Dannevirke: A million sheep shorn - and more to go

By Christine McKay -
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Neil Weggery displays his skills with the blades hand-shearing sheep.
Neil Weggery displays his skills with the blades hand-shearing sheep.

Shearer Neil Weggery began life hanging around in a woolshed and now 58 years later, he's shorn his millionth sheep.

"I was there as a baby, hanging on a hook in a pack when mum was the cook for shearing gangs," he said.

"I was the only one in my family to do that and I'm the only one to follow the sheep but shearing is in my blood."

When Mr Weggery, a meticulous record-keeper, added up his tally at the end of the last season, he was astounded to discover he'd cut out his millionth sheep.

"Yep, I've shorn one million, but there's more to go too, with a four-year-old at home ready to follow in my footsteps, I've got to keep going," he said. "It gets easier as you go along and my body is fine."

Mr Weggery shore his first sheep when he was 16. "A gang then asked me to join them and my first time on the stand I shore 105 in a nine-hour day and I was hooked," he said. "But I've still got the scars of a burnt finger from that first day's work."

There are other runs he'd rather forget, too. "One of my worst weeks was in 1997/98 when I was shearing at Lochinver Station [near Taupo] and cut out 3642 sheep in a week," he said. "Then there was the time in the United States working on a 10-stand trailer. On the last day, they were all the worst sheep in the world."

Mr Weggery took up shearing professionally when he was 28, giving up managing a farm to go shearing with Peter Lambert.

"Shearing has been good to me," he said. "I've been around the world 19 times because when I was a shearing contractor I had a lot of foreign shearers working for me, so I'd go and visit them. There were a lot of good times."

However, Mr Weggery said it's other top shearers he looks up to.

"There's John Pomare, he shore 203 ewes when he was 80," he said. "It's guys like him who are the legends and the ones guys like me look up to.

"I've also got a lot of time for Colin King who got hold of me and helped me. The next year I won the intermediate at the Golden Shears.

"But you never stop learning. One of the things I want to do before I retire is to go south and blade shear."

There are still five million sheep in New Zealand shorn with blades, especially in the South Island high country and Mr Weggery said the blades leave extra length on the sheep so they can survive the winter.

Wimbledon farmer Brian Hales said Neil's technique made blade shearing seem easy.

"It's all down to Neil's skill with the blades. He can blade shear 200 a day if all goes well," he said.

And while Mr Weggery might continue on the boards for a while yet, shed hand Missie Pakai will retire next month.

"I'll be 60 and I've been in the sheds since I was 17," she said.

Mr Weggery said Missie would be a great loss to shearing.

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