Shearer wants wool’s benefits pushed better

Nathan Stratford competes in the World Shearing Championships in Invercargill in 2017. PHOTO:...
Nathan Stratford competes in the World Shearing Championships in Invercargill in 2017. PHOTO: STEPHEN JAQUIERY
Southlander Nathan Stratford, one of the country’s top shearers, has probably shorn enough wool for millions of socks.

But it really irks him how much it costs to buy a pair.

"The average family can’t buy wool socks, because they're too dear."

Everyone ended up buying the cheap ones, which he said was pretty infuriating in a country like New Zealand.

It was time to "stop moaning" about falling wool prices and to start doing something about it.

"How many ads do you see for wool batts — none.

"We need to be marketing wool a lot more, for the health benefits and the fire resistance.

"There’s no warm house subsidy for wool but there is for pink batts."

What with falling wool prices and Covid-19, it had been a patchy year in his industry, he said.

Some farmers were not shearing as often because of the prices, not just strong wool and half bred but merino wool was affected too.

Not being able to go overseas to shear had had a big impact, and on top of that, shearing competitions had been cancelled.

The shearing shed was his livelihood as well as his gym to keep him in shape for competition.

"It was hard when Covid hit. It blew everyone's mind.

"It’s hard to get into a rhythm when you don’t have competition. Shearers are like tennis players.

"You’ve got to have a few games or you’re not going to get into a rhythm."

However, the Invercargill shearer used the time to re-set and try a different training programme while working with other contractors.

"The definition of dumbness is doing the same thing repetitively and getting the same result."

He was always working on improving his footwork, pattern and blows, and that happened in the sheds.

"The only difference in competition is that you're doing it 10 times faster."

Some of his greatest accolades to date happened prior to the pandemic.

He was awarded the Murray McSkimming Memorial trophy at the Merino shears competition in Alexandra in October last year and placed third in the New Zealand Open Merino Shearing Championship.

He has represented New Zealand in the transtasman competition 12 times, in the United Kingdom twice, and at the World Shearing Championships in Invercargill.

Then at Gore in February, he finally pulled off the Southern Shears open final title, after 24 years of trying.

The win gave him 70 open final victories and the first South Island shearer to win the event since 1994 when Edsel Forde, of Winton, won the final for a fifth time.

The 46-year-old is having to fend off the young bucks.

Brett Roberts (26), of Mataura, and Stratford were first and second respectively at the Pleasant Point shears in Canterbury in early November and repeated the result in a four-man all-Southland final at Tapanui over 11-sheep two weeks later.

Roberts won the event in 2018, wrestling the title from Stratford who had won the West Otago final for a 12th time last year.

But it was close. Roberts winning the race by less than two seconds in finishing in 10min 29.62sec and posting the better points on both the shearing board and in the pens but still winning by just 0.8182pts overall.

Stratford was not too fazed about being beaten by someone 20 years younger.

"I've taught him a few things, but it’s always up to his will power about whether he succeeds.

"We’re good friends off the board but once we step on the board, we’re competitors, not friends.

As a rule, he did not compete in the pre-Christmas North Island shows, and would concentrate on the Northern Southland Community Shears shearing and woolhandling championships at Lumsden on January 15.

"2021, I will play by ear. Each show is each show. If you make the final, you make the final."

The father of two, Seb (14) and Lexie (9) had no plans to retire.

"There’s some days when I think about it, but it’s when you lose that drive, that’s when you should stop."

MARY-JO TOHILL

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