Q&A with new nine-hour strongwool shearing record holder

Cornwall sheep farmer Matt Smith became the first shearer in the northern hemisphere to break the nine-hour ewe record last month. 

As a young boy growing up in Northland, New Zealand, Matt Smith, aged 32, dreamed of breaking the Everest of shearing records.

Last month (26 July) he achieved his goal, shearing 731 sheep to break the nine-hour strongwool shearing record by a 10-strong margin.

Matt Smith shearing a sheep

Matt Smith © Emily Fleur

The previous world-record setter, who broke the eight hour shearing record in 2010, took on the challenge at Trefranck Farm, St Clether near Launceston, where he now farms with his wife Pippa.

See also: New Zealand farming: Living the dream, despite the weather

How does it feel to have broken another world record?

It is surreal.

I can’t get over that I broke it by 10.

If I broke it by one I was going to be happy.

Since 1995 that record has only been broken by five sheep.

The first two-hour run was very good for the confidence and I came out of that four up of where I wanted to be [and six up on the last world record].

The first ewe dropped out in 35 seconds so that set the tempo for the rest of the day.

How did you train for it?

It was super specific.

It was broken down into three areas: strength, cardio and combination.

My trainers [FA fitness] went out of their way to learn and understand about what shearing required from the body.

I worked 45 minutes without a rest and they got very creative with a sand bag – I had to lift it over my body and drag it backwards across the floor.

I went to the doctor for a medical six days before and she sent me for an electrocardiogram (ECG) because my resting heartrate was 34-35 beats a minute and she was concerned.

By the time I had the ECG the thought of not being able to do the record meant my heart rate was back up to 60 beats a minute, so they cleared me to do the record.

What the record involved and how it compares with the previous record:

The nine-hour strongwool ewe record emulates a nine-hour shearing day, which is what Matt grew up doing as a youngster. It involves starting at 5am and finishing at 5pm with a three-hour break.



New record, Matt Smith 26 July 2016 in England.

Old record set by Rodney Sutton in New Zealand on 31 January 2007


First run








Second run




Morning smoko*




Third run








Fourth run




Afternoon smoko




Fifth run






Average time a sheep

44.32 seconds

44.94 seconds

Average shorn a hour

81.22 sheep

80.11 sheep

*Smoko is a term used to describe tea break in New Zealand because they used an old-fashioned fire kettle that blows smoke when the hot water had boiled.

The world record is equivalent to running three marathons back-to-back. How did you feel afterwards and how did it compare with how you felt after the eight-hour record?

The day was so surreal because nothing felt as hard as it was meant to feel.

My whole body ached after the last world record and went into lactic acid shock.

I lost 8kg but this time I only lost 1kg and I couldn’t get over how well I felt the next day.

It is really testament to the trainers and my diet.

Tell us about your strict diet in preparation for the record.

I cut out beer, coffee, bread and cut back on dairy – because I would demolish a whole block of cheese – and got back to a good, old-fashioned diet of meat and vegetables.

I ate a lot of venison, fish, beef and chicken.

On the day I drank a carbohydrate and salt solution every seven-and-a-half minutes and lots of water.

Who else was on hand to help on the day?

The whole day was a big team effort but my younger brother Rowland, aged 29, orchestrated the final days.

It involved getting sheep from three different farms and whittling them down based on body conformation and wool type.

They all had to have belly wool and 90% of them had to have wool on their heads.

What advice would you give to youngsters who are just getting into competition shearing?

Never be too ignorant to learn.

We are all different shearers and everyone can learn different techniques.

Facts about the record

  • During the day Matt got through 50 combs and two cutters throughout the course of the day
  • He only nicked one ewe and it was superficial so it didn’t need any stitches
  • As well as being fast shearers have to maintain quality and three international judges score the quality of shorn sheep.
  • Matt took just 44.19 seconds on average to catch, shear and dispatch each ewe.
  • On average ewes weighed 60kg meaning Matt lifted 43,860kg of sheep throughout the day.

Travelling is key too.

But diet and body maintenance plays a big part.

When I was shearing full-time I wasn’t aware of that.

I operated for years on ignorance and I look back now and think I could’ve been a much better shearer knowing a little bit more of what I know now.

Fellow New Zealander Stacey Te Huia broke your eight-hour shearing record in 2010 and he could break your latest nine-hour one when he attempts it for the fourth time in January. Are you worried?

Records are meant to be broken. If anyone deserves to break it, he does.

What’s your next challenge?

I would like to keep fit and have a decent run at the competition’s circuit next year.

I still enjoy shearing and don’t want to quit yet.

There was a rule change in the middle of the eight-hour record after I did it – only 10% of sheep had to have belly wool but now all do again – and I feel there is unfinished business but I don’t know if I am the person to finish it.

I would like my brother to have a go because I definitely rate him as being one of the few people capable of it (Rowland, Matt’s brother is the world champion).

Have you shorn any sheep since?

Yes, I’ve probably done more than 1,000.

What is the best bit about farming in the UK?

The consistency in the weather.

It might be consistently wet but you can always grow grass. Farmers say to me: “I bet you’ve never seen a winter like this.”

But I remember our farm being under water most of the winter.

Are there any downsides to farming here and what do miss about New Zealand?

Farmers’ attitudes.

A lot of UK farmers want to see you fail and they don’t like to you succeed if they are not.

In New Zealand, on the whole, people are very supportive and if someone is doing a good job farmers want to learn from that person.

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