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Three-month long NZ shearing tour provides Mongolian herders with life-changing skills to take back home

After three months working in shearing gangs across New Zealand, four Mongolian sheep herders will soon return to their homeland with new knowledge and skills that have the potential to change their lives and reshape the shearing scene in their native country.

The four Mongolians herders - Budee, Baaska, Ama and Khanda – arrived in New Zealand in early January having done all their previous shearing using scissors, a time-consuming practice which limits the number of sheep that can be shorn in a day to about 30. With their trip wrapping up shortly, each of the herders is now shearing competently using an electronic handpiece and all four have achieved shearing personal bests of more than 250 sheep in a day – a feat which has previously only been achieved by one other Mongolian.

The visit to New Zealand was undertaken as part of the Share Mongolia programme – an initiative to introduce modern shearing techniques and equipment into Mongolia that took flight following a chance encounter between Rabobank agribusiness manager Paul Brough and local Mongolian farmers in 2019.

“While I was trekking through Mongolia in 2019, I came across a group of farmers who were shearing a herd of about 900 using scissors and they told me it would take them about a month to complete the job,” Mr Brough said.

Mongolian herders Ama, Budee, Khanda and Baaska with Share Mongolia representative Mark Barrowcliffe (centre back row) and Paul Brough (2nd from right).

Mongolian herders Ama, Budee, Khanda and Baaska with Share Mongolia representative Mark Barrowcliffe (centre back row) and Paul Brough (2nd from right).

“This really blew my mind given how much quicker this can be done with electronic equipment, and I thought to myself, there must be something I can do to help. So once I got back to New Zealand, I had a few discussions with some work colleagues and clients, and we looked into running some training that would help develop Mongolian shearers skills with modern equipment.”

With additional help from Zoe Leetch and Enkhnasan Chuluunbaatar from Golden Bay, and Roy Fraser from Colville – who have previously lived in Mongolia and provided valuable local insights – the Share Mongolia initiative was established in 2020 and an initial idea hatched to run some courses with visiting New Zealand shearers in Mongolia.

“These courses first took place in 2022 and worked out pretty well, and then we figured it might also be of benefit to get some of the Mongolians over this way so they could develop new skills and then take these back home,” Mr Brough said.

“With funding support from the Rabobank Community Fund, we were able to get the four herders over here and tee them up with work, lodgings and shearing gear. And it really has been quite phenomenal to see how quickly their shearing skills have progressed over the last few months.”

While the Mongolians were quick to adapt to their new role as international shearers, Mr Brough said, there were some initial challenges given the language barrier and the significant differences between everyday life in New Zealand and Mongolia.

“They come from a region in Mongolia that is one of the coldest places on earth – dropping to temperatures as low as -60 degrees Celsius in winter – and is more than 1000 kilometres from the nearest coastline,” he said.

“Prior to the tour, none of the group had been on a plane or a boat, used modern appliances like a dishwasher or washing machine and only one had ever been in water above their knees,” he said.

“So the first few days here there was definitely a bit of a culture shock. But with the help of an interpreter as well as from local farmers who gave up their time to show them around and get them familiar with New Zealand woolsheds, they adjusted pretty rapidly.”

During the trip, the Mongolians spent time working as part of shearing gangs in Piopio, Hawkes Bay and Wairoa.

“The modern shearing gear, sheep size and wool quantity on the New Zealand sheep were very new to these guys, but they had great support from their fellow shearers and shed hands which helped them progress,” Mr Brough said.

“At the weekends they entered shearing competitions, including the recent New Zealand championships in Te Kuiti and, towards the last part of the tour, they achieved some really impressive results.

“Another highlight of the trip was their visit to west Otago in early February where they participated in Shear 4 A Cause – an event run to raise money for a host of rural community-focused charities. They also got to experience a number of activities for the first time, including riding the luge in Rotorua and giving surfing a crack at Raglan as part of the weekly Surfing for Farmers programme.”

Mr Brough said he was really amazed at the Mongolians resourcefulness and how incredibly focussed on learning to shear and making money they were.

“While here, they saved every cent they made with two giving up smoking when they found out the price of our cigarettes compared to the price they pay at home. They didn’t once complain and only one has missed a day’s work – due to a sprained ankle,” he said.

“With their families tucked up in their Gers (traditional Mongolian tent) back home in -40-degree temperatures, it was pretty clear at times they were terribly missing them. But they stuck with it, and they’re very excited about the opportunities their new skills will open for them and their loved ones once they are back in Mongolia.”

Mobile shearing trailers

Mr Brough said the four herders were due to depart in the coming days and their prospects on their return would be greatly enhanced by the construction of two mobile shearing trailers which are currently being built for them in Mongolia.

“The Share Mongolia team are currently undertaking a fundraising drive to help buy shearing equipment for these trailers,” he said.

“We’re hoping to raise $8,000 for this equipment, and the plan is to set the four of them up so they can have their own business as travelling shearers.

“Even though the Mongolian shearing season is relatively short, they should be able to work for about 60 days per year making $100 a day – significantly more than their previous best day where they made just $15.

“And, of course, there is potential for the farmers to further share their skills with local farmers so that they too can learn to use modern equipment.”

Mr Brough said the Share Mongolia programme would continue to support Mongolian herders and a number of further activities were planned for the coming months.

“In June of this year, a team of Rabobank clients and staff will travel to Mongolia to hold eight more shearing courses funded by the United Nations, the NZ Embassy (Beijing) and the Rabobank Community Fund,” he said.

“The goal is to train and equip another 120 herders to shear using electric machines. Other goals are to introduce wool sorting and wool presses to improve wool quality and transport. And we’re also planning a trail to test if electric shearing machines can be used to shear camels in the Gobi desert!.”

 

Rabobank New Zealand is a part of the global Rabobank Group, the world’s leading specialist in food and agribusiness banking. Rabobank has more than 120 years’ experience providing customised banking and finance solutions to businesses involved in all aspects of food and agribusiness. Rabobank is structured as a cooperative and operates in 40 countries, servicing the needs of about 10 million clients worldwide through a network of close to 1000 offices and branches. Rabobank New Zealand is one of the country's leading agricultural lenders and a significant provider of business and corporate banking and financial services to the New Zealand food and agribusiness sector. The bank has 32 offices throughout New Zealand.

Media contacts:

David Johnston
Media Relations Manager
Rabobank New Zealand
Phone: 04 819 2711 or 027 477 8153
Email: david.johnston@rabobank.com


Denise Shaw
Head of Media Relations 
Rabobank Australia & New Zealand 
Phone: +612 8115 2744 or +61 2 439 603 525 
Email: denise.shaw@rabobank.com