Click of the shears lifelong calling
Counting sheep has never been a means to fall asleep for Manjimup shearer Ron Niven.
As a sheep shearer his “whole life”, Mr Niven has seen the highs and lows of the sheep industry and has worked around the State.
Mr Niven was inducted into the Shearing Hall of Fame in 2013 at the Shear Outback’s sixth Festival of the Blades for his achievements and contribution to the shearing community.
Born in 1952 and involved in his family’s sheep farm at Rocky Gully, he began shearing sheep using a machine in high school.
Despite machine shearing for a longer time, Mr Niven prefers blade shearing, which he started in 1979.
“With blades, you can shear top quality sheep,” he said. “I’m a wool snob, I only shear Merinos.”
He added he preferred blade shearing because blades were quieter and kept the sheep more passive.
“Back in the day, blades provided the neatest cut but then as machine shearing technology advanced, it made the job quicker,” he said.
“Wide gear came into fashion about 1982 and the combs got better.”
Like any profession, shearing was a skill that had to be developed, Mr Niven said.
“You have to have a rhythm and understand that every sheep is an individual,” he said.
Mr Niven has perfected his skills in machine and blade shearing during the 30 years he ran his business of shearing sheep across the State.
There was a time, in the 80s and 90s, when the sheep industry was “rocking and rolling”, that Mr Niven and his team could arrive at a client’s property and have between 200-400 sheep to shear.
“My personal best with blades is 54 rams in a day,” Mr Niven said. “On average, I could do between 35 and 40 rams a day.”
The shearer said he found farmers always took the best care of him and his team.
Mr Niven said the social aspect had always been a great part of the job, even though it kept him away from home about six months a year.
He said farmers would sometimes also seek his advice on sheep and machinery maintenance.
In addition to his business, Mr Niven’s involvement in the shearing industry also included being a shearing instructor for seven years through the former Australian Wool Corporation.
Mr Niven said his main goal in his profession was to aim to leave the sheep they shore “looking their best”.
“A well-shorn sheep will sell better and we always aimed for quality, not quantity,” he said.
Sheep shearing hall-of-famer Ron Niven says shearing, like any profession, is something you have to want to do and need patience to do it properly.