DECEMBER 2023 was a big month for shearing record triumphs and disappointment in New Zealand.
On December 19, New Zealand shearer Sacha Bond became the first woman to shear 700 sheep in a day, setting a new women’s solo world strong wool lamb record for nine hours of 720.
Shearing at Centre Hill, near Mossburn in Southland, Sacha, now based in King Country, averaged a lamb every 45 seconds – caught, shorn and dispatched.
Starting at 5am, she was always 6-7 per hour ahead of the pace needed to break the previous record of 661 shorn by Southland gun Megan Whitehead in January 2021and breezed back into the record books with about 45 minutes to go and past the 700 mark about a quarter-hour before the end at 5pm.
The official tally comprised 162 in the first two hours to breakfast, and successive 1hr 45min runs of 142, 137, 137 and 142 around the half-hour breaks for morning and afternoon tea and one hour for lunch.
Highlighting the endurance and fitness Bond was as agile at the end as she was at the end, even marginally quicker.
The World Sheep Shearing Records Society referees had deducted one lamb in the opening run and two in the fourth as they kept a close eye on the quality of the shear, shorn at about 1kg of wool per lamb.
It was almost 120 more than the 601 Bond had shorn in setting the eight-hour record in February, a record which Whitehead smashed in Southland on Friday with a tally of 686, that then held the tag of the most shorn by any woman in any record bid for just four days.
And there’s more in the tank of 30 year-old mum Bond who on February 9 will tackle the ewe record of 452 in a bid to become the first female to hold solo record for nine hours on both lambs and ewes.
Whitehead, 27, has not yet announced any plans for further record attempts, but followers suggest this might include trying to regain the nine-hour lamb record or becoming the first to shear 700 in eight hours.
Whitehead and McColl triumph
On December 17, shearing cousins Megan Whitehead and Hannah McColl smashed the women’s eight-hour solo and two-stand strong wool lambs records, with Whitehead’s tally being 25 more than achieved to claim the nine-hour record two years ago.
In the space of eight hours’ shearing, between 7am and 5pm with morning and afternoon tea-breaks and lunch in between, at the Grant Brothers Tin House on Otapiri-Mandeville Rd near Gore, Whitehead sheared two-hour runs of 174, 171, 172 and 169 for a total of 686 – less than 42 seconds a lamb caught, shorn and dispatched. McColl sheared 153, 144, 151 and 149 for a total of 597.
The combined total of 1283 beat the previous two-stand record of 903 for strong wool lambs set by mum-and-daughter Marg and Ingrid Baynes at Mangapehi, near Bennydale, on January 13, 2009. Whitehead’s 686 set a new solo record, beating the 601 shorn by Sacha Bond on February 4 2023, at Fairlight Station, Northern Southland.
It could have been more, with Whitehead having three lambs discounted by the panel of five World Sheep Shearing Records Society referees and McColl losing 10, according to society secretary and records registrar Hugh McCarroll.
“That’s what we have referees for,” he said, still marvelling at the women’s achievement.
“Megan was still running in and out of the catching pens at the end, just as she was at the beginning.”
McCarroll says the spate of record attempts, the most ever in a New Zealand season, sparks memories of the late 1970s when Samson (Hamahona) Te Whata, based on a record of 637 shorn by Jack Dowd in 1977, staged a ping-pong of six successful challenges for the nine-hours lambs record, raising the bar from Kaikohe gun Te Whata’s 650 in November 1979 to Te Kuiti master Fagan’s 804 in December 1980.
When Marg and Ingrid Baynes shore the women’s eight-hours record 15 years ago, Ingrid established a solo record with a tally of 470. Kerri-Jo Te Huia set a new mark of 507 at Te Hape, also near Bennydale on January 10, 2012, New Zealand-based Canadian Pauline Bolay sheared 510 at Whitford Farms, Waikaretu, on December 7, 2019, and Bond added 91 to the record 10 months ago.
The equivalent men’s records are the solo mark of 754 shorn by Jack Fagan at Puketiti, near Piopio, on December 22 last year, two days after Reuben Alabaster sheared 744 to break a record that hadstood for decade, and the two-stands record of 1410 shorn by Simon Goss and Jamie Skiffington at The Glades, Mangamahu Valley, on January 4 this year, breaking a record that had endured 20 years.
Under revised rules establish in 1983, a women’s nine-hour lamb record was established on January 6, 1989, when Jillian Angus Burney sheared 541 near Bennydale, the record going unchallenged for almost 19 years before Emily Welch shearer 648 at Waikaretu on November 27, 2007.
Under a previous regime, Maureen Hyatt had shorn 569 near Mossburn on February 5, 1982.
The men’s record of 872 was shorn in Cornwall, England, on July 31, 2016, by Oxfordshire shearer Stuart Connor, who has recently moved to New Zealand and is living in Hawke’s Bay.
Disappointment for the men
On December 24, Masterton shearers Paerata Abraham and Chris Dickson fell 20 short of their target in a bid for the world two-stand eight hour strong wool lamb shearing record.
But it was a case of if-only for the pair who sheared more than the record of 1410, but had a number discounted by five WSSRS referees as the quality suffered in the rush to get-back on-track when the goal started to distance from early afternoon of the attempt at Whitespurs, near Gladstone, between Masterton and the Wairarapa coast.
Starting at 7am and needing an average of 176.375 an hour to break the record set in January this year by Simon Goss, of Mangamahu, and Jamie Skiffington, of Rotorua, the challengers got off to a good start with 359, ahead of pace, in the two hours to the first break.
The second run total of 343, while down a step, had their half-way total level-pegging with the 702 of the Goss-Skiffington record, but when the last run started at 3pm the target had ballooned to 179 an hour and a task beyond comfortable reach on the day.
The official total was 1391, with Abraham, originally from Dannevirke, for credited with a tally 699 and Dickson, from Raetihi and Eketahuna, 692 after starting with the better tally in the opening run.
The lambs were considered a little bigger than those in two women’s records in the South Island in the previous eight days. A sample-shear on Friday had 20 lambs averaging 1.125kg of wool each, well over the minimum requirement of 0.9kg a lamb.
“Some were more Romney so they had a longer crimp, so they combed like butter,” commentator Tuma Mullins said.
“Some were a bit more open, but had more attitude.
“There were some quite big long lambs amongst them. The she shape seemed OK, but they looked to be constantly wriggling.”
The shearing fraternity had flocked in numbers to either help or support the pair who are well known on the competition circuit with Abraham the reigning New Zealand Shears Circuit champion and a former winner of the national circuit, which crosses five wool types, and Dickson a successful lower grades shearer now in the Open class.
But after what was widely considered a brave effort to keep going to the end, Mullins’ “player of the day” was the “1000 per cent” manager, Abraham’s wife and fellow New Zealand representative Cushla. “She was everywhere,” Mullins said.