Mongolian shearer’s challenge

Zoe Leetch, Temulen (2), Tushinbayar (4) and Enkhnasan Chuluunbaatar at the World Shearing and...
Zoe Leetch, Temulen (2), Tushinbayar (4) and Enkhnasan Chuluunbaatar at the World Shearing and Woolhandling Championships. Photo: Stephen Jaquiery.
When Enkhnasan Chuluunbaatar began learning how to shear a sheep, it was a two-fold challenge.

Not only did he have to come to grips with using a shearing machine but he was also learning to speak English at the same time.

Fast forward a few years and Mr Chuluunbaatar represented Mongolia at the World Shearing and Woolhandling Championships in Invercargill last week, in a one-man team which was managed by his Kiwi wife Zoe Leetch.

It was the first time Mongolia had had a team in the championships and it was a proud moment for the pair, who were accompanied by their children Tushinbayar (4) and Temulen (2).

"It’s an honour, really," Ms Leetch said.

The couple met in 2007 at a small goldmine in Mongolia where they were both working. Ms Leetch’s job was mine administrator, which included keeping track of fuel usage, and her future husband’s job was refuelling.

Despite the language barrier — she could not speak Mongolian and he could not speak English — the pair hit it off.

"We just enjoyed each other’s company," Ms Leetch, who comes from Golden Bay, said.

Mr Chuluunbaatar, known as Nasa, came from a nomadic family and she spent time with them when the mine closed down for winter. Life was very different from Golden Bay but it was an "amazing" experience, she recalled.

"I had seen some movies of Mongolia ...  I kept telling myself ‘it’s not going to be like the movies’. It is just like the movies," she said.

His family was very welcoming; Mongolian people were very understanding and did not expect foreigners to know a lot of their language or understand their customs.

Mr Chuluunbaatar came to New Zealand in early 2011 and the couple married in Mongolia later that year.

At the end of that year, they came back to New Zealand and he did a shearing course. He had not used a shearing machine before.

His family were herders and owned sheep but they were shorn with large scissors — not like blade shears — with their feet tied. They were shorn on one side and then turned over and shorn on the other, Ms Leetch explained.

One advantage was Mr Chuluunbaatar knew animals and their physiology and how they behaved, despite having never used a machine before.

That first year he was learning English at the same time.

"You can imagine the English he learned in the shearing sheds," she said, laughing.

He was now shearing in the Golden Bay area and farmers had been very welcoming and generous, she said.

The couple hoped to find a way  to spend time living in both Mongolia and New Zealand. They would like their children to do some of their primary schooling in Mongolia, get to know their Mongolian family and learn about the culture.

They also hoped to introduce machine shearing to Mongolia. Wool there had very little value; sheep were shorn outside, in the dust, and the multi-coloured fleeces were not separated in any way. Ms Leetch hoped a way would be found to increase its value.

The next world championships were being held in France and the pair would like to be involved again, but would have to find a sponsor, Ms Leetch said.

"That’s a big trip but we’d love to represent Mongolia there."

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