Picture: ISTOCK
Picture: ISTOCK

No one can pull the wool over the eyes of Mayenseke Shweni‚ officially the best and fastest sheep-shearer in the world. And it’s not the first time the master craftsman‚ who hails from the small town of Sterkspruit in the Eastern Cape‚ has walked away with the title of Blade Shearing World Champion.

He took top prize at the international competition in Ireland in 2014 and defended his title two weeks ago in New Zealand‚ where he competed against 31 other countries to shear six sheep perfectly in 18 minutes and seven seconds — that’s about three minutes for each sheep of about 70kg.

Shweni‚ 44‚ who has been shearing sheep since 1992‚ believes this is his calling. "Before‚ I did farm labour work‚ but since I discovered the joy of shearing I have never looked back‚" he said.

The competition has both blade and machine shearing events. A South African has won every blade shearing world title since 1996 and is recognised as a sport in SA.

"I started entering competitions around 2007‚ helped by my employer who has always thought I was the best shearer in the world‚" said Shweni with a laugh. "The reason I enter is because I believe in this and I am at the cutting edge of this pastime. The first overseas country I went to was Wales. It was an experience that has lived with me all my life. It changed the way I look at my career."

Since then‚ Shweni has been to Australia and New Zealand‚ and hopes to shear in the Falkland Islands. "I enjoy seeing the look on the faces of people when I shear a 100kg sheep in less than four minutes. At first it was difficult because New Zealand sheep are among the biggest in the world. This time I was confident because I learnt a lot back in 2012 after coming second."

According to a study undertaken by the University of Western Australia‚ shearing sheep is one of the most physically demanding activities. "Shearers are super-athletes‚" says team manager and trainer Izak Klopper of the South African Sheep Shearing Federation. "A study found that fluid losses‚ for example‚ compared to that of top marathon runners, and calorie expenditure, was higher than that of rugby players — and rugby only lasts for a couple of hours a couple of times a week. Sheep shearers work up to 10 hours a day‚ seven days a week."

Shweni said talent and strength alone do not cut it — determination and caring for the animal plays a huge role: "Nothing is as satisfying as seeing your sheared sheep with smooth lines. I enjoy this. The smell of wool is addictive. But I must say it is hard and takes a lot of patience."

Shearing is 80% technique‚ said Klopper. "If you keep the sheep comfortable and handle it correctly it will sit still — you waste time trying to calm down an anxious sheep. It is a good career. It’s a demanding and healthy lifestyle and you don’t have time for hanky panky after a hard day’s work."

Shweni intends to shear until his fingers stop working: "I’m happy I found this passion. It’s become my life."

TMG Digital

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