Local shearing business welcomes new faces to the industry
Taking their passion for sheep shearing, the team at O’Leary Shearing get to travel ‘all over the show’ to high country stations, across to the Marlborough Sounds, even go to D’Urville Island.
A born and bred Marlburian, Billy O’Leary and his wife Silvia took over the business from Lisa Burmaz and her partner in May 2020. “I’d been working for Burmaz and when they moved on, it felt right to take it over”, says Billy who has been shearing around Marlborough for over three decades and still loves it today.
While he oversees the shearing gang, Sylvia is busy behind the scenes doing the bookwork and wages. “Since taking over, we have been focussed on building the business back up again and we’re really proud of our team.”
Youth and experience a great combination
With nearly two hundred sheep farms in Marlborough, that’s a lot of sheep to be shorn in one year, but the O’Leary’s main focus is fine wool. “We do a lot of merino sheds, quality wool,” says Billy.
“We’re fortunate to have the combination of experience and youth at O’Leary Shearing, which is quite hard to get these days. Our team consists of six experienced wool handlers, two pressers, five experienced shearers, including Brian Whitbread. He has predominantly shorn merinos in Australia - he’s a gun merino shearer and is new to our region and team. There’s not many learners about in the industry but we have a young fulla’ – Beau Cameron who is a keen learner and is going really well.”
There’s also Jacqueline Kau Kau, the head shedhand, who is really passionate about wool and the way it is presented. “She runs that side of things and keeps an eye on the wool handlers.” Jacqueline has worked around the South Island and although she hasn’t been working for us very long, Billy says she’s going great guns and the farmers are really happy with her.
“The previous co-owner, Lisa, is still working for us which is great. She’s been in the industry for 30 years and is really passionate about the wool too.” Billy says his team are top shearers and wool handlers. “You couldn’t get any better.”
Hard slog, professional results
The O’Leary Shearing gang work relentlessly throughout the year, enduring some hot summers and cold winters. “I’ve shorn in Australia at 50 degrees north of Perth and Marlborough can get real hot too,” says Billy.
“It’s hard work, so you’ve got to be physically fit and mentally strong and it’s the sort of industry in which you need the ‘work ethic’ to last the distance.” He says if you don’t have it, ‘you see them today and they’ve gone tomorrow.’ Working for O’Learys, it’s an early start getting out of bed, then you work day in, day out.
“It’s not your typical Monday-Friday job. You can sometimes do 30 days straight.”
The only time they don’t shear is when it’s been raining and the sheep are wet. On a typical day at O’Leary Shearing, Billy picks up most of his workers, while some make their own way to particular shearing sheds.
“We usually arrive around half past six and get going with the gear at quarter to seven. Once the shearers start shearing the wool off, the shedhands start preparing the wool the wool to go across a table, where it is professionally sorted. We do a solid 8-hour day, stopping for a 45 minute lunch break and two brief smokos.”
With Jacqueline, Brian, Beau, Lisa onboard and Billy leading the way, O’Leary Shearing has a combined wealth of experience, passion and reliability for producing excellent outcomes. The farmers bring the sheep in off the hills and they go into the sheds, the sheep are then shorn, the wool is sorted, then pressed and the farmer takes it from there, utilizing their different marketing strategies for selling their wool.
“For the farmers, who are passionate about the wool, they need the sheep to be shorn to a professional standard which is what we do and I’m really proud of the service we provide. We’ve got really good wool-handlers which is important for the fine wool growers because the merino has to be sorted properly. They spend all year growing the wool and it can be ‘buggered’ if you haven’t got a professional team like ours.” O’Leary Shearing covers a range of different sheep from Merinos through to Cross-breeds, Half-breeds and Corriedales.
“It’s great to have new faces in the industry including Jacqueline and Beau who are young and passionate,” says Billy. “It looks like they’re going to ‘go places’. Jacqueline is very keen on going further with pursuing her career in Wool Classing and with a bit more experience, Beau would be very capable of pursuing the show-shearing circuit.”
There’s no doubt that life for a shearing gang like O’Leary’s can be a pretty ‘tough day at the office’ but the rewards are a-plenty – there’s great camaraderie, shearing to high standard is hugely important to Billy’s team and it’s a great way for them to see the beautiful backdrops of Marlborough!