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Welfare crisis looms for sheep flocks as shearers stay away
Apr '09
Sheep farmers are on a collision course for a major welfare crisis this summer as a massive shortfall in shearing gangs from abroad means millions of sheep will have to carry heavy fleeces throughout the hottest months of the year – and some may not even get sheared at all.

Over a quarter of the UK's 14.5 million sheep are sheared by gangs of shearers from New Zealand and Australia. Around 500 shearers work in the UK every summer and most would normally have now made arrangements for the trip.

But new Government rules covering work permits threaten to keep the southern hemisphere workers at home. So far only one shearer has confirmed he will be coming to the UK.

UK-based shearing contractors – who traditionally hire hundreds of Australian and New Zealand shearers each summer – say a new biometric identity card system introduced by the Government for foreign workers looks like keeping the workforce away from the UK.

The biometric card – costing £200 per applicant - requires workers to travel personally to Canberra for fingerprinting and photographic identity details.

The single shearer who has acquired a biometric card to work in the UK this summer had to travel for eight hours for a three minute interview to supply identity details.

And now shearers have been told that even if they apply for their biometric card it will take at least nine weeks to issue – a delay making it no longer worth them coming to the UK this summer.

East Sussex farmer Frank Langrish, Chairman of the British Wool Marketing Board, says the situation is ridiculous and poses a serious welfare issue for UK sheep and major problems for farmers.

“The UK sheep sector relies on the shearing undertaken by these very skilled shearing gangs from the southern hemisphere. At a conservative estimate they shear around five million sheep in the UK. If they don't arrive in the UK in the coming weeks we are facing a very serious welfare situation for our flocks,” said Mr Langrish.

Rob Morris is a sheep shearing contractor based in south east England. He shears around 35,000 sheep each summer and employs New Zealand shearers for the season.

“This is bureaucracy taken to the extreme and will mean millions of our sheep will suffer this summer. We just don't have the skilled labour force in sufficient numbers in the UK to get all our sheep sheared. The southern hemisphere gangs are among the world's best and fastest shearers in the world with some shearers able to take the wool off around 400 sheep a day.

“A lot would normally come to the UK straight from contract shearing work in the USA and Italy but now the Government says they must first return home to the southern hemisphere to undertake the biometric card formalities. We are urging all farmers to put pressure on their MPs so that we can avoid a major livestock catastrophe this summer,” says Mr Morris.

British Wool Marketing Board

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