Shearing sheep is pretty hard yakka by anyone’s standards but after 50 years on the boards Armidale shearer, Barry Pearson, has no plans to retire yet.
Following in his father Ivan's footsteps, Barry first picked up a handpiece – the old style with the narrow combs – 50 years ago in July.
In those days, youngsters just went out and learned on the job – there was no special training. Barry said his first day as a shearer was July 1, 1967, at Jack and Roy Elliott's shed at "Kelvin", Armidale.
“That was my first shed,” he said.
“My father was a shearer and when I started you taught yourself – pick up a handpiece and start to do it.
“I first started with narrow combs and with those someone who was shearing 100 sheep a day was considered a good shearer.
“Now with the wide combs up to 300 sheep per day isn't unusual, sheds have got a lot faster than they used to be.”
Barry spends much of his time contract shearing with his son, Jason, a third generation shearer and he also runs about 3000 sheep on his own property, “Beverley” on the outskirts of Armidale with his wife, Jane.
Their daughter, Kylie, also followed in her father’s footsteps, according to Barry, but she shears animals of the two-legged variety.
“I’m not doing quite as much as I used to, but I still enjoy shearing and it’s not often that you get to shear with your son,” Barry said.
He reckons there have been a few improvements over the years, most notably the introduction of the three-and-a-half inch combs.
Their introduction in the early 1980s caused quite an uproar in the industry.
“Some of the sheds were pretty ordinary years ago,” Barry said. “When Clipcare was introduced that meant a lot of farmers had to bring the sheds up to a standard.”
In 1968 Barry recalls he earned $18.56 per 100 sheep shorn – in 2017 it's $302 per 100 sheep.
Barry said he likes the camaraderie found in most shearing sheds and the long-standing family connections.
“I just enjoy myself and I like to torment the rouseabouts as much as I can,” he said. “At some of the sheds I've been at for years I've seen four generations on the farm.” One of those is the Dawson family, “Rutallah”, Armidale.
“I started shearing at Jeff Hamel’s place, “Argyle” in 1971 and I still shear there.”
Overall, Barry said there’re a lot less sheep around now – particularly Merinos.
“People are running less sheep and numbers are still getting less and less. In this area, there're still Merinos but further afield you don't see many.”
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