of continuous shearing to shear 22,000 sheep on a four stand system. Since then our training methods and retention rate of trainees has improved.
What training is necessary?
Training is the key to a successful business and the Shear Anywhere system is no different.
The shearer needs to be trained to set up and use a handpiece, experting, blow patterns and because they are also doing the job of conventional roustabouts or wool rollers as they shear, they also need wool handling skills.
In traditional shearing sheds there usually are more experienced shearers who can assist learners with technique or experting. With the Shear Anywhere system it will take time to have teams with fully trained shearers.
We now have a number of people capable of training shearing technique. For this system to become widely accepted by industry a full training package needs to be developed.
A registered wool classer is needed for quality control to enable all wool to meet AWEX specifications.
How many sheep can be shorn in a day?
Most inexperienced learners shear about 20 to 30 in the first day and increase from there. For example eighteen year old Leah shore her first 100 merinos per day after seven weeks while Connor who had never seen a handpiece before shore 102 big composite ewes on his eighth day of shearing.
We have shearers who are capable of shearing and preparing the wool on more than 150 per day. Of course it depends on the type of sheep and how hard the shearer is prepared to work.
How many sheep have been shorn?
As of February, 2022 there have been about 190,000 sheep shorn on the Shear Anywhere system.
Size of sheep has ranged from 25kg merinos and crossbred lambs to 120 kg Composite and Suffolk rams.
What are the advantages of the Shear Anywhere system?
The upright standing position for shearing removes a lot of strain from the shearers back.
The shearer does not have to catch the sheep and then drag it out of a pen. In large sheep this could save dragging 10 to 15 tonne of sheep per day. This significantly reduces the physical strength and energy required while increasing shearer safety.
More people are able to shear sheep on this system because of the lesser strength required. We have trained girls weighing less than 60 kg to shear merino ewes, wethers and rams on this system. This potentially opens up a whole new work force that is currently not available for conventional shearing.
Quality control in wool preparation can be increased by the shearer separating pieces, bellies, stain, dags, cotted jowls and shanks as they shear the sheep. Once each potential contaminant is observed by the shearer it is immediately removed before it can affect the fleece lines.
The quantity of fleece wool in pieces can be substantially reduced.
Cotted Jowls can be removed easily from every sheep thus eliminating the potential for price penalties in pieces and fleece.
In conventional sheds it is always difficult to have the perfect ratio of shearers to shed staff because of different sheep types and speeds of shearing or wool preparation. In this system with the shearer preparing the wool as he or she shears this problem does not exist.
When each sheep is shorn the fleece can be removed from the cradle and placed straight into one of four wool presses by the classer. This significantly reduces labour requirements of placing wool in bins and back out again into the press.
Curfews before conventionally shearing large sheep are becoming longer. In this system the size of the sheep is less of a problem and curfews can be quite short.
When shearing rams it is not necessary to have them sedated. It is still advisable to have extra staff available to assist if a ram gets out of control.
A specific shearing shed is not needed for this system. Sheep have been shorn in a hayshed and also in a machinery shed/workshop. This will greatly reduce the replacement costs of old shearing sheds.
What does the Shear Anywhere system look like?
Two systems have been developed so far. Both systems have been produced in modular form so that they can be used in existing sheds or directly out of yards in haysheds or machinery sheds. Both models have removable wheels so that they can be rolled in and out of sheds and onto and off trucks.
Low Tech Model
The low tech model uses a manual pull onto the shearing cradle. The handpiece drives are Heiniger Evo motors coupled to flexible downtubes. An automatic cut out switch when you hang the handpiece up is standard. This model is the simplest and is preferred by shearers and shed staff. See video below.
Automatic tipping model
The automatic tipping model was the first developed and operates with the aid of a powerpack and hydraulic rams to restrain the sheep by squeezing and then tip the sheep onto the shearing cradle. The handpiece drives are through hydraulic motors coupled to flexible downtubes. See video below.
It is quite likely that a 4 or 5 stand trailer will be developed in the future. The advantage of this would be an air-conditioned work environment, ease of transport and ease of setting up. However, for this to be built a suitable contractor needs to have sufficient work lined up. It is likely that a pressing trailer with four wool presses would be coupled to this shearing trailer.
A prototype using a conveyor system to take sheep through the automatic tipping unit has been built but not progressed because it does not meet the ‘keep design simple’ requirement yet.
What other equipment is necessary?
A lead up ramp is necessary so that sheep can walk up into the first module.
The current system also includes four wool presses. This removes the need for wool bins and double handling of fleeces. Pieces go into one press. Two others are used for main lines. The fourth stays empty until a bale needs to be turned out from one of the fleece lines and is then used to carry on with that line. This enables the full bale to be turned out as time permits without having wool stacked up somewhere.
The four presses we have been using are all operated from one hydraulic motor connected to all presses. They were built specially by MACBRO in Ballarat, Victoria, Australia.
Some wool pack holders are necessary for bellies, stain, dags, cotted wool and jowls.
How much does it cost to shear a sheep?
The cost of conventional shearing varies from $7.00 to upwards of $10.00 per head depending on a lot of factors.
The cost of shearing with the Shear Anywhere system is comparable with conventional shearing. The shearer is paid more per head than conventional shearers because they are also doing the wool preparation as they shear.
With a team of fully trained shearers this system will be very efficient and cost effective.
In conventional shearing the capital costs are mostly in the shearing shed. With this method sheds with a lower capital value will be able to be used.
Why would anyone change to the Shear Anywhere system?
The only reason people change anything is because they have a need to change. Wool harvesting is no different.
Some of the reasons may be
A new shearing shed is needed. The Shear Anywhere system can be set up in open areas such as machinery or hay sheds and so the cost of shed construction is significantly less than a conventional shed.
The old team of shearers has disbanded and a new team needed.
Quality assurance may need improving eg Ratio of Pieces to Fleece may be too high, Jowls may be ending up in the pieces or fleece.
Can the Shear Anywhere equipment be hired or purchased?
Initially all the equipment was developed for our own use and a few demonstration jobs. Commercial production of equipment is now possible. Sales enquiries have been received from around the world.
If interested the first step is to have a look at the system in operation to make sure you think it will achieve what you want to. We can then go from there.