Opinion: We should support the wool marketing board

My newest item of workwear has caused some hilarity ever since it arrived through the post. It’s fair to say my new pair of shearing trousers were not quite what I was expecting.

I didn’t know modern shearing trousers were manufactured from a blend of denim and spandex. After I managed to lever myself into my new stretchy trousers, I looked as if I was going to try out for a part in Swan Lake. 

Sheep being sheared

© David Hartley/REX/Shutterstock

Her Outdoors told me that once I got my shearing moccasins on it would be a great look. I’m sure she was sniggering behind my back. However, the main thing is they are very comfortable – even if I do look ridiculous.

See also: No thanks to the Beef Efficiency Scheme

Investment in training

I still like to shear my own sheep. After all, the British Wool Marketing Board (BWMB) invested in me and many others like me when they ensured we received the very highest standard of training when we were learning how to do it.

Neale McQuistin
Neale McQuistin is an upland beef and sheep farmer in south-west Scotland. He farms 365ha in partnership with his wife, Janet, much of which is under stewardship for wildlife.

It’s very reassuring to know they are still providing that same high standard of training today. 

Shearing is a job that is physically demanding; the days can be long and you get very dirty. It wouldn’t come top of the list of career options for many youngsters nowadays.

It is also definitely one of those jobs where your spirit and your enthusiasm will soon be broken if you don’t get the proper training in the early stages.

In my case, I was lucky enough to have attended courses where the instructor was the late William (Billy) Lawson. Billy was a renowned BWMB instructor in the UK as well as in many other countries.

Gift for motivation

He wasn’t a shearer who had racked up an impressive list of competition wins during his career. Instead, he had a gift for enthusing and motivating the people he was training.

By the time Billy retired, he had gathered a huge army of followers who all desperately wanted to improve their technique just to get a pat on the back or a nod of approval from their mentor. 

Many of his pupils went on to become instructors themselves and they are still passing on their skills to others today.

The BWMB deserves a lot of credit for ensuring we have a stock of home-grown sheep shearers in the UK to draw on at the moment. 

Without those people, our sheep industry would be in a right pickle. The wool has to come off the national flock every year – even if the price farmers receive for it sometimes doesn’t cover the cost of harvesting it.

Temptation to sell direct

Although the value of wool is improving, there is still huge pressure on farm incomes at the moment. The temptation to bypass the wool board and sell wool to buyers who are offering a penny or two more a kilo is greater than ever.

In the long term, taking that penny or two more could prove to be an expensive mistake. We all need to ensure there will be enough shearers in the future to shear the millions of sheep in the UK. 

The BWMB is the only body in the UK that is organising any meaningful level of training for sheep shearers. By supporting the organisation, producers are ensuring that the reservoir of shearers in the UK will continue to be constantly improved and replenished. 

It’s only right that farmers have a choice as to where they market their wool. But we all need to be mindful of the vital role the BWMB plays in securing the long-term future for wool producers. 

See more