PEAK research and development body Australian Wool Innovation has left growers disappointed after failing to organize sheep for an upright shearing demonstration at a New South Wales field day last Friday.
NSW wool grower and platform shearing developer Grant Burbidge drove three hours to be at the AWI demonstration day at the Falkiner Memorial Field Station at Conargo, organized to demonstrate a bioharvesting method and other sheep handling equipment.
At dinner on Thursday night before the event, Mr Burbidge was told by AWI chief executive officer John Roberts and AWI country manager Stephen Feighan that they would find two sheep for him to demonstrate on his platform shearing system.
However, despite Mr Burbidge’s requests to AWI chairman Jock Laurie, Mr Roberts, Mr Feighan and AWI program manager Ian Evans, the refusal of AWI shearer trainer Brian Sullivan to allow any sheep under his care to be shorn on the platform system meant a demonstration could not proceed.
Sheep were conventionally shorn at the event over a raised board to demonstrate the AWI-developed modular delivery system and shearer sensors that help prevent injuries.
AWI country manager Stephen Feighan said he only knew Mr Burbidge was coming on Tuesday and also asked if some of the University of Adelaide’s bioharvesting research sheep could be shorn on the platform.
But Mr Feighan said the head of the bioharvesting research team Professor Phil Hynd said this was not possible due to the animal welfare protocols in place.
Professor Hynd told Sheep Central he had “no problems” with having some research sheep shorn on the upright platform, “but we did not have Animal Ethics approval to do that.”
“Sounds ridiculous I know, but any deviation from the approved activities would result in them shutting down the whole project (and me being personally fined up to $10,000)! Not worth it,” he said.
It should have been better organized – AWI trainer
Mr Sullivan said he was not told that Mr Burbidge was going to shear any sheep.
“I borrowed these sheep off my neighbor, so I’m in charge of the sheep.
“I said no, you’re not getting those sheep, they are coming up that race and we are shearing them there,” Mr Sullivan said.
“The other thing is, I teach these blokes to shear to a quality and the quality that he (Mr Burbidge) does on that machine (platform) is not up to standard.
“It’s not that I’m not supportive of platform shearing, the quality of the job that they do is not what these boys do, it is a lot different,” he said.
When asked if that was a valid reason to not allow Mr Burbidge to shear any sheep, Mr Sullivan said: “You are on public display here.”
“Why would you want someone to shear at a lesser standard?”
Mr Sullivan said he had a duty of care to the owner of the sheep that they all go back “more or less” uniformly shorn.
“I think that platform shearing has got its place in shearing big rams and that, when the weight is on you, but the job that they do is not the same quality of job that these boys do up here (on the board).”
Mr Sullivan said the sheep in question were breeding ewes and would have had to be dragged across the floor to the shearing platform.
“It should have been organized much better by whoever, but I’ve got a duty of care that these sheep come in and go out without being roughed up … it’s animal husbandry.”
Growers were disappointed
Mr Burbidge said he was disappointed, and several producers who travelled to the event expressed disappointment they would not see the shearing platform demonstrated.
“My summation is that if platform shearing took off then traditional shearing trainers are no longer going to be in demand and they will have to come off the teat.”
One producer told Sheep Central he was astounded that (eight) years after commercial adoption, Mr Burbridge was not able to demonstrate his platform “after all the R&D that has been paid for by him.”
Mr Burbidge said he wanted to demonstrate that the biological defleecing system could be very easily integrated with the platforms.
“I was going to give a demonstration of how we can separate the pieces, bellies and all the components of the fleece, and that’s exactly what they will need to do with the biological defleecing.
“So that was all organized, last night we had an agreement with the (AWI) CEO and the grower services manager that I would shear two sheep today,” Mr Burbidge said.
AWI agreed to provide Mr Burbidge with sheep
Mr Feighan said Mr Burbidge called him on Tuesday to come to the Conargo day “and we made space for him to do it.”
“We (Mr Feighan and Mr Roberts) spoke to him last night over dinner and said we’ll see if we can get him two (sheep) for him to shear, but they are not our sheep.
Mr Feighan said it is not that AWI did not want Mr Burbidge to shear sheep on his platform on the day.
When asked if he had tried to convince Mr Sullivan to allow two of the sheep he organized to be conventional shorn on the day, Mr Feighan said: “They are not our sheep.”
“He (Brian) is in control here, of all the trainers.”
Mr Feighan said AWI has been funding the training of shearers for the platform system.
“We support Grant 100 percent, which is why I called him up over a month ago to ask him if he wanted to be part of this, and he said he couldn’t because he would be on holidays, but then this week he called up and said he had got the date wrong, he thought that our date was the 1st of August and not the 1st of September.”
Mr Feighan said AWI had “bent over backwards” to make space for Mr Burbidge to attend the day.
“Unfortunately, they are not our sheep; if they were it would be easier.”
Sheep can be shorn on platforms to an acceptable quality
Wagga TAFE shearing instructor Bill Kimber trains shearers for the Burbidge platforms and said sheep could be shorn to an equivalent and acceptable quality on a platform as on a conventional shearing board, once shearers became proficient.
“I’ve seen the blokes who have been doing it for a while and they can shear them.”
He doesn’t believe platform shearing should be discriminated against on quality.
“It’s got its disadvantages and it has its advantages.
“”What I’ve found is that they learn fairly quickly on it, but they are a bit restricted on how fast they are going to get.”
Early examples of bioharvesting equipment were also not demonstrated at the field day, due to variable responses with the prototypes on the research sheep brought for the day. The research sheep brought to Conargo from Adelaide had been treated with the bioharvesting protein about 10 weeks ago, but the harvesting equipment had been developed for use on sheep treated closer to the fibre removal date.
AWI chairman Jock Laurie described the pre-demonstration trialling of the bioharvesting equipment on Thursday as a “failure,” due to a combination of reasons, including the wool length of the research sheep available. But he said AWI had not invested anything in the harvesting method space and this would be a focus going forward.