NEW Zealand shearer Megan Whitehead has smashed the women’s world nine-hour strong wool lamb record by shearing 661 lambs in a woolshed today.
At Gore in New Zealand’s South Island, the sprightly 24-year-old 60kg Southland shearer shore each 34-36kg lamb at an average rate of less than 50 seconds to better the previous record of 648 set by Waikato shearer Emily Welch in 2007.
Welch and fellow female shearing legend Jills Angus Burney, who established the record with 541 in 1989, were among the hundreds of people who urged the new star on during the day, in temperatures rising close to 30 degrees Celsius late in the afternoon.
But perhaps the highest accolades came from one shearer who wasn’t in the shed; world shearing great Sir David Fagan, who watched a live-stream at his home in Te Kuiti.
Reaching for superlatives, Sir David said the lambs weren’t small and it was a superb effort by Team Whitehead, with the lady on the board at a young age but with the shearing world at her feet.
Sir David was the first man to shear more than 700 lambs in an official World Shearing Records Society nine-hour record – when he shore 748 in 1985 and adding over 100 to a previous men’s record of 626. He predicted Whitehead would one day be the first woman to shear more than 700.
Speaking from Te Kuiti mid-afternoon, with the new record imminent, Sir David said: “She’s going to break it. And if anyone’s going to break it again, it’ll be her.”
Having exposed her potential when shearing 608 during a four-stand women’s record in January last year, Whitehead was today ahead of the required pace of at least 72 lambs an hour from the start; shearing 153 in the first two hours from 5am to breakfast – already nine ahead of the 144 with which Welch opened her big day 13 years ago. She then backed-it up with successive 1hr 45min runs of 132, 126, 125, 125 and 125, hitting the goal amid rapturous applause about with just under 10 minutes to go to knock-off at 5pm.
Tally of more than 700 is not out of reach
Megan Whitehead in action. Source – Facebook.
Welch had shorn runs of 144, 125, 123, 127 and 129 when she did her record, while in her record 31 years ago Angus Burney shore runs of 128, 105, 105, 103 and 100, and remembers thinking that with the wave of women starting to working and competing as shearers a tally over 700 would not be beyond reach.
There was a huge support crew at the successful record attempt, headed by father Quentin Whitehead, who monitored the clock closely throughout as his daughter worked alone on the Grant Brother’s shearing board at Croydon Bush, just north of Gore.
Former national circuit champion, 2017 world teams champion, multiple New Zealand team member and fellow Southland shearer Nathan Stratford took care of the shearing gear, with Whitehead changing cutters every quarter-hour, and with combs at least every run.
Despite attending almost every record attempt since her own successes, Angus Burney, now a barrister, was in awe of the shearing operation’s attention to strategic detail, including the breeding of a line of Snowline over Romney lambs and planning through the Covid-19 dilemma to enable the required overseas Australian judge to be able to adjudicate via an AVL feed.
The Australian judge, Mark Baldwin, watching from his bus company office in Tocumwal, New South Wales, was one of four judges appointed by the World Shearing Records Society to ensure the quality of the shear and that all rules were adhered to. This included an average cut of more than 0.9kg of wool per lamb as assessed when a sample of 20 shorn lambs produced 21kg on Wednesday.
While the athleticism of Whitehead impressed and amazed throughout, it was not all plain-sailing. The record could have been higher, but for the judges rejecting at least three lambs during the day, although the shearing quality generally was reported to be of a high standard.
Quentin Whitehead, who like record-breaker’s mother Tina McColl was a shearer, estimated there were 70 people in the crew, in woolshed and other roles. It also took substantial sponsorship and a big financial input, starting with a fee of $US2500 to the records society.
It was the second women’s solo lambs record in just over 13 months, with Canadian shearer Pauline Bolay having shorn 510 in eight hours in a day masterminded by now shearing contractor Welch in December 2019.
The men’s nine-hour strong wool record is 867, set by Irish shearer Ivan Scott in England in mid-2016, breaking by one a record held by Hawke’s Bay shearer Dion King for about nine years.