Shearing business to mark 33 years

Shearing contractors Peter and Elsie Lyon, of Peter Lyon Shearing, celebrate 33 years in business next month. Photo: Yvonne O'Hara
Shearing contractors Peter and Elsie Lyon, of Peter Lyon Shearing, celebrate 33 years in business next month. Photo: Yvonne O'Hara
Peter and Elsie Lyon's shearing contracting business has been operating for a third of a century, and they will be celebrating that achievement with a staff reunion next month.

During those 33 years they have accumulated some impressive numbers.

''We [have] probably [sheared] the equivalent of about 1.55million sheep and crutched the equivalent of another 900,000 sheep,'' Mr Lyon said.

''That makes the equivalent of shearing about 2million sheep.''

They employ 400 to 500 people during the year, and 200 to 250 at any one time.

They spend about $430,000 on food annually for staff meals.

Mr Lyon spent 10 years as president of the New Zealand Shearing Contractors Association, from 1994 to 2003.

The couple were each given a life membership to the New Zealand Merino Shearing Society in 2015, marking 25 years service.

Peter Lyon Shearing was the subject of the Shearing Gang television programme, which filmed four series of 10 programmes each.

There are two former All Blacks attending the staff reunion next month.

Mr Lyon was born on a farm at Pleasant Point and learned to shear at an early age.

When he was 20 he bought a 96ha property in the same area.

''Shearing allowed me to fund it,'' he said.

Mr Lyon was a member of the 1979 and 1980 New Zealand shearing team, and captained it in 1983.

He also won the Golden Shears intermediate shearing title in 1974 and and the senior title at the 1975 event.

He then met Elsie, who was a woolhandler in Clyde, and he later bought Fred Wybrow's run in 1985, shaking hands on the deal in the Mossburn pub.

They employed about 25 staff in the early days, then grew the business by buying out other contractors' runs.

''We did pre-lamb in Central Otago and we had two summer shearing runs in Clydevale and one in Mossburn.

''That is a long way to go, but it is what we had to do, and shearing was very seasonal in those days.''

They now have clients throughout the region.

The 1980s and 1990s farming downturn was tough for farmers and many had to lay off their married couples, who usually provided most of the labour, including shearing.

That meant many farmers had to employ contractors to do the work.

A labour shortage and greater distances meant many small contractors struggled.

''From about 1985 to 1994 we took over six small contractors' runs and that accelerated our business growth.

''GST also came in about that time and that had us all scared, but we had to manage the changes.

''Some contractors thought it sounded too hard and many chose to get out of the industry.''

Finding enough staff was also a problem.

Older staff were hard workers and worked long hours as they wanted to provide for their families, but he has seen an attitude change from some of the younger people.

''They want a better lifestyle than we, the previous generation, did.

''The expectation is to earn good money and to have the flash lifestyle, but that doesn't come until later, after you have been successful.''

He wants to see industry training organisations for wool harvesters.

''That is one thing that is missing from the shearing and woolhandling industry.''

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