Woolshed terminology in South Canterbury, NZ

Sheep shearing Fairlie Show Easter Monday 2014

"Waratah" - an old shed converted to three machine stands. All the newer sheds today have a raised board. 
The board. 

A whole set of terminology comes with the woolshed and shearing.

Blades: Hand shears. A good blade shearer can put out 120-160 sheep on a good day but the average is 80 per each man. A machine shearer can put out 200 sheep.

Robert McCelland blade shearing, c.1926, daughter Ivy. Robert died in 1935 aged 83.

Board: is a wooden plank. New woolsheds often use particle board now. A board is a plank floor in the woolshed (shearing shed) where sheep are shorn. The shedhand or rouise picks up the fleece and throws it on the wool table. Sweeps the board after each sheep, dags go in a corner. 

Clip: The clip is all the wool off a farm, run or station at one shearing season.  In 1853 the clip from the Levels was shipped from the Timaru roadstead.  

Timaru Herald 12 December 1895
Mr Donald McMillan, of Burke's Pass has created a precedent for wool growers, by holding over his last year's clip till this season, looking forward to better prices than were obtainable in 1894-95. And the result has justified his foresight, for at Tuesday's sale he got 2d per lb more than last year's wool was to be got a year ago.

Crutching: Done by the shearer, main reason is to remove the manure dags. Helps to prevent flystrike (blowfly maggots). Ewes and lambs are crutched to keep them clean around hindquarters and eye clipped so the sheep can see better. 

Cut Out: To finish shearing a particular mob. To complete the whole shearing. "cutting out" a shed.

Fadge: Oddments of wool go in a fadge, a wool pack in a fadge holder. A bag of wool. 

I have never seen a fadge holder like this before. Must be real old. It is in Geraldine.

Fleece: The wool off a sheep. Removed in a single piece.

Full contract - shearing contract. Most farmers do full contract - covers everything
Open contract - covers the shed and per sheep/per man.
Open shed. The shearer cuts out the middleman, no contractor, and organises the shearing hands himself and his own food, transport and accommodation. 

Hand shears: Cut the wool not as close as an electric hand piece. Good for 'up country' runs. The shears (blades) are rarely used today. Cutters and combs are sharpened during 'smoko' with an electric grinder inside the shed or on the grindstone sitting outside the woolshed and someone else pouring water on the stone.  


Comb and Stewart arrow cutter.
 Lister sheep shearing handpiece.

  This grind stone has a diameter of 16½" and a width of 3⅜".

The mounting and handle are interchangable with other stones. It would have been
mounted on a wooden stand, sometimes with a reservoir of water at the bottom through which the stone would travel which helps the grinding process and keeps the blade from becoming too hot, [which could upset the temper of the metal]

Same stone. The grey colour is due to weathering as it has been lying outside for 40 years or more. The tan side has not been exposed to the elements.
There is a deal of writing on the handle reads:  Great Britain followed by a patent number.
Underneath GB it says Brevet SG DC 1897.
Further along the handle is another letter/number grouping and underneath Belgium followed by numbers.
On the stone side it has Pat May 15 1900 and further along Canada with Pat with numbers underneath.

The guides on the shaft to keep everything centered - they are only on the non-driving side.

Prelamb shearing: Shearing the ewes 4-6 weeks before they lamb. Must have shelter belts available. Or you can just do prelamb crutching. Makes lambing easier.

Portholes:  Once it is shorn the animal is ejected through a porthole to the counting-out pen.


Raised board: Today the board is often raised with a door leading to the catching pen and a chute to the side of each stand where the shorn sheep are  pushed down to under the woolshed and out to the counting out pens and cover yards. The boards can be straight or U shaped with the wool table in the middle requiring only one rousie. A six stand means six shearing machines. In the time of blade shearers a large shed may have had 20 stands for twenty shearers and twenty port holes across the board. 

Rouseabout: Shed hand. Does odd jobs in a wool shed. Penning up. Keeps the catching pens filled. Counting out. Helps to keep the board swept pressing the wool, weighing the bale and branding it.

Ringer: The shearer with the highest tally for the day.  The fastest shearer on the board. There maybe several gun shearers, but only one ringer. Runs rings around the other shearers.  A 'gun' shearer.  Champion. The ringer looks around and "he is beaten by a blow."  

Run: A circuit of shearing sheds that a shearer or gang might contract to work at in a season

Run: "To lose one's run" - to be sacked from the shearing board or a shearing gang

Run: Shearers did a run before breakfast, two stretchers in the morning and three in the afternoon, divided by meal times and smokos (Morning and afternoon tea).
There are four  two hour runs during a day. 7:30 - 9:30, 10am until 12 noon. 1 pm to 3 pm and from 3:30 to 5:30.  During smoko the shearers check there gear and sharpen their combs, cutters and blades. The shed runs to the minute and there is often a radio blearing. Also a period of work during the working day at a freezing works.

