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Sheep selection vital for World Champs

The 2017 World Shearing and Woolhandling Championships will attract the best shearers and woolhandlers from 32 countries around the world and thousands of spectators to ILT Stadium Southland in Invercargill in February.

But there's another group of around 4500 that are just as important to proceedings. Southland's finest sheep have as big a role in the Championships' success as anyone.

Just ask 12-time World Champion Sir David Fagan.

"Sheep selection is one of the most important jobs in the whole event. It doesn't matter how well organised we are, if we get that wrong, that's what we'll be remembered for," Fagan said.

"We want to make sure the winner is the best shearer, not the luckiest shearer."

So, no pressure then?

Fortunately for the 2017 Championships, they have secured the services of two men who know a thing or two about the type of sheep befitting a World Championship, and they have also received outstanding support from some of the south's best breeders and growers to source this year's World Champs' flock.

Southern shearing contractor and former New Zealand representative Dion Morrell and 1994 Double World Champion Alan MacDonald have the job of selecting close to one thousand full wool Romney ewes, two and a half thousand second shear Romney ewes and around 800 Romney lambs to cover the four days of competition.

The full wool ewes will be sourced from the Robertson's Motu-nui Romneys from their Duncraigen farm in Mimihau, three kilometres east of Wyndham in Eastern Southland.

Bruce and wife Carolynn oversee their two properties totaling around 780 hectares, with son Mark and his wife Jolene, and daughter Casey.

When his local crutching gang suggested his ewes would be perfect for the World Championships, Bruce didn't have to think long to decide to help. "It's got to be good for Southland so it was a case of whatever we can do to help," he said.

"Basically, it's up to me to have the ewes in as good a condition as I can have them and they'll pick the type of sheep they want. They are in very good nick to be honest. It's been a great season so we're pretty happy with where we've got them at this stage," he said.

That might be saying something. The Robertsons have been raising the bar for years, dating back to the bold move in the early 2000s to turn their back on 20 years of breeding under their own Duncraigen banner to align with Wairarapa Development Romney breeders Motu-nui.

"This was 2003 and the dairy boom was just starting. We could see what was happening. All the good down-land farmland was going in to dairy cows and the type of sheep we were breeding weren't attuned to the country where all of the sheep were going to end up. We needed to adapt and breed a type of sheep that was suitable for higher country and the Motu-nuis footed the bill," he said.

His farmer clients agreed. Annual sales of 40 rams before the switch to Motu-nui, today number closer to 500 sold across all breeds.

"It was a big call at the time. My bank manager looked at me sideways when I told him, but he backed us," Bruce remembers.

And now the Robertsons are backing the World Shearing and Woolhandling Championships.

"I'm just rapt to think the World Champs are going to be in Southland. It's a once in a lifetime opportunity for Southland people to get behind it and that's why we got involved. We're proud Southlanders and the support of the Southland people for the event has been tremendous. That's why we're in it," he said.

The same can be said for the Peters family who will provide the second shear ewes for the World Championships.

Trevor and Karen Peters own the Peters Genetics Romney Stud which operate across their properties in West and Central Otago, managed in partnership with their two sons Clayton and Morgan.

As with the Robertsons, Clayton Peters said the involvement with the World Champs came following an approach from their shearing contractor.

"Dion Morrell asked us if we would be interested in supplying sheep for the Champs because they would be ideal and at the time we thought it wouldn't be a problem. Although now there's a bit of sorting up to do," he said with a laugh.

"Our sheep have been used for speed shears in Queenstown before and the shearers there all said they were brilliant shearing so it's great to help out if we can."

"Towards the end of the month we'll have them sorted into lines for the blade shearing, the machine shearing and different lines for the woolhandling. We've had a pretty good season and the sheep have grown out well," Clayton said.

Peters Genetics has been a partner in New Zealand's top ram breeding operation Wairere for over thirty years, having farmed Wairere-based stock since 1986. Trevor made his first foray into Ram selling in 1993 and now boasts one of the most successful ram breeding operations in the country.

The Peters run approximately 3500 fully-recorded stud ewes and take through between 1200 and 1500 Romney ram lambs before culling them down to approximately 800 for December sale and face huge demand for commercial ewe lambs throughout the year.

One of their many clients is Alan Marshall of Waikawa Valley who completes the trio of sheep suppliers. His farm has been in the family for over 100 years and has grown to 940 hectares in total, running 5300 breeding ewes, 95 breeding cows and up to 180 bobby calves.

He said the opportunity to get involved by supplying the lamb flock for next month's event was an easy decision.

"We are quite reliant on shearers and I decided they would want a reasonable line of ewe lambs from one property and because most of the other larger properties are a fair way from Invercargill we offered our lambs. With 2500 ewe lambs running around here we were pretty confident they could sort out 800 or so that were similar enough for the Champs," he said.

"A champion shearer is to be applauded. They are just like an All Black in my mind. He has to work at his game every day, just like an All Black. You've got to support them. When you've got 8 or 9 thousand sheep to shear a year and you're not very fast yourself, you're pretty happy to support someone else that is keen to do it for you," Alan said.

The backing from all three operations speaks to the wider support the World Shearing and Woolhandling Organising Committee has received. Committee member Michael Hogan said sourcing the right kind of sheep has been a vital part of the World Champs' planning.

"It was important right from the start that we sourced the right sheep for the event from farmers who were prepared to play their part as well. The Robertson, Peters and Marshall families are such passionate sheep farmers and very proud southern people," he said.

Hogan said the time and effort involved in supplying the sheep is quite large.

"Getting the most even sheep drafted out from a large mob, then sorted in several different lines to suit Blades, Machine shearers and woolhandlers is a big undertaking. Each farmer could have up to six mobs of sheep at the ready to be put on trucks at different times of the day and loaded in order so that they come off at ILT Stadium Southland, are run inside and shorn and are then reloaded again and trucked back to the right farm," he said.

"The support and the enthusiasm from them all, gave the committee a huge boost in confidence and confirmed our thoughts that there would be support for an event like this in Southland."

The 2017 World Shearing and Woolhandling Championships will be held in the South Island of New Zealand for the first time in its 40-year history at ILT Stadium Southland in Invercargill from 8 to 11 February. Tickets and event information can be found at www.worldshearingchamps.com.