In the latest in our series on British farm machinery manufacturers, Mike Williams talks to Lister Shearing Equipment
Though the first Lister sheep shears were made in 1909 (and are still being made to this day) the company’s origins are much older. In fact the name dates back to 1867 when Robert Ashton Lister started selling and repairing farm implements.
After a slow start, the company (later called RA Lister) scored its first big success in 1888 making cream separators for dairy farms. Sheep shears arrived in 1909 followed by clippers for horses and other animals.
Petrol engines to drive the shears were built from about 1911, bringing the number of employees to about 5000 in the 1920s. The farm implement range also expanded, diesel engines were introduced in the 1920s and Listers later became a leading manufacturer of garden furniture.
Problems developed during the 1960s and in 1965 RA Lister was bought by the Hawker Siddeley aerospace group which wanted the diesel engines and had little interest in sheep shears and farm machinery.
Listers changed hands again several times, losing much of the original product range in the process, but the diesel engines survived and, against the odds, sheep shears production flourished amid the takeovers.
Lister diesel engines are now made by Lister Petter and a management buyout in 1998 turned the sheep shears business into an independent company trading as Lister Shearing Equipment Ltd. It is still based in Dursley, it still makes sheep shears and animal clippers for a worldwide market but since 2003 it has been owned by Wahl Clipper Corporation, America’s biggest manufacturer of clippers for hairdressing and pet care.
Lister sheep shear development probably started in 1908. Production followed in 1909 when the first consignment was shipped to Australia, starting an export business that still accounts for 65% of total production. Their first shears were usually engine driven and some were hand powered, but modern sheep shears have electric motors powered from the mains or 12V batteries.
Clippers may have been added to the range because the company’s founder was a keen horseman and horse care remains an important market for the clippers. But the stricter regulations about trimming cattle to prepare them for market or slaughter have given a boost to Lister clipper sales, contributing to the company’s 18% growth rate this year.
Company: Lister Shearing Equipment
HQ: Dursley, Gloucestershire
Owned by: Wahl Clipper Corp
Annual turnover: £3m plus
Principal products: Sheep shears and animal clippers sold in 60 countries