The further you get from town, and reach the wool growing interior:
Masters, and shepherds, and shearers, and cooks and drivers of bullocks,
Sawyers, and stockmen, carpenters, packers and shinglers, and loafers,
Smoke as they work to assist them, and then knock off for a "smoke oh!"
Crusts' by L.J. Kennaway 1874

Shearer: The sheep are placed in the shed and covered yards the night before as the shearers cannot shear wet sheep. The shearer works an eight hour day in four two hour separate 'runs'. Paid according to the number of sheep they shear. More money for shearing rams. Shearing tallies - 200 is still the bench-mark for machines though most shearers are well in excess of that. Blade shearing is slower, depends on the breed, but good shearers are an average of 140 per day, they shear round the sheep without having to move it and face any direction. A senior shearer can do 30 - 35 an hour [x8] on an average day, 240 - 280.  They supply their own clothing such as woollen singlets, moccasins, reinforced trousers and their own combs and cutters and travelled in gangs.

The real 'guns' and the competition shearers manage in excess of 350 a day.  The Waimate Shears are held mid October. The aim is to go as fast as you can and do the neatest job. Many meat workers find shearing complements the off-season at the freezing works.

Shearing: The shearer grabs the sheep from the catching pen,  drags out the sheep on its rear to the board, positions the sheep in an upright position between his legs, and with an electric articulated hand piece keeping it close the skin, takes a 'blow', shearing strokes, and shears off the belly wool first and then the rest is removed in one piece, removes any wool from around the eye area, "eye clips," and directs the shorn sheep down the chute into the counting out pen. The fleece is then picked by a lad and thrown neatly on to the long slotted wool table, where the wool  is skirted, rolled and classed (grades the fleece), sometimes by a wool classer cleans. The farmer always checks the weather forecast before shearing.  Shorn ewes have to be protected from cold stress. Shelter is more important than better feeding straight after shearing.  Rain is a concern more than cold and windy conditions. 

Shepherd's crook, bale hooks, castration rubber ring holder, foot rot cutters, shears - machine (2) and hand (4), scales (2), bellies and pieces, locks, numbers, ear markers (down the bottom),...

Snow comb: Invented in New Zealand to leave more wool on a sheep. In the high country when it is possible to have a late snowstorm it is best to leave a little wool on the sheep. Today most sheep are shorn by an electric hand piece, an a shearer can apply a snow comb that won't cut so close to the skin. The use of winter combs (cover combs) with lifters (a plate with sleds screwed under the winter comb, raising it by another 2.5cm) have nine teeth and a sled on every second tooth is common in colder districts. The other way to leave more wool on a sheep is to use blades.

Staple - the length and degree of the wool fibre. A woollie, missed with the mustering for years and  unshorn for years can have a  long staple e.g. 18"

Twine:- cord compressed of two or more strands twisted together.  Suspect the twine was made by Donehue's, of sisal and definitely not flax.  It was used both for bales and bags. Found hanging in the woolshed. The sewing palm weren't used in the shed at all, just on the header as bags were being sewn all the time. It is a piece of leather that went across the palm, with a thumb hole and fastened with a buckle across the back of the hand. On the heel of the Palm was riveted a flat brass cup that the eye-end of the needle would sit in when it is being pushed through the sack. You couldn't manage with out it, the hand wouldn't stand it as some force was needed on occasion to push the needle through. The requirement for bags slowly petered out as bulk handling of grain advanced, and those seeds requiring bags would be sewn up with a bag sewer. Then the change over to capless woolpacks and hooks saw the demand from wool sheds drop suddenly.

Wool bale: About 300lbs. Min.100kg. Max. weight of a wool bale is 200 kg. About 40 fleeces per bale. Today's nylon woolpacks have flaps that fold over at the top and sealed with clips so there is no there wool cap.  Not necessary to weigh the bale but many do as wool presses today have built in scales and farmers try and get the bales weighing approximately the same.  A felt pen is used to mark on the bale number, owner, what's in the bale e.g. fleece, pieces, necks, bellies or crutchings. When there is a truck load the bales are then transported 'to town', to the wool stores in Timaru. 

Moccasins, in front and a dolly.

