Getting the timing right for shearing

SHEARING is generally considered an annual event, but the time between shearings can be used as a tool to manipulate the wool clip. In a recent Making More from Sheep webinar, Holmes Sackett Farm Consultant David Brown discussed the pros and cons of accelerated shearing, or shearing more than once a year.

Jill Griffiths

Accelerated shearing causes a notable increase in the amount of wool grown, but David pointed out there are more factors to consider than the amount of wool being produced and these factors must all be taken into account when deciding whether or not to shear more often.

WOOL PRODUCTION AND MICRON

"Sheep shorn more frequently do produce more wool," David said. "The reason why sheep are growing more wool is because they are eating more; the week after shearing, the animal eats more - they feel cooler, move more freely, and eat more. What isn't needed for maintenance, goes into wool.

"But there is a positive correlation between wool production and micron, so as wool production increases, so too does fibre diameter, and fibre diameter affects fleece premiums. Because micron goes up as wool production increases, the marginal income of the increased production diminishes. So, the extra wool produced may not add much value to the wool clip."

In one trial David investigated, sheep were cutting around 18 micron when on maintenance rations, but at double maintenance, the micron increased to around 22 micron. This means that the additional wool clip will only add value when micron premiums are low.

"At higher micron premiums, the increase in fleece weight can't offset the increase in micron and the decrease in value of wool per kilo," David said. "If we want to shear more wool, it's going to come at the cost of micron." (See Figure 1.)

STAPLE LENGTH

Time between shearing affects staple length, and over-length and under-length wool attract discounts, so there needs to be enough time between shearing for the staple to grow to an optimum length.

"Discounts kick in for overlength wool start around 110-120mm, with significant discounts kicking in above 120mm," David said. "With shorter wool, discounts kick in below 60mm.

"If you drop into the 50mm staple length, you're into some pretty serious discounts."

"Whatever discounts happen around 120mm are mirrored around 60 mm. If you get a break in a 120mm staple, and it breaks in half, you get a 60mm staple length.

"The key message here is that over and above avoiding long wool discounts, you need to make sure you don't drop too low and suffer more at a low staple length. Are you avoiding over-length discounts or are you avoiding under-length clips?

"Around 3% of wools in the wider marketplace are over-length (greater than 110mm) and about 5% are under-length (less than 60mm). This indicates that a vast majority of wool is not incurring these heavy fibre-length discounts."

OTHER COSTS

There are also added costs to shearing more frequently. Annual shearing costs will be higher if you shear more often than once a year (Figure 2).

"Annualised shearing costs go up with accelerated shearing," David said.

Additional feed requirements may also need to be taken into account.

"Shearing a sheep in cooler months increases feed requirements by 20%," David said. "Throw in a lamb and some chill, it can go up 60%. A part of that additional energy is hopefully going to go into growing more fleece.

"But accelerated shearing does not always increase fleece production. For example, if you shear before lambing, the additional feed goes into the lamb rather than into the fleece.

"The additional feed is assuming there is additional feed available. 

"In the springtime, the sheep are eating as much as they can anyway and stripping the wool off them doesn't really lead them to eat more. If you shear them in the autumn and additional feed isn't there because the season fails and you need to supplementary feed them, then there's an additional cost of producing the wool."

PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER

David ran the numbers on the profits (or otherwise) of accelerated shearing, making some basic assumptions regarding micron (19 micron), fleece (3.4 cfw; $18.36/kg) and shearing costs (6.83/head).

"At an eight-month shearing interval, a 10% increase in fleece production is a reasonable figure, but obviously varies quite a lot from year to year," David said (Figure 3).

"If you're in a space where you think your clip is only going to 50c micron premiums, then marginal profit of eight-month shearing program, will be about $3 per head. 

"But if you're in the 18-20 micron bracket, and your micron premiums are good, then the eight-month shearing becomes a very marginal prospect.

"If your premiums are higher, the marginal profit becomes a marginal loss.

With six-monthly shearing, David assumed a 15% increase in fleece production, but despite this increased production, it became even more marginal to generate a profit (Figure 4).

"As micron premiums increase above $1.50 to $2.50, the marginal production achieved is quickly eroded by the increase in micron and the loss of fleece value per kilogram wool produced," he said. "It's also costing you more per year to get that fleece off.

"That's also considering only the shearing cost, not the other associated cost, such as mustering and so on.

"These scenarios also attribute some value to avoiding over-length discounts, but they don't consider any under-length discounts that may occur. If a clip incurs some under-length discounts, then the scenarios will err on the side of traditional 12-month shearing." 

BROADER CONSIDERATIONS

Accelerated shearing may help with parasite control, crutchings savings, and easier shearing, but the first question needs to be whether it pays. Beyond that we can consider its interaction with other management issues in an economic context.

"Accelerated shearing may help if there are no other alternatives to remedy a problem such as lice or flies," David said.

"You would be unlikely to save any crutching on an eight-month regime but may do so on a six-monthly regime. If the crutch costs you $1 and you're losing $1 on the accelerated shearing regime, you're back at square one.

"If your shearing falls at a difficult time, such as around lambing, you may have to bring one of your shearings forward. Alternatively, you'd have to leave them until after lambing, at that throws out your pattern going forward.

"It's going to increase complexity in the system going forward. I like to work with producers to reduce complexity and simplify operations, unless it's adding to the bottom line significantly. Wool kilos per hectare is the key to profitability."

David's webinar presentation is available on the Making More from Sheep website click HERE

Contact: 

David Brown, Holmes Sackett

02 6925 1758

davidb@holmessackett.com.au