By Otago shearing contractors Jock Martin, Peter Lyon and Dion Morrell.

Comment: As the sector approaches autumn crutching and mid-winter shearing, there is some uncertainty out there on what the Covid-19 lockdown means for wool harvesting.

So here are some facts:

Farming and shearing are both on the Ministry for Primary Industries' (MPI) list of essential services.

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This means the people in these industries are classed as essential workers and those who find it practical to keep working, may do so under government guidelines.

This will enable the rural sector to carry on producing the food and selling the commodities New Zealand needs to get through.

We registered our services with MPI as essential service providers and received the following instructions:

"If you are an essential primary industries service or provide an essential support service, please continue to implement safe practices to protect workers and prevent the spread of Covid-19, and please keep operating."

Shearing has been deemed a key service because it is necessary for animal welfare. As the Code of Welfare for Sheep states:

"... separate parts of the fleece may also be removed to improve animal welfare. Prevention and removal of dags by crutching and dagging around the anus help to reduce discomfort and inflammation of the underlying skin and so reduce the risk of flystrike. Wool growing around the face can be trimmed to prevent vision being obscured (snow blindness), and trimming wool from around the belly, udder and vulva facilitates lambing, suckling and mating."

7.6 a) states: "Sheep should be shorn as frequently as is necessary to mitigate animal health and welfare concerns. Usually this is at least once a year."

7.7) states: "Sheep can be prone to flystrike (the feeding of blowfly maggots on the flesh) especially in warm and moist conditions and where sheep are daggy or have wounds. Flystrike can cause pain, distress and extreme suffering through inflammation, infection, reduced appetite and weight loss. Badly affected sheep may die. In some locality's flystrike can occur at any time of year, but the period of highest risk is generally summer/early autumn."

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Chemicals are not a current alternative compared to traditional methods; chemicals create far-reaching implications due to withholding periods for handling wool and residues at a later date.

Belly crutching needs to be done now to increase the sheep's survival rate at prelamb shearing.

Shearing contractors such as us will therefore be prioritising what types of essential work are to be performed. These include:

• Full wool shearing

• Stock presentation for meat works including the shearing of lambs

• Crutching for flystrike & mating purposes

• Adverse weather crutching of high-country livestock (essential is eye wigging to avoiding snow blindness)

• Second shearing in some districts to prevent facial eczema, or lice

Farmers should not take this essential service for granted, it won't be business as usual. Contractors will be changing work practices to maintain the 2-metre physical distance rule.

Contractors, as employers, will ensure all staff can work in a safe manner that complies with the Government's Covid-19 guidelines. This means:

• Limiting physical interaction between staff, through physical distancing, split shifts, staggered meal breaks and flexible working arrangements

• Limiting, or eliminating if possible, physical interaction with customers, eg. through phone orders, and physical distancing both inside and outside the premises

• Hygiene basics of hand washing and sanitisers

• Frequent cleaning of premises

• Protective equipment for staff as appropriate.

Contractors will also manage travel to farms differently to ensure physical distancing and sanitised vehicles.

It's best practice that farmers will complete a work request form detailing the essential work to be done and agreeing to scrub and sanitise facilities and amenities beforehand.

Covid-19 is a manageable challenge for all of us.

To get through, we need to work diligently and do whatever we can as communities, employers and employees to keep our farms and woolsheds ticking over for the welfare of our sheep.