Calgary – You might not be able to teach an old dog new tricks, but a fortysomething sheep shearer can still learn a thing or two.
Just ask John Beasley, a sheep rancher from Youngstown, Alta. who picked up the clippers six short years ago. Since then, he’s earned the Reserve Intermediate Champion title in 2015 and 2016 in the North American Sheep Shearing Challenge at the Calgary Stampede. He was back at it this year.
“I come more for the fun of it than trying to win. I am old rookie,” Beasley said with a laugh. “I should have started 20 years earlier. I am 41 and the youngest guy on our crew is 25. This winter he passed me and I have never caught him since. I enjoy seeing the young guys succeed and do well, though. Ninety-five per cent of guys just don’t like the pain in shearing and never get to the level where they are going to stay at it.”
That’s because shearing can be back-breaking physical labour. A 2000 study by a lecturer at the University of South Australia declared shearers are “the hardest working people in the world” in terms of physiological demands. Their heart rate hits in the range of 140 or 150 beats a minute when they’re shearing and they can expend upwards of 5,500 calories a day.
Good technique is key to becoming a successful shearer, Beasley said, and that takes practice, which can be tough to come by in North America, as herd sizes are shrinking. He heads south of the border to shear for about a month at a time and he has his own herd of 1,000 ewes to work on. Learning from the best doesn’t hurt, either. Beasley recently hosted a workshop at his farm that featured Australian shearer and Stampede regular Mike Pora, who took the Grand Champion title in the Open Class in 2015 and 2016.
And he did it again in 2017, by the narrowest of margins. Pora’s score of 35.63 on eight sheep edged out his fellow countryman James Russell’s score of 35.68.
“It means a lot. No one has won it three times in a row. I had a program to come back this year and win it, but a busted knee kept me off four months,” said Pora, who hails from Cowra, New South Wales. “It set me back a bit, but it was all worth it.”
The two-day event with more than $11,000 in cash prizes and awards began on Saturday in the Victoria Pavilion with preliminary action before wrapping up Saturday with the finals in the Open and Intermediate Classes as well as the International Team Challenge. In shearing, the lower score, the better. Competitors go head-to-head in the timed and judged event, and are marked on everything from how many passes they do to the quality of the cut.
In the Intermediate Division, Weston Hyllested of Circle Pines, Minn. was named Grand Champion for his score of 30.4, while David Higgins of Northport, Wash. took Reserve Champion with a score of 34.55. The International Team Championship went to Team Australia (Pora and Russell), who took the title over Team USA and Team Canada. This year, to mark the 150th anniversary of Confederation, Grand and Reserve Champions received a commemorative Hudson’s Bay wool blanket, in addition to their belt buckles and cash awards.
Many of the shearers in western Canada have Pora to thank for stepping up their game. Two years ago, Pora met Taber, Alta.’s Shaun Fajnor. The two hit it off, and Fajnor went to Australia to learn from Pora. Since then, the Albertan has organized Pora workshops in Canada, like the one Beasley hosted. And just like he did with Fajnor, Pora is happy to host shearers he meets on his travels.
“My wife is very patient. We had an American and six Canadians living there with us last year. This year, who know how many we have coming? It’s an open house, really.”
For full results from the Calgary Stampede’s North American Sheep Shearing Challenge, please visit https://ag.calgarystampede.com/results.
About the Calgary Stampede
The Calgary Stampede celebrates the people, the animals, the land, the traditions and the values that make up the unique spirit of the west. The Calgary Stampede contributes to the quality of life in Calgary and southern Alberta through our world-renowned 10-day Stampede, year-round facilities, western events and several youth and agriculture programs. Exemplifying the theme We’re Greatest Together; we are a volunteer-supported, not-for-profit community organization that preserves and promotes western heritage and values. All revenue is reinvested into Calgary Stampede programs and facilities.
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