Top sheep shearers share their secrets

It takes stamina, speed, skill and a lot of nerve to be a champion shearer. Rhian Price speaks to four competitors on this year’s circuit.

Llewelyn Williams, 23, Kington, Herefordshire

As the old saying goes: If you can’t beat them, join them. That was certainly the case for Herefordshire Young Farmer Llewelyn. As a natural left-hander, Llewelyn found shearing difficult when he first started at the age of 18, so he decided to learn to shear with his right instead.

“Everything is set up for a right-handed shearer. The combs are right-handed and the drive for a shearing machine naturally pushes down on the right-hand side. So if you are a left-handed shearer, you have got to be pretty good, because you are fighting against the machine the whole time,” he explains.

Llewelyn WilliamsFive years on and Llewelyn is now a promising young shearer, although he says he still has a long way to go before he can beat the cream of crop.

At the Royal Welsh Show last week he came fifth in the intermediate final.

In fact, it is quite a feat considering it was only a few years ago at the same show that he missed out on getting into the junior semi-finals by one place.

But it has taken determination, hard work and a three-month trip to the other side of the world to get to that stage.

“I went to New Zealand two years ago for three months and spent two months shearing.

“It was great because the wool on the sheep over there is very consistent. In the UK you get different breeds of sheep, but in New Zealand they are all the same weight and size, so you can get into a pattern.”

Llewelyn says one of the biggest challenges when it comes to competition shearing is getting off to a good start.

“You have to go flat out. If you’re not within the top three to finish, you will struggle to win.”

But like all good competitors, Llewelyn says it is not all about winning. It is taking part that counts.

“I have met lots of good friends through shearing, people I wouldn’t have otherwise got to know so I’m so glad I started.”

Aled Groucott, 18, Hafodyrynys, Gwen

Aled GroucottThis year has marked Aled’s first competitive shearing season and it’s been the first time he has competed in a major show such as the Royal Welsh.

“I started shearing three years ago when I was 15, but I have only begun to shear competitively this season.”

Aled followed in the footsteps of his older brother, Rhys, and is busy playing catch up.

“It is a great way to keep fit and it’s good money if you can do a good day,” he says.

So far he has only competed in one other show, aside from his county Young Farmers competition, where he was placed third in the junior section.

“I won the Gelligaer 18 and under shearing competition this year. It gave me the bug. You get addicted once you’ve taken part in one competition.”

When is comes to competing, one of the most difficult things to overcome as a beginner is nerves, says Aled.

“The most difficult part about shearing is controlling your nerves, because you can so easily cut a ewe if your hands are shaking.

“If you get off to a good start on the flank, and then after the first few blows if you haven’t cut her then you are hopefully going to be OK. But it’s all about getting that first blow right.”

With a brother who is also a competitive shearer there’s always plenty of sibling rivalry.

“My brother has been shearing for three years longer than me, so I want to try to catch up with him.”

But despite his lack of experience, Aled is already fiercely competitive and has high hopes for next season.

“You’ve always got to strive to be the best and I want to be the best at everything I do.

“Next year I would like to make the junior final at the Royal Welsh Show.”

Gareth Daniel, 29, Machynlleth, Powys

Gareth DanielGareth Daniel only started shearing eight years ago, but he has already earned the accolade as one of the top shearers in Wales.

At last week’s Royal Welsh, he was fourth to finish in the Open (All Nations) Championship and defending his title as Champion Shearer of Wales he lost out to Gareth Evans in close-knit final.

A two-time winner of Champion Shearer of Wales at only 29, he is a favourite with the crowd at the Royal Welsh.

But according to Gareth, it takes fitness, concentration and focus to be a champion. Although he said nerves get better with the more experience you get, which will be a comfort to any young competitor.

At this year’s Golden Shears – the world’s most prestigious shearing competition – he came 11th, and was placed fifth in the individual World Final.

In the future, his dream would be to win the World Championships.

“Winning the World Championships would be a dream come true, but who knows,” he says.

It is not surprising winning the World Championships is his goal, considering growing up his idol was five-times World Championship winner David Fagan, from New Zealand.

“David Fagan has been my biggest influence. He sheared so well in his prime and he’s achieved a status as the best in the world. Of course he is slower now,” he laughs, “but he’s still good.”

So what would his advice be to a young competitor starting out?

“Listen to what everyone has to say, work hard and don’t be afraid to ask about things either.”

Nicky Beynon, 49, The Gower, Swansea

Nicky BenyonFor veteran machine shearer Nicky Beynon, this year’s Royal Welsh Show has been particularly momentous.

After losing the sight in his right eye as a result of a burst blood vessel last May, Nicky thought it was the end of his competition shearing days.

“I found all farming tasks really hard, so I thought there was no way I could compete again,” he says.

But after competing for the first time since his accident at this year’s Royal Welsh and coming fifth in the Champion Shearer of Wales competition, it has spurred Nicky on to start competing again.

“Now there’s no reason not to keep going,” he says.

At 49, Nicky is one of the oldest and most experienced competitors on the show scene and holds the title for winning Champion Shearer of Wales the most number of times – at a record eight.

“My brother and I started shearing when we were at school, at about 14 years old,” he explains.

Since then, Nicky has travelled all around the world shearing and has visited countries such as Australia, New Zealand, the Falkland Islands and all over Europe.

But New Zealand has been the best for shearing without a doubt, he says.

“There’s so much work to do over there and you are working with the very best in the industry,” he explains.

Nicky recommends all young competitors go to New Zealand, but he stresses the fun aspect to anyone starting out.

“Just enjoy it. Shearing offers so many opportunities to travel and work with good people. If you have the chance to travel you should grab it with both hands.

“The only way to learn is to gain experience.”

In recent years, Nicky has turned his hand to judging, but he has no plans to retire from competition shearing anytime soon.

“I thought I had finished, but why finish when you are enjoying it?”

Shearing facts

  • Many people think shearing is solely judged on time, but it is actually a combination of speed and cleanness. Competitors are judged on the number of double cuts – how many times the competitor has gone back over the wool – and how much wool is left on the sheep afterwards, as this devalues the fleece.
  • During a shearing season, shearers can lose up to two stone in body weight
  • Ivan Scott, from Kilmacrennan, County Donegal, set a new world record in January for shearing 744 lambs in eight hours, beating the previous record by two sheep.
  • The current world champion is Scottish shearer Gavin Mutch