An electric powered wool press has two bins, one bin is lined with a wool pack. About twenty five years ago jute wool packs were used and the other bin had a leaf that slid in at the bottom that a wool cap had been attached. The wool presser fills the wool press bins with wool from the bins around the shed and once in a while climbs up into the press and tramps the fleeces down. When the press is full two metal rods are push through the holes at the top of the press, to stop the fleeces from falling out when dumped over. A button is pushed and the side with the removal leaf lifts up and dumps on top of the other.  Two hydraulic arms, one on either side, raise up and are connected to leaf which is now on top and slowly  the leaf lowers compressing the wool into the one bin with the wool pack. The wool cap is clipped with small metal hooks. 25 years ago the wool cap was hand sewen on to the wool pack, station name and bale number applied with stencil plate and black stencil ink and stencil brush and then the bale is weighed and stored in the shed. "To double dump" means to compress by a hydraulic press.  In the old days the wool pressers where wooden and worked with pulleys. Pressing

Wool cheque: A sheep farmer's major income comes in twice a year. Their wool cheque and when they sent fat lambs to the works. Low wool prices hit farmers hard.

 09 January 2006 Timaru Herald
"It has quite a dramatic impact because they rely so much on their wool cheque." Plunging wool prices at the farm gate are beginning to bite as the industry faces returns that are at a 30-year low. The price paid to farmers for a clean full-length fleece of 32 microns or more has dipped to an average of $3.20 a kilogram � the lowest level recorded by Meat and Wool New Zealand's Economic Service since records began in 1975. The average price charged by shearing contractors is between $2.90 and $3 a sheep. Many farmers would opt out of doing a second shear or would not be shearing lambs this year because it would not be profitable.

2009. Wool is still in the doldrums.
No matter what happens, people have to eat.
China and India, have huge populations.
Our farmers are more than happy to feed them.

Woollies: Sheep not yet shorn.

Wool pack:  Traditionally wool packs were made of jute now made with synthetic high-density polyethylene (HDPE) packs. 

Woolscour: This is where wool is sent to be washed. Today there are woolscours at Washdyke and Winchester. 'Woolwash'. The dags are sold after crutching and are crushed and the resulting salvaged wool then washed/scoured.

Woolshed or shearing shed:  Was a wooden edifice divided into pens, the shearing board, the wool room and counting out pens, one for each shear. Now constructed with galvanised corrugated iron and covered yards, a raised board.

Wool storeOtago Witness 28 November 1900, Page 14
The latest addition to Messrs John Mill and Co.'s large block of stores opposite the Atlas Mill, Timaru, and on the sea frontage, was completed on Saturday last, and the whole range of wool and grain stores will be among i the finest in the colony for those particular i purposes. The original store is 180ft long by 60ft wide, the second store 350ft by 100 ft, and the latest and last addition 200 ft long by 100 ft wide. The walls are 18ft in the clear, and the roof is on the lean-to principle with the fall to the north, so as to allow of the whole of the southern ends to be filled in with glass. The perfect lighting and colouring (the roof and timbers are white-washed and the columns painted with white lead) of the interior makes it a thoroughly up-to-date wool store. Samplers will not experience the slightest difficulty -when they visit it to see the wool. The new store will show for sale 2500 bales of wool, and will lake in 60,000 sacks of grain, their whole storage capacity i in the whole of the buildings being 130.000 to 200,000 sacks of grain. Mr T. D. Young, Messrs Mill and Co.'s Timaru manager, who showed a representative of the Herald over the premises, remarked that he would be 1 pleased to welcome any farmers or woolgrowers who desired -to take c stroll over the finest and biggest block of buildings of the description named in New Zealand. And it will -be a pretty long stroll, too, for in going round the new block only, nearly a quarter of a mile is covered. On looking over the old 1 premises we noted that a new engine has just been imported, a portable one, so that it can be taken to any part of the buildings. The stores also are connected all round by platforms with the railway, and have hoisting winches at convenient points, so that all grain and wool is smartly handled with a minimum labour. Truly, the stores are admirably appointed, and a block that Messrs Mill and Co. are justly proud of.

Wool table: A fleece picker upper has a technique for picking up the fleece around the shearers feet, they have to be quick about it, and throws the fleece on to the wool table. A fleece is thrown, outside up, on to a rectangular table with narrow wooden slats and the woolclasser cleans off bits of twig and thorns and grades the fleece e.g. fine, medium or coarse, colour etc and decides which bin to put the fleece in. Short and stained wool is taken off the fleece "skirting" and baled separately. It was an advantage to class each fleece as farmers want the best price for their woolclip. Fleeces with yellow yoke and semi-matted wool do not bring good prices.  The wool classer is in charge of the shed hands - wool handler (fleece picker up), wool presser and rouseabout.  The woolclasser was expected to stay in the homestead and not in the shearers' quarters with the men per T.D. Burnett - he called my mother up by phone to tell her that - A class system!

wool table
A couple of well used typical rectangular wooden wool tables at a height that prevents back stain with a fleece to the left. A circular wool table.

