As we head into the 2018 shearing season, Ulster Wool talks to Tom Perry, one of Northern Ireland’s up-and-coming young shearing prospects. Tom has just returned from his sixth season in New Zealand, where he sheared just over 30,000 sheep.
Typical of the new breed of British shearers, Tom has started to make an impact on the world of shearing in both the Northern and Southern Hemispheres. His interest, levels of experience and skills, have all been fuelled by enthusiasm and training from mentors and courses run by Ulster Wool trainers.
Tom, 28, is a regular competitive shearer whose major achievement to-date has been representing Northern Ireland in the Six Nations Shearing Competition, at the Royal Highland Show in Scotland. Born and brought up at Urney Park Farm, Strabane, in Tyrone, Tom takes time out from shearing to help on the family farm, at busy times of the year.
Tom started competitive shearing aged 19 and has since competed both in the UK and in New Zealand. He went to Greenmount Agricultural College, and during his work experience year, he attended his first shearing course. This was in Kilcoo, County Down, and was taken by Ian Campbell and Gareth Kelly.
Securing his Blue Seal Award, that year he sheared his own sheep at home. This was a challenge for a young novice, but he was determined. He says: “When I returned home, I promised my father that I would shear the sheep that year. It took me nearly a week to shear the four hundred - much longer than my father was used to!”
Tom says: “My time in New Zealand sparked a huge passion for shearing. I loved the lifestyle, the social aspects and the camaraderie. I was always meeting new people and constantly learning more. I enjoyed myself so much, I decided all I wanted to be was a full-time shearer.”
During his first year he sheared alongside William Jones, one of Northern Ireland’s best shearing instructors, who took him under his wing. He has been shearing professionally ever since.
Looking back over his progress since that week when he started to shear the family flock, Tom adds: “In terms of personal records, I am pleased to say I now shear in a day more than it took me to shear in a week. “
Tom has attended many shearing courses here in the UK with Doug Lambie and Colin MacGregor. He has also attended shearing courses with renowned Scottish shearer Tom Wilson in New Zealand.
Despite having his Bronze and Gold Seals, every year Tom is keen to complete one of Ulster Wool’s refresher or advanced courses. He confirms: “It really is important to keep updating your knowledge. You will never learn everything from just a single course. If you want to establish a good career within the industry and compete at a high level, my advice is to secure the seals and then to refresh your skills. Every course I have ever been on has always taught me something, or provided new tips and advice. This year will be no exception, I will definitely be signing myself up for one of the advanced courses.”
Given the opportunity for anyone in the world to be his teacher and mentor, Tom has no hesitation - Ireland’s Ivan Scott, a highly-respected and very well-known shearer. Tom describes his qualities: “I have sheared against him in competitions on several occasions and seen first-hand his skill. Ivan has a tremendous work ethic and endurance in the shed and has the capability to make shearing look easy.”
Tom’s all-time shearing hero is William Jones – a shearing instructor in Northern Ireland, who won 17 Royal Ulster Titles, and who is still shearing today, well into his fifties. He is still very heavily involved in the training of young Northern Irish shearers and has had a big influence on Tom’s shearing career.
The best piece of advice he ever received came from an old Australian shearer who told Tom to slow down, in order to speed up. The message was: “If you slow down, you will think more about what you are doing and you will able to shear with more efficiency. In shearing, never was there a more true word said.”
When it comes to handing out advice to a new shearer, Tom believes: “As a young person just starting out, you will find that it is tough at the start, but if you have the willpower to keep at it, the rewards are endless.”
Wool has given him both a career and a hobby, and the opportunity to travel the world to meet a lot of people and see a lot of sights. He adds: “Without wool, these would have not been within my reach, and I would never have met the many great people within the world-wide shearing industry.”
Tom’s competitive shearing highlights have come from competing at Open Level for three years. He has been in a few finals, and now wants “to be able to lift the silverware.” His personal shearing milestone event to date, was the World Championships in Invercargill. “It was a tremendous event and fantastic opportunity to shear on a world-stage. I was in the International Open Grade and was delighted to be placed just outside the top 30, in a field of 120 shearers.”
His short-term goal is to do well in this year’s shows and hopefully represent Northern Ireland in the World Championships in France next year. Over the next five years, his ambition is to remain healthy and “to continue to follow my dream – that of shearing!”
Colin MacGregor, Ulster Wool’s Head of Shearing said: “Tom is a progressive young shearer who has a fantastic future career ahead of him, both in terms of professional and competitive shearing, and I am thrilled he acknowledges the role of training in his achievements. You get to learn from others’ unique experiences, as well as see what the latest industry practices are.”
Anyone interested in joining one of the Ulster Wool courses, should contact the depot on 02894 462131 or firstname.lastname@example.org