   Coveryards with the fat lamb buyer at the drafting race.  Note a ramp leads into the woolshed. 
Another style of raised board in a 4 stand shed. Covered yards with the fat lamb buyer at the drafting race. Note a ramp leads into the woolshed.
 The old and new woolshed. Three stand woolshed with a raised board and wool press.
A 1990s shed with a raised board, and an old 1970s Van-gard hydraulic wool press, with a new attachment, the white thing, to assist with pinning. Scales nowdays are often under the press or built into the press. The maximum weight for a bale of wool is 200kgs and minimum is 100kgs. Farmers aim for the maximum weight - cuts down on the number of wool packs, labour, the number bales to transport and selling costs. The curved raised board to save the rouseabout extra walking and bending has three stands with chutes to let the sheep go out underneath. A little cubby hole is beside each machine for the shearers tools. Farmers like to keep their woolsheds clean and birds out.

Note the one the blade shorn sheep amongst the machine shorn sheep (the creamy one). Blades leave more wool on, helps protect the sheep, during a cold snap.

A beautiful fine black or coloured fleece.

Crossbred fleece - see the staples.

A transportable Lyco hydraulic wool press, with an electric motor, in action, bale being pressed. 

A nylon woolpack, 2009. Note the pinning. Nowadays instead of sewing on a wool cap, the bale is pinned. Three fasteners on the inside flap and four on the outside.

Wool pack

Reid & Gray woolpress   

A retired wool buyer said that the Donald wool press was in every wool shed in N.Z. Then came the Vanguard. They apparently went out when Hydraulic ones were introduced.
Donalds on the side of a street in Arrowtown, Nov. 2011 No. 5885. We had Donalds at home before we got the Vanguard and the Vanguard is a Donalds. That company deserves recognition - home grown in a cow shed to an international market over for over a century in business. Donald Donald's niche was certainly inventing and business and not farming.  He patented the wool press in 1882. It was a marked improvement on the older screw presses and the then popular Speedy press. The selling points were ease of use, simplicity of construction and its relative cheapness. The mechanism that is used, the pipe/rod rocks up and down pulling the cap [on its edge behind] down. There are two spring coils on the RHS keeping pressure on the two dogs to keep them engaged whilst in work. Held back to enable the zig-zag pull rod to be lifted to the top when the press is is in baling mode. The two short rods near the lip of the bin have a spike at each end with a handle in the middle, these are used to secure the wool pack in place whilst filling and later pressing.

 Three photos above the Pareora Station DONALDS Patent Masterston N.Z. No. 8-5 48

Donald Donald patented his ‘Solway Eccentric Grip Wool Press’ in 1887 and Donald Presses begin production in 1900. Sandow's came later.

The woolpress was upgraded. TPW 2014 photo. The 1970s Vanguard gone.

Evening Post, 21 June 1917, Page 11
Mr. George Cummins's factory, in Marton, where the Sandow wool press is made. The manufacture of the Sandow Press is not merely a local undertaking; it is a national industry, and the inhabitants of the Marlon district have reason to feel proud of the fact that Mr. Geo. Cummins, one of the most respected business men of the town, controls this important concern. The Sandow Press is in use in nearly all the larger sheds throughout New Zealand, where its power, speed, simplicity; and ease of working are recognised. The power is applied by means of a double purchase gear winding on tapering windlass, thus gaining - first speed and then power as the pressure increases. It. is operated by a single lever, and can easily be worked-by one man. From time to time additional improvements are made to the press by Mr. Cummins, and- only recently a device to tip. the top over by means of a patent hoist has been added, and farmers can now have the choice of a swing top press or a tip-over-top one. The press is self contained, is low set, thus giving ample head room for small sheds. It occupies very little space, and is equally adapted for large or small sheds.

Press, 31 October 1907, Page 8
The Timaru Agriculture and Pastoral Association's forty-second annual exhibition of, live stock, produce, etc., was opened yesterday under moat favourable conditions. The weather was delightfully fine. The total entry was well up to that of previous years. The stock, considering the backwardness of the season, wore, with but few exceptions, looking remarkably well. The grounds were in capital order, and the attendance for a first day was a long way above the average. The absence of the implement firms' exhibit, left a big blank on the northern embankment of the ground, but in all other parts there were many attractions. The work yesterday included the judging of sheep, rough riding, Loyd Lindsay competitions, mounted rifle rescue race, etc., driving competition., and the judging of harness horses. Amongst a numerous array of tents the Canterbury Frozen Meat Company had one in which was set out a very attractive display of tinned and other cured meats, sliped and scoured wools, oils, manures, etc. The Canterbury Farmers' Co-operative Association exhibited a variety of manures, grass, clover, and other seeds, lawn mower., milk churns, and other lines. The Christchurch Meat Company had a nice exhibit of tinned meats, cured hams and bacon, superphosphates and other fertilisers. Dalgety and Co. exhibited wool presses, agricultural seed. and general. merchandise. The National Mortgage and Agency Company had an exhibit of Sandow wool presses, bone dust, superphosphate, binder twines, and other farm requisites.

 - Robertson & Sons makers  Melbourne  screw wool press probably made of jarrah as it is heavy and hard, extremely durable, and resistant to insect attacks, making it ideal for both indoor and outdoor use.

Loading fat lambs for the works, St. Andrews Transport. 

South Canterbury has passed through several phases of farming since 1850.
1. Pioneer runholders
2. Exploitation 1880s
3. Subdivision 1900s
4. Land settlement after WWI
5. Economic stress -1921 to 1923 and 1931 -1935
6. Another period for demand of land after WWII
7. Restoration - attention to the soil in the 1950s
8. Dairy farming 2000 -2020. Dairy cattle numbers in South Canterbury rose from 122,278 in the 2002/03 census to 299,604 in the 2012/13 census.

Oral historian and writer living in Timaru, Ruth Entwhistle Low launched a new book The Shearers: New Zealand Legends at the museum in Timaru in August 2019 following on from her successful On the Hoof: The Untold Story of Drovers in New Zealand. Among the shearers interviewed was competition blade shearer Tony Dobbs, who gave an insight into how he has achieved his success. ''When it got down to winning or losing by a fraction of a point you have to have everything right - even the way you opened the catching pen door, or the way you stacked the sheep into the pen,'' he told Mrs Entwistle Low.
Published: 6 August 2019. Imprint: Penguin. Format: Paperback. Pages: 288. RRP: $45.00

Glentanner -blades still rule
Shearing shed construction

In 2010 the "average" sheep farmer is male and well over 50 years old and has worked hard all his life.

Pasture glossary

Timaru Herald, 20 August 1919, Page 3 ASHWICK & SHERWOOD.
BACHELORS' AND SPINSTERS BALL. When the visit of the Prince of Wales was first announced one can imagine the thrill of excitement that went round this distract which soon subsided when his engagement to the Scottish lassie was made known. However if after his world tour he should decide to settle on the Flat we feet sure that no ill-will will be shown for the reason hinted at. But if this distinguished personage could have attended the ball given in the Sherwood Downs woolshed on Friday evening last he might even at this late hour seen some reason to change his plans. A moonlight frosty night favoured the promoters of this fixture in their object, and though the night was cold lovers of the beautiful could not help admiring the mountains in their crystal whiteness stretching from Burke's Pass on the left hand to the Pour Peaks on the right, holding in their arms the fertile settlement of Sherwood Downs and other runs. The roads were in perfect order whether for motor or horse traffic, and what was of great interest to the farmers- on the six miles of moon-lit road traversed not a rabbit was seen. Poor bunny has been worried internally and externally and now must be worried in his mind at the value of his skin, and where it will land him. His lot must be somewhat akin to that of the average farmer, surrounded as he is by so many difficulties and dangers. But now, wafted on the frosty air, are the strains of a waltz, and we realise that the evening's amusement has commenced Scattered round the front of the woolshed are many motors, like warships at anchor in some harbour. The room itself bears no resemblance to a woolshed. There are no battens or shearing board in sight, and one could not imagine that here theory of "Wool away" or "Sheep Oh" was ever heard. Decorations of greenery relieve the walls of their bareness, and various designs of "welcome" and "peace" and "prosperity" meet the eye. The pillars that support a very high roof give no trouble to the dancers, and the people of the district are to be congratulated 011 having so fine a hall, and an owner so willing to lend it as is Mr Barron. The fancy costumes give colour to the scene, and many are noted that must have taken much time and thought to bring out so successful a result. Those selected; to tread the thorny path of judges of the costumes were Mesdames Clarke, Barron, and O'Neal, and Messrs Talbot and Whatman. After a parade of those in fancy dress the judges' verdict was for Miss Piper (Gipsy), first among "the Indies, and Mr Lynch (Eastern Costume) first among the gents, with special mention of Master G E. Jones (Tramp). Supper on a liberal scale was handed round, the committee, of which Miss Copeland and B. Jones were the secretaries, sparing no effort to please their guests in this respect